My mom friend Diana and I recently chatted about kid-related city outings. She had just brought her 5 year old to the Met’s Heavenly Bodies Show (ie the Fancy Dress Show), though Fiamma subsequently requested to see the decorative arts rooms, the Temple of Dendur, the Modern Art exhibit, and more. This is apparently standard for Fiamma, and it’s because Diana has crafted artsy adventures for her and her mini since forever. Together they explore, obsess, and bond over artsy things throughout the 5 boroughs. It puts us all to shame/is totally inspiring. So here lies the first Q+A blog we’ve done to share how Diana leverages the city’s art scene to bond with, and instill a cultural appreciation in, her daughter.
Katharine: When and how did you first introduce your daughter to cultural activities?
Diana: We started doing an art based playgroup when Fiamma was two, and dance classes at 18 months. I think those activities developed a love of art and performance in her. She loved to paint and draw, and then she got into space and planets. I thought she’d be interested in going to the museum so at 3 we started with American Museum of Natural History.
We’ve also been to puppet theater shows like the Hungry Caterpillar, broadway shows, the ballet, and, during a visit to Ecuador we saw a lot of ruins and local pre-Colombian art museums.
I think that children can really enjoy museums, theater, dance, art and different sites. I never limited my journeys because I thought she might be too young. The only places we don’t go are places with an age limitation.
Katharine: How have you made these activities appealing for both of you?
First, I give Fiamma options. I ask if she wants to go to see the dinosaurs, Egyptian sculptures, or paintings. That really gets her excited. Or if I want to go see something specific, like the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit at the botanical gardens, I offer up the journey to her as a Park/garden exhibit trip. That motivates her to go, and I get to see an exhibit I’m interested in.
Once you’re at the museum there are a ton of fun ways to engage a small child. We always pack a colored pencils and a pad. Sometimes we pack a post card with an artwork that she has to find. Fiamma loves to stop and draw anything she finds interesting.
Second, many museums have a family day each month. The MoMA has a great one where the children go to art stations in certain rooms and “find” art, actually draw art, do scratch art, story time; we even did a puzzle of a Picasso piece once. American Museum of Natural History also has these stations from time to time. They put out fossils, rocks, and animal footprints for the kids to explore.
I don’t go in with many expectations; if Fiamma wants to sit and look at one piece, we do. If she wants to sail through a whole room, we will.
Lastly, I let her browse the gift shop. This lets her see the translation between art and objects AND leads her to create her own project… like picking out post cards of her favorite pieces. Now, each time we go, she picks a new card and adds it to her scrapbook.
Katharine: Can you tell us about your recent trip to the MET?
I took Fiamma to the Met when she was 3, and she liked it. We went back this summer at 5 1/2 and she ended up staying for 5 hours.... this was totally her choice, and we only left because my 7 month old was done. We started off at the temporary exhibit of Versailles, which I had wanted to see, but she was so into it. I think the headphones and period costumes really interested her. (She loves clothes.)
Her favorite rooms at the Met are in the American wing. She loves decorative art and waking through the period rooms. We hit them all. She asked me a lot of questions about the furniture. Who did it belong to? Where did it come from? How did it get here? She loved these particular chairs that were conversational chairs. Two chairs connected at one arm but facing opposite ways, so you could face the other person. And she wanted to know why they were so low, why there weren’t TVs, and what a sitting room or library was for. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time there. She didn’t enjoy the storage/overflow collection upstairs, so we skipped that, (even though I love it in there).
There was a special exhibit put together by Anna Wintour of Couture dresses, and Fiamma was really into it. The fashion department at the Met has a wonderful collection, and it never fails to wow her. I think girls, at least mine, love dresses and pretend play. So those exhibits are always a hit.
We saw the Roman art, Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Asian, the armor, and the European impressionist paintings. We went onto the roof, more for the impressive view. As we were leaving we noticed a family event and joined at the last moment. This particular one was a walk through the contemporary galleries where the guide read a story, showed the children a sculpture and asked them to observe and report what they saw. Then they had a sketch session and a scavenger hunt through the galleries. Afterwards we had a conversation about the Buddha that she saw in the sculpture hall. She made a references to Moana after seeing the Pacific Islands and Native Art galleries and just overall loved it.
Katharine: What was your favorite part of this experience? Were there any challenges?
My favorite part of any museum experience is just sharing my love of art with my daughter. I’ve been going to museums since I was little with my dad and I really enjoy watching her learn and her curiosity grow. My husband loves are as well, so it’s something we can do together as a family.
A challenge for us is when she’s tired and looses focus. Sometimes she only wants to see one exhibit and then get cookies at the restaurant. (PS: Randy’s famous chocolate chip cookies at the Met are epic.) At the end of the day, she’s only five, and she has her bad days just like every other kid. I don’t let it stop me from trying new places or even the same place multiple times.
Katharine: What are your favorite cultural destinations to take your daughter, and do you have a good source for discovering more?
My favorite art class for kids is at the Brooklyn museum. We took classes there starting at age 3. They do mat time, where the kids work with different mediums or pictures, then a story, followed by a trip to a gallery where they do scavenger hunts or discuss certain art pieces. Then they go back to the art room and create pieces inspired by the lesson.
Fiamma’s favorite spots are: the Hayden planetarium, where she hopes to one day run into Dr. Tyson, and the American Museum of Natural History in general. The hall of gems, and right now the senses exhibit, is wonderful for kids. The Discovery Center in Times Square has had some great traveling shows as well. I’ve seen king tut’s tomb, Pompeii, the terra cotta warriors; all really interesting and well done. And traveling shows like Dream Machine in Williamsburg (Editors Note: this is currently Nightmare Machine for the Halloween season— not good for kids!!), the Museum of Ice Cream, and Color Factory are visually stimulating and great ways to get kids interested in modern art.
Some classic favorites:
The Met museum, the MoMA, Brooklyn Museum is great as a small trip. They have much smaller galleries and it can be a great introduction to art. The Cloisters, the Brooklyn and NY Botanical Gardens. New York Hall of Science, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, MOFAD Lab, Candytopia (yes it has art made from candy, and yes, your kid will love it), NY Transit Museum, Kykuit Estate, Storm King Art Center.
I usually find out about art exhibits, museum programs, gallery finds, traveling shows and classes a few ways:
First, I’m a member of several museums. Yes, even the “pay what you can” ones. Why? Because it gets me early access to the museum, previews to exhibits, discounts in the shops and for special programs like kids classes or for movies and shows. A lot of museums have special members only children’s parties. We’ve been to a few and they are so much fun.
I also have a cool culture card. I applied for it at the beginning of preschool. All public schools have a cool culture application, where you can gain FREE entry to places I knew and some I hadn’t even heard of, but am going to go to now! Places like the Botanical Gardens, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Children’s Museum of the Arts, Wycoff Farmhouse Museum, Skyscraper Museum, and the Jewish Museum, to name a few.
Finally, I follow a lot of people on social media. I follow a ton of ballerinas from NYC Ballet and ABT, all of the major museums, artists, tattoo artists, galleries and centers, I follow the director of the Met, magazines and periodicals. Even with all of that I still miss stuff. I’ll see someone’s feed with amazing pictures and think, I HAVE to take Fiamma to see that, because she would just love it. All in all, I’ve tried to surround myself with relevant cultural information so that Fiamma and I can take advantage together.