Mead Art Museum: Supporting Informal Learning For Families

Dig into Art at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College This Summer

Informal learning environments like libraries and museums are important in preparing children for success in school and life.  Why? Young brains are hardwired to learn informally!

Art museums can seem daunting for families with children—untouchable artworks, quiet galleries, and security guards at every turn.  But don’t rule them out, because art museums are the perfect destination for children this summer.

The Mead Art Museum now provides free activity totes for families to borrow while at the museum.  A new theme will roll out every six months. The Museum’s debut theme, available now, is Dig into Art. Kids can dress up like Indiana Jones, with explorer vest and pith helmet, as they hunt for artifacts in the museum.  Families can curl up on one of the Mead’s cozy armchairs and read a picture book of Greek mythology. Budding archaeologists will each receive a take-home gallery notebook to record their discoveries, inspired by real-life scientific field journals.

Dig into Art complements the Massachusetts Libraries summer reading program Dig into Reading. Libraries and museums are natural partners for helping kids and families prevent “summer slide”—the loss of school skills over the break…

The Institute for Library and Museum Services—a federal organization—recently published a report on how important libraries and museums are in preparing children for success in school and life.  Why?  Young brains are hardwired to learn informally.  The more opportunities young children have to learn in an informal, non-school setting, the more successful they will be in school…

When preschoolers spy a rabbit in a landscape painting, they are doing more than playing I Spy.  They are building their brains’ architecture, acquiring the ability to make connections, and developing the kind of focused attention that will lead to success five, ten, even 30 years in the future.

In sum, informal learning creates the skills kids need to do formal learning in school.

Museums of all disciplines are a vital resource for informal learning. And they are fun. Real-life objects inspire imaginative play and critical thinking—all you have to do is look at them.   Don’t feel comfortable talking with your kids about art?  Then let them tell you what they see.  The biggest secret museum educators want to share is that you don’t actually have to know everything about art to learn from it.  Your children may not leave the museum knowing who Monet was, but they will leave having exercised their brains’ ability to observe detail, control their impulses, and make connections to the larger world.

The Mead’s Family Fun Totes are one way to learn informally as a family. They are recommended for families with children ages 5 and up.  The youngest children may need help reading the questions on the included gallery guide.  Totes are free to borrow on a first-come basis. Admission to the Mead is always free. www.amherst.edu/mead

Here are some details for families utilizing the Dig into Art Family Fun Tote:

  • Request a tote from the Mead Lobby Desk.
  • The tote includes a museum gallery “hunt,” picture books, and role-play props.
  • The tote allows children to exercise school-readiness skills: looking, reading, and role-playing.

Looking:
Children look carefully for details in the art museum.
Hunting for detail helps kids practice early science skills such as classifying and observing.

Reading:
Children—with adult help—read the gallery hunt questions.  Kids hear and see words in relation to pictures.  This helps them recognize new words and builds vocabulary. Families can also read the picture books together—find a cozy chair and enjoy!

Role-Play:
Playing dress-up is serious business.  Studies show that dress-up helps kids develop empathy.
They literally practice what it’s like to “walk in someone else’s shoes.”
And, pretend play allows kids to practice real-life skills like problem solving and teamwork.

Fun!
Visits to places like libraries and museums teach kids to enjoy the learning process.
Young children who have fun educational experiences will transition more easily into school.
Adults also teach that learning is fun by reading to children and engaging in educational activities as a family.

Tips:
Remind children of museum rules.  This will ensure you all have a good experience.
Museum objects are special, sometimes very old, and one of a kind.  They are irreplaceable.

  • Please, no touching or bumping into the art.
  • Stay at least one foot away from the art.
  • Do not point at the art—you might poke it accidentally.
  • Sometimes furniture is art!  If it’s on a raised platform or behind a rope, do not touch it.
  • Ask a security guard if you have questions.
  • Take a snack break—the Mead Café offers affordable baked goods and coffee for grown-ups.

Web resources for families on how and why to “build“ your children’s brains at museums:

- Submitted by Wendy Somes


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wendy Somes is Coordinator of Community Programs at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College.  She lives in Goshen with her husband, young son, and two spoiled felines.

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