Many children already love the National Gallery of Art for its spectacular twinkling, underground, moving “magical walkway” that lets visitors become part of a light show. If you let them, many children could spend hours riding the walkway back and forth and staring at the ever-changing lights.
Other children already love the National Gallery of Art for its fantastic Cascade waterfall where visitors can look through floor-to-ceiling windows to see the water rushing down. However, getting children interested in the artwork hanging on the National Gallery’s walls can be a little more challenging.
That’s where the National Gallery of Art’s family programs come in. The gallery has free, drop-in programs for children as young as four through teens.
The popular Stories in Art program runs during the summer and winter and alternates between works of art in the classical West Building and the modern East Building. Each program usually runs around 60 minutes and is divided into three segments: learning about and discussing a work of art; listening to a story about the artist; and making an art project.
Programs revolve around a theme, such as Tour de France and Investigating Modern Art. The most recent session we attended focused on modern artist René Magritte and was typical of other Stories in Art programs we attended. Children were taken to one of Magritte’s paintings and after taking a seat on the floor and hearing an age-appropriate description of the artist and the painting, were asked multiple questions about what they thought the painting represented. Next, the group moved locations to view another of Magritte’s paintings and to listen to a children’s story about Magritte, where there were also plenty of opportunities for children to share their thoughts and observations. After listening to the story, the group again changed location to make drawings based upon Magritte’s work using pastels.
Stories in Art is recommended for children 4 to 7. A caregiver must accompany the child. Although Stories in Art programs are free, advance registration on-site is required. We recommend arriving at least 30 to 45 minutes ahead of time to register your child as programs frequently reach capacity. The moving walkway and Cascade waterfall in the concourse between the West and East wings can keep children busy while you wait.
The Cascade Café has a great view of the waterfall and also has coloring pages and crayons available for children. It is a great place to eat a snack either brought from home or purchased there while you wait. On our most recent visit, we arrived about an hour early and had lunch in the café and drew pictures on the museum-provided coloring pages while waiting for the program to begin. Although pricey, it has kid-friendly food like pizza and mac and cheese.
Stories in Art programs are offered multiple days during the week and run for consecutive weeks, with different works of art examined each week. You can attend one or all of the programs offered during a series. After registering for the program, children receive a booklet containing information about the works of art to be examined during the series. The booklet is stamped each time you attend a program so you should be sure to hang onto your booklet and bring to all of the sessions you attend. If your child attends all of the programs in a series they are given a high-quality prize at the end of the series, such as professional-quality watercolors and watercolor paper or a children’s book about art.
Younger siblings are allowed to tag along to Stories in Art programs. While younger siblings cannot formally participate in the program, my little one under four has always been permitted to work on her own art project alongside her big brother. The National Gallery of Art is stroller friendly. Since the program always moves locations three times, the group sometimes takes stairs. If this is the case, your group leader will give you stroller-friendly directions using an elevator to get to the group’s next meeting spot.
The National Gallery of Art also hosts other family programming such as Artful Conversations for children 8 to 11 and Family Workshops for children 12 to 14. In addition, the National Gallery shows free films appropriate for toddlers through teens and offers a free audio tour for children 7 to 12. If it will be a while before you can make it to the museum check out NGA Kids for interactive activities for children based on works on art in the National Gallery.
Stories in Art is a fantastic way to make the National Gallery accessible to young children. Go out and soak up the culture!
Photos by Jamie Davis Smith
Family Workshops at the National Gallery of Art
a teen’s perspectiveby Madeline Miller
The Family Workshop program at the National Gallery of Art is a great experience for tweens and teens ages 12 to 14. It is a two-and-a-half hour program where you’ll take a tour through the museum and then enjoy a hands-on studio session. In this workshop, your teen will be able to create their own masterpiece with the guidance of museum educators and artists.
I attended a Family Workshop in February and really enjoyed the class. The supplies were quality and the event was a lot of fun. Exploring the museum was very interesting; we got to look through a lot of it (but very briefly). It was also relaxing to draw and paint with the watercolor crayons; it definitely was something new and it was interesting to learn about color, brush strokes and the lightness of color. Topics change each season, but the program that I attended was Color, Line, Light: Watercolor Techniques.
You have to register for the Family Workshop program in advance online. We recommend registering quickly as these programs fill up fast.