From the moment Ferris Bueller and friends made the Art Institute a part of their famous day out, I have been in love with this Chicago icon. After my first visit, this museum quickly became my favorite, not only for adult art lovers, but little ones, as well. I especially appreciate the size of the collection at the Art institute. It is expansive enough to offer art that will appeal to all tastes, but not so large that it is overwhelming. There are some pretty impressive pieces in these galleries that are easily recognized and enjoy by young Picassos.
My favorite thing about the Art Institute for kids, though, is the emphasis on making art accessible and enjoyable to young people. You can make the most of your visit to the Art Institute by using the resources available to parents and kids.
A Good Trip Starts at Home
A successful trip to the art museum starts way before the tickets are purchased. Luckily the Art Institute has made it easy for parents to do a little pre-visit research. Watch “Planning your Family Visit” and “How to Engage Your Child in Art” to give you a tour of the museum and its family friendly features. While you are online, be sure to check out the museum collection to see what works would be interesting to your kids. Just be sure to share your computer time with the kids-the Art Institute has developed a website called Curious Corner where kids can play games and interact with multimedia presentations starring the museum’s famous works.
Vitale Family Room
At the heart of the family experience at the Art Institute is the Vitale Family Room. Located just inside the Ryan Education Center, admission for everyone is always free. The room has been newly redesigned this year and contains the perfect mix of imaginative play and educational opportunities. The cozy design of the room immerses kids in an environment of exploration and even parents will want to flop down on the floor to enjoy the art themed games and toys. Although the facilities are top notch, it is the volunteers that bring this room to life. These art angels are mostly retired older women who love art and love kids and it shows in their attitude and interaction. It especially warmed my heart to see the volunteers step in to give a mom of young preschooler a break while she nursed a baby or had a moment to go to the bathroom on her own.
It’s not just a place for little kids though. Computer games and detailed puzzles of the works from the museum are perfect for bigger kids. The volunteers get involved with the big kids too, giving them challenges and awarding them points that they can trade for certificates and prizes at the end of their visit. My older kids especially loved the 1,300 volume library and had to be peeled away from the stacks of beautiful art and picture books.
A visit to the Vitale Family Room can be a great place to start your tour of the museum, giving kids a way to connect with the art before they see it in the gallery. I prefer to make a visit to the Family Room at the midpoint in our visit to the museum, viewing it as sort of a break to act like a kid before we put on our museum manners again for a second go round.
The Elizabeth Morse Touch Gallery
This is the one place in the Art Institute where kids can get their hands on the art. This hands- on zone was designed for the visually impaired, but kids also enjoy a chance to explore the specially prepared art with all their senses. The touch gallery is located near the Ryan Education Center
The Lions Trail Family Tour
This audio tour is designed for kids ages 5 to 10, providing a dramatic and fun journey through 32 memorable works of art. Random access technology allows kids to start and stop the tour at any point in the museum, so that they can structure their tour according to their interests.
Art Institute Family Events
Reading over the list of family events at the Art Institute makes me wish I was living in the heart of Chicago, so I could take advantage of the programs. Programs are free with admission and include everything from art projects for little ones to specially guided tours, family friendly tours.
Printable Kids Art Question Cards
I was so inspired by the Art Institute’s commitment to making art accessible to kids that I came up with a little tool of my own to use during our visit. One of the best ways to engage kids in looking at art is to ask them questions that will encourage them to closely examine and connect with the painting. Because I know that a line full of little boys can easily lose interest, I wrote out a few questions about the most famous works in the Art Institute to prepare us for our art encounter. On each card I printed a small picture, the gallery number, and few key facts about each painting along with my questions. Feel free to print a copy for yourself and enjoy your own Day Out at the Art Institute.