Category Archives: excursions

Field Trip: Explore This Museum!

Yesterday we all visited the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum of Art for a family open house. Various activities were going on throughout the afternoon. When we arrived, a Tours for Tots group was just gathering. G noticed the assemblage of people her size and went to join them, so her dad went on the half-hour tour with her, and the boys and I headed to the classroom (which is right off a gallery, not isolated from the exhibits) to see what the day’s activity was all about.

Immediately upon seeing those books, I thought of How To Be An Explorer of The World by Keri Smith. (My husband did, too; we own a copy.) But this booklet was written specifically with the Museum’s current exhibit, Made in the UK, in mind. So the various explorations are keyed into specific works of art, asking us (of course I took one too!) to look closely at, for example, the Roger Hiorns sculpture (number 6 on this PDF image sheet). “What do you notice about the piece?”

Says N, age 7: It has pompoms. It is made up of sticks.

Says V, age 9: It is three metal poles. The blue is pom-poms, but far away it looks like flowers or torn-apart balls. The pom-poms look like they are hanging off strings. Crystals on pom-poms.

Says me: Looks like rock candy. Crystals. Rusty in spots. Coral. Organic. Upside down. Blue, green. Grown on wood? Looks grown, not made.

Turns out the artist dipped dried thistles in a solution that grows crystals, then attached the thistles onto the poles. (I found this page that explains more. It’s similar to what we read at RISD, but I wasn’t taking notes then!) I would say we were pretty observant in our investigation!

The green postcard in the photo above has tips for closer looking on the back.

It starts with “Look: What do you notice? Draw: Find a line within the artwork, trace it in the air with your finger. Draw: Draw that same line on your paper.” And it goes on from there. We didn’t have time to use the postcard today, but I think it’s fabulous.

I also think the construction of this book is fabulous. The cover is cardstock, a piece a bit longer than the page pieces, so that the back cover can be folded over a bit and stapled, forming a flap to tuck the front cover into. The pages are held in with a rubber band, and when we were finished exploring the exhibit, we went back to the classroom, where tables were set up with pieces of paper and tape so that kids could add more pages to their booklets. V added pages, plus a pocket.

(We love pockets in our notebooks.) The simple construction means this would be easy to do at home–in fact, think of the possibilities of creating one of these yourself, catered to your own surroundings. It doesn’t have to be for works of art in a museum. You could make an Exploration Book for a walk in the park or your neighborhood, with activities to help you and your children stop and observe (I definitely recommend the Keri Smith book for inspiration). Making some of these is now on my (long) list of Ideas to Try.

N was happy to find a selection of colored pencils back in the classroom, because he’d been a little frustrated about drawing what he saw in the gallery, using only a regular pencil. He was anxious to add some color.

He then went on to make a tape sculpture and several 2-dimensional tape drawings and then a drawing on vellum with pastels, because vellum is so cool (I think so too).

G, of course, knew exactly what to do with all that colored tape.

The colored tape we have is all the same width, and how exciting to have a variety of lines to work with! We might need to expand our supplies.

RISD is making a great effort to make families feel welcome and engaged in the museum. It can be a bit of a challenge for us to get there–it’s about 45 minutes each way, and parking is always tough in the city–but it’s well worth the effort. I’m still trying to figure out a way to get G to more Tours for Tots, because they end at about the same time I need to be picking up my big kids from school, but N and I are planning on taking a class together, which I think will be fun for both of us.

What sort of Explorer book might you create? Does your local art museum support families? If so, how? (And if not, could you suggest some ideas?!)

Summer Field Trips

It wasn’t my plan to let three weeks go by without posting; my kids and I have been enjoying the last month of summer, spending lots of time outdoors, often at the beach. Today is the last day of summer vacation (a bonus day, thanks to Hurricane Irene), so I thought I’d post a few pictures from arts-related excursions over the summer that I didn’t post about.

Above and below are photos taken at the Firefly Projects exhibit by China Blue at the Newport Art Museum.

My two younger children and I visited in July. We all liked this exhibit quite a bit; you can read more about it in the Museum’s summer newsletter (scroll down a bit here).

That’s a photo of a tattoo flash book on display at Mystic Seaport in their exhibit (which closes soon) Skin and Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor. All three kids and I spent a great day at the Seaport (we’re members, and I highly recommend the place), and we agreed that tattoo artists deserve the title “artist.” N especially loves dragons and asked that I photograph the above.

We also visited the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art over the summer. The studio project at the time was painting portraits. Look closely; you can see the other side of G’s face in the mirror she is peering into.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting as we (reluctantly) transition back into the school routine. I have some decisions to make about all sorts of things.

Field Trip: deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum

I’ve been wanting to visit the deCordova for a while now, and it’s on our summer list. (As a bonus, it’s free on summer weekdays, so if you’re anywhere in the area, now’s the time to visit!) This was my first visit, too, so all of us were exploring together. No photos were allowed inside, so you’ll have to imagine… we began on the third floor (because that’s where the bathrooms are!), so the first exhibit we saw was Ursula von Rydingsvard’s sculptures inside the museum. After we looked at them and talked a bit about them (some of them included cow intestines! except the intestines looked completely different in the two pieces–we figured it was the inside vs. the outside) the kids asked for their sketchbooks. We were the only ones in the gallery at the time, and we sat down on the floor, the kids looked at the sculptures, and drew. I really wish I could have taken a picture of them.

We visited all three main exhibits inside the museum. The focus is on contemporary art; I was disappointed that items from the permanent collection weren’t on display. One exhibit, Wall Works, had works inspired by items from the permanent collection, which were on display alongside. What a great opportunity to see how art and artists continue to inspire and inform each other.

The third exhibit inside is works by Andy Goldsworthy. He is best known, I think, for his land art. The museum is raising money to support Goldsworthy’s permanent installation “Snow House” in the sculpture park. The indoor exhibit included mainly photographs of his work with snow, as well as two works on paper that consisted of allowing large “urban, gritty” snowballs to melt on the paper, and then allowing the paper to dry. I predict that we’ll be experimenting with our own snowball art next winter!

The sculpture park is just fantastic. It’s such a wonderful thing to have a big open outside space when visiting museums with young children. We got to spread out a blanket and have a picnic lunch; the kids climbed a big rock for a while; we walked along a path outside with views of Flint’s Pond; and of course, we wandered around looking at sculpture.

This is Rain Gates. It’s sculpture you can walk around in:

Ozymandias dominates the front part of the park.

The kids took out their sketchbooks again. I’d also grabbed our traveling art box from the car.

Ursula von Rydingsvard also has a sculpture in the park, ence pence:

I liked this one, Apollo by Albert Paley, mainly because of the materials. It’s made of stainless steel and weathering steel, and N and I talked about how that means when the sculpture was first made, it would have looked different; it was meant for time and the elements to change it and weather it. We felt it to see how the steels were different in texture as well as in color.

And G likes trains, so this Mass Art Vehicle on tracks was right up her alley.

The deCordova website has a page devoted to visiting their museum with children. They also provide family activity kits that can be borrowed–some for outside, some for inside. We didn’t end up using any, because all the materials except the paper needed to be returned anyway (and we had plenty of paper), because we’re fairly good at talking about art by this point, and because I didn’t know if the clay/dough included in the kit was gluten-safe and, unfortunately, I have to consider that sort of thing. But it’s nice to know these resources are available, and the guards never once looked idgety about my children being in the galleries or drawing in sketchbooks. This museum is doing really well with making sure families and children feel welcome.

We weren’t able to see everything in the sculpture park–it’s so big! Which is just an excuse to go back again soon.

Field Trip: Open Artist Studio

I saw in our local paper that a mill that now is home to many artist studios would be having Open Studio afternoons throughout the summer, so I thought I’d take the kids to see some artists at work.

Do you see the fish down by the baseboard, pointing the way? It’s made from reclaimed fence posts. That small studio, down at the end of a maze-like hallway, was crowded but exciting. Fence posts were strewn about the floor, there were large cutouts of seahorses, and the studio’s owner was “playing around” (her words) with mussel shells, a glue gun, and cardboard taped into a cone shape–she was making a Christmas tree. (“We have all those supplies,” I pointed out to the kids.) N noticed a painted piece peeking out from behind some other stuff leaning against a wall and wanted to know what kind of paint was used; he didn’t recognize it. It was spray paint. I told him in a couple of years I’d set him up with some.

Through that door we found a delightful painter who began to paint once he retired. He told me he’d always wanted to paint, but he’d never found the time, and also that he’s self-taught. His paintings were colorful and eye-catching and interesting for the kids to look at, and he was just as engaging as his work. He asked the kids if they were artists, too, and answered any questions they had.

The very first studio we entered belonged to glass-blowers. Between the broken glass on the floor, the hot ovens, and the numerous beautiful glass objects, I thought it best to hold G, so I didn’t get any pictures. But he gave us a tour and explained the process, including opening the 2500-degree oven just a crack to let the kids see how hot it has to be to melt glass. They were filling fall and holiday orders, or starting to–we passed lots of pumpkins and Christmas trees waiting to be shipped out. They also made long tubes of multi-colored glass, and around the corner, a bead-maker sliced them up and turned them into glass beads.

I won’t lie, parts of this adventure were very challenging. G didn’t want to hold my hand or stay with me; she wanted to touch all the pretty things she saw and run down the long mill hallways. The day we visited was only the second Open Studio of the summer, and it seemed clear that some people were surprised to actually see people, never mind children. There wasn’t really a contact number to call first to see if this was appropriate for children, and I suspect the answer, anyway, would be “it depends.” It really depends on the artist and the studio.

The instructor who teaches mostly middle school and high school kids was more than happy to see my kids, talking to them about the completely random things he had strewn about his studio (for drawing practice, I’m guessing). The studio where my oldest (who should know to keep his hands to himself) accidentally set off a staple gun, nearly giving me a heart attack–not so much for the children, clearly. And some were simply in between. I found the jeweler who learned his craft in his native Finland and does everything by hand to be fascinating, and while V looked sort of bored, I think he was pleased to discover, when he asked, that yes indeed, you can get jewelry made out of titanium.

Also, many studios weren’t open, because the artists weren’t there. But it was worth it to walk the hallways to the end anyway, because we got to see not only artwork hanging on the walls, but murals like this.

I think, all in all, I’d perhaps take another adult with me next time. But it was worthwhile to get a look at what a “real” artist’s studio looks like (in many cases, not so different from our room downstairs, but with better light and, sometimes, a coffee machine right nearby instead of upstairs) and observe that many of them use materials we use, too.

I want to demystify “artist” for my kids–I do think they consider themselves artists, and I don’t want that feeling to disappear as they grow older. There’s not this huge, staggering difference between the people making art in those studios and us making art over here, because we are all making art, and that’s the main thing.

Planning Ahead

Even though my kids have three weeks (too much!) of school left, our minds are on summer. Every summer (and family vacation, and holiday season) I check in with everyone in the family to see what we all want to do.

Bubbles may be simple, but they still captivate my oldest--and me, too!

This works for us for so many reasons: it takes all the pressure off of me as the family planner; it ensures I’m not thinking X is something necessary when really the rest of the family is just so tired of doing X; and it helps us make sure everybody gets to do at least some of what they want.

You see and I saw. Then I see and you saw.

Summer is special to me. I don’t particularly enjoy winter with its dark, cold, snowy, icy days; I operate like a solar cell in the summertime, soaking up what I need to make it through February. Luckily, we live about ten minutes from the beach, and we’re surrounded by beautiful places to visit and explore.

We don't even have to leave our yard to see loads of cool critters, like this guy.

So. We’ve begun our summer lists. (Click to embiggen, and you can see the cute little recycled notebook I’ve written this in here.)

So far we have lists labeled Go, Make, More Make (this is the non-art make), and Do. The list contains plenty of art activities, including some I’ve been waiting until outdoor season to try–I think our deck is a good place to make our own paper, for instance–but it also includes day trips, science experiments, making our own ice cream and lemonade, and lots of beach and coastal activities.

This is part of our rhythm–we get outdoors when we can, here. We take advantage of as much as the season offers, and our list reflects that. If it’s raining, I’ll go for the indoor activities, but if it’s nice, the art posts here may be slim!

If you keep your eyes open, you may find a 4-leaf clover, right in your own yard!

Some other things in the works:

I’m looking forward to the next issue of Whipup‘s Action Pack, which promises to be full of activities just perfect for summer. (You can click on the button on the sidebar to be taken right to the shop page: full disclosure, I signed up as an affiliate to help spread the word.) I’m sure our lists will grow once we get a look at what Kathreen has put together.

Also, G and I will be helping to celebrate Eric Carle’s birthday. You can, too–click on the button to be taken to Kate’s post at An Amazing Child to get all the information.


What about you? What’s on your summer list?

Punching Tin

Materials: Scrap wood, flashing, hammer, nail or awl

This is sort of a cheat, because I didn’t have to do anything for this except take my kids to opening weekend at a nearby historical homesite. The festivities included an encampment by the Lebanon (CT) Militia, a group of mid-17th century historical re-enactors. We wandered by the tinsmith’s tent, and he invited the boys to give it a try.

I include this here because it would be so fairly easy to replicate at home. The boys are using hammers, nails, aluminum flashing purchased from any hardware store, and scrap wood to place underneath the flashing. The gentleman told us that the pieces of metal were tin with aluminum coating (tin rusts), and could be found at any hardware store.

After the boys got the hang of using the nail, he let them use some shaped awls–one made a short straight line, so you could make a flower, for instance, by surrounding a nail punch with the lines. V immediately began punching out his initials. N began experimenting with the various shapes, seeing what they could do (and also banging so well that twice he nailed his tin sheet to his wood block!).

It was open-ended and process-oriented, with the fun of hammers on top of it. (G, by the way, was invited to try, with my help, but was a bit too unsure–maybe she’ll try at home.) There are some safety considerations–the edges of the tin, he told us, are sharp, so you don’t want to run your finger along it. The back has pokey-out bits. But certainly kids are capable of working safely with it. The tinsmith showed us a candle screen made with one of these sheets with a design punched out. He’d punched a design out on the sheet, then nailed the bottom (one of the longer edges) to a rectangle of wood that acted as a shelf for the candle (or several smaller candles, I guess). A simple yet pretty way to display a finished piece.

We’re going to put the boys’ punched tin sheets in their windows, after they bring them to school to share about their visit–which also included muskets. And pirates. And playing conkers… what’s not to like about an afternoon like that?

Field Trip: Boston Museum of Science

This was not a destination focused on art and creativity, like the other field trips I’ve posted about. And yet, when we took in the newly redesigned area around the Planetarium, I was struck by this close-up image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

It looks like art, doesn’t it? Maybe a bit Van Gogh-ish, with his wonderful swirls and bright colors? The beauty of the natural world–and the worlds beyond. Love it.


Collaboration ’11 opened at the Jamestown Arts Center Friday night. We missed the opening, so we went this weekend to see the boys’ artwork. I thought it would be so exciting for them to see their work hanging on the wall in a gallery setting. It was exciting for me to see it!

V’s painting is in the middle of the second row in this picture. Let’s get closer:

There it is, the swirly tie-dye-like painting. N’s was at the end of a row.

It’s the top one there, the one that’s clearly a tape resist. We were so surprised and delighted to see this hanging next to it:

First place, student division overall! I had to confirm first–the ribbons hang next to the bottom of the picture? So that belongs to his? Yes, I was told, that belongs to his. V immediately congratulated his brother and seemed to harbor no jealousy whatsoever.

I hadn’t mentioned the possibility of awards, although V had read the flier for himself and knew it was a possibility, although probably, he said, unlikely. I don’t want them making art (or doing much of anything, at this age) with a goal towards an external prize, especially given how subjective it is. A different judge could have been looking for something else entirely. I simply told them about Collaboration and asked if they wanted to participate. I’d hoped the process would be about planning and working towards a goal and the excitement of seeing their work on the wall–and it was.

I was also interested in how they approached it. V had an idea of the finished piece and a plan. He told me what he needed, he sketched it out, he painted it, he was pleased, and that was that. N had an idea about the technique he wanted to use–oil pastel AND tape resist with watercolors–and he tried it out. The first attempt wasn’t so successful. The second was closer, but he still wasn’t happy with it. For the third attempt, he went in a totally different direction. He still used oil pastels, tape, and watercolor, but he abandoned his first plan (criss-crossed tape and rainbow stripes of pastels and watercolors) and went with something completely different, which was, I think, much closer to his own style in the end. He was much more engaged while he was creating it, and that was the one he liked. I think he’s proud that he worked until he had a piece he was happy with, because he mentioned it while we were at the art center.

We all enjoyed looking at the other entries too, and I think it opened the boys’ minds (mine, too!) to all the different ways to approach a 12″ by 12″ square. There were three-dimensional pieces (that could hang on the wall), collages, photography. Artists used Lego pieces, candy, items found on the beach. There were deconstructed books, handmade books, paintings, drawings… so much creativity, from people of all ages. And there’s nothing like a room full of creativity to spark more ideas. I’m so glad the boys got to be a part of this!

Field Trip: Metamorphosis

I decided the flu and the lingering coughs had taken too much of a toll on us all for us to travel to see Mo Willems at the Carle Museum last weekend. Instead, we stayed a bit closer to home and went to see the temporary exhibit Metamorphosis at the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center. The Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art (RIMOSA), according to their website, “is a group of imaginative people committed to a single goal: using Rhode Island’s rich resources in the arts and sciences to create a distinctive, highly interactive, informal learning center.” They hope to have a permanent site by 2014.

Turn the cranks and the wooden slats become a wave.

Again, according to RIMOSA’s own text, “[In] the Metamorphosis: Transfer of Energy installation, RIMOSA interprets the flow of energy at Slater Mill from the Blackstone River through gears, cogs, people, and textiles. We want you to experience the energy flow that moves through you and enables our machines to work.”

The gear table is cool.

The signs and the website indicate that the exhibits (and the future museum) are intended for children ages eleven and up, but my three kids, all younger than eleven, found plenty to enjoy. This gear table was particularly fun, although frustrating in that the gears slipped on the table and wall too easily, so your gear chain would work for a few turns and then stop. I imagine part of the process of installing temporary exhibits is working out the kinks and learning how well different pieces hold up to public use.

Light pendulum

The light at the end of that pendulum creates fleeting designs on a photosensitive material. Other exhibits included plastic open-topped cylinders of various heights, complete with rubber flip-flops to use to bang on top of the tubes to create different sounds; huge fabric waves; and a water wheel. Across the street from the Visitors Center is Slater Mill, and the Metamorphosis exhibit is designed to connect to this rich history, in Rhode Island, of work powered by nature and people both.

I’m glad to see an organization combining two disciplines that, I feel, are organically connected yet so often considered to be separate. We’ll be looking forward to RIMOSA’s growth.

Field Trip: RISD Art Museum

Another Sunday, another trip to an art museum. This time, the art museum of the Rhode Island School of Design (known as RISD, pronounced Riz-dee). The purpose of this visit: to see the Impressionist galleries (“Monet and his friends,” as N says, after Linnea) and participate in the Open Family Studio, the theme of which was “Rip, Tear, Fold.”

On our way to the Open Studio we checked out the 20th Century Gallery, where we got to see a Jackson Pollock and a Bridget Riley in person. The Exempla exhibit, which is interactive, has been a hit with the kids every time we’ve visited since it opened. And we all love to visit the big Buddha.

But N very much wanted to visit Monet and his friends.

He got close to see the dabs of paint. He backed away to see the overall effect.

“Me, too,” says G.

These galleries are, I think, my favorite place in the museum. They are so calming to me. It’s not that I don’t like the more contemporary art (I do, very much) or the ancient art, or many, many things in between, it’s just that when I walk into the Impressionist Galleries, I feel like I’ve just taken a deep breath of sweet, meadow-green air.



Some practical advice for taking children to an art museum:

1. Don’t take hungry (or tired) kids to the museum. It’s about a 45-minute drive for us, so we gave them food on the way and food again once we got back into the car.

2. Know what you want to see. You can’t see it all, not in one visit, anyway. If you feel you must see everything once you’ve paid admission, take advantage of free days or “pay what you can” days, check if your local library has a membership pass you can borrow, or consider buying your own membership. Any of those options take the pressure off on feeling like you have to get your admission’s worth, and when you’re not feeling that pressure, it’s going to be a better visit with kids.

3. If your art museum has times or programs geared towards kids, try to take advantage of those. It was good to balance our looking with some doing. (I wonder if they trained the guards ahead of time? I could tell all those children in the galleries were making some of them twitchy, but they were trying really, really hard not to show it.)

4. Limit the visit length and timing depending on the age of youngest child. We were probably there about an hour and a half, maybe a little more. Get out before the kids start to lose it. We visited in the morning, because that’s the best time of day for a two-year-old. (You will never find me anywhere with all three children in the late afternoon unless I absolutely can’t avoid it.)

5. Remind them not to run and not to touch (unless the exhibit invites them to, as the Exempla exhibit does), but invite them to look and ask questions. If we want kids to grow into adults who value art museums, we need to let them be kids who feel welcome in art museums. I really appreciate the effort RISD is making, with the increase in family programs, to welcome families with children, even young ones.

6. Have fun. Look. Talk about what you see and what you’re interested in, too. Buy some postcards of favorite works on the way out. G brought a postcard of the big Buddha to bed with her the night of our visit.

If you have any other ideas or tips that have worked for you and/or stories about visiting an art museum with a child (or two or six…), please share them in the comments!

Visiting the art museum = happy.