Helping children love Art in Paris

Let’s face it. When it comes to art we have an embarrassment of riches here in Paris. We have some of the best museums in the world, a thriving street art movement and beauty everywhere. It’s no surprise that most of us really want our kids to grow up with a love of art when there is such an abundance of it in our city. Studies show getting interested in art leaves kids with more empathy and more likely to be involved with their communities, have higher career goals and be critical thinkers.

But how do we introduce our kids to art in a way that doesn’t turn them off? We can all remember a stuffy lecture or a museum trip that bored us to tears. How do we avoid the same mistakes ourselves and not cause our kids to boycott art until they’re 35?

Here are our Top 10 tips for getting your kids enthused about all the astonishing art Paris has to offer.

Be curious. Learn together.

You don’t have to be an expert to help your child enjoy learning about art. They will actually respond better if they see this as a side-by-side project where you discover together. Pick the museum together and get them involved in the choice of exhibition. I have no background at all in art history. My only qualification is my enthusiasm and my 8 year old knows our family is discovering together and she likes that.

Plan ahead and use online resources

Most exhibitions have the catalogue online so you can browse ahead with your child. Print a couple of your favourites out and take copies with you. Then hunt the museum together to find the originals.  Your own, free treasure hunt! Use the apps created by the museums themselves.  Fondation Louis Vuitton’s is great.  It’s called Archi Moi and it’s definitely worth downloading.  Some audio guides provided by the museum can be really good too.

Ask questions

Be armed with some conversation-starting questions. The best are the most simple. What’s happening in this picture? What do you see that makes you think that? What else can we find? Why do you think the artist did that? What would happen if she did it differently?

Give context (but remember – no stuffy lectures!)

It does help if you give kids a bit of context for what they’re seeing. Before we went to see a couple of Matisse pieces (notice I said a couple – yes just two, more about that later) at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, we talked a little bit about Matisse’s life, how he was born in a grey, French Northern weaving town and also the fact that he was ill towards the end of his life and confined to his room.

icons of modern art paris

That really helped us talk about his use of vibrant colour and shapes when we saw his work.  If you’re looking at Matisse, we loved the book The Iridescence of Birds, a wonderful picture book about Matisse for 5-9 year olds.

Put the kids in charge

When you get to the museum, pick up the exhibition leaflet and hand it to your child and tell them they are in charge of the visit. They will be choosing which pieces the family will be stopping to look at and how long to spend at each one.

Art in Paris

Even if they can’t read yet, they can look at the pictures in the leaflet and choose which ones the family will visit. They love being the tour guide and this prevents the whining and boredom factor when they feel they have been dragged around the museum by their parents.

Don’t just look – make some art yourselves!

Take the colouring pencils and sketchpad along and set up a little camp near your child’s favourite piece and sit together and make some drawings. Admittedly this might not work well at 3.30pm on the opening day of the latest blockbuster exhibition, but generally, there is enough space for you to do this and you shouldn’t feel self-conscious about it.

street art paris

Most people will smile indulgently to see a child quietly working on their own masterpiece. Much better that than a tantrum being thrown out of boredom. And what better way for a kid to really engage with what they are seeing than to try and re-create it themselves?

Sign up for family workshops and tours

Another way to get hands-on in the museums is to sign up for one of the hundreds of workshops (the French call them ‘ateliers’) the city’s museums offer. It’s a lot more fun to learn about art with a group of other kids.

street art

If your child is nervous about being dropped off to attend by themselves, choose one of the tours or workshops that are aimed at the whole family (usually listed as ‘en famille’ on the museums’ websites). Very often the format is a quick tour followed by a practical art activity.

Halve the amount of time you were planning to spend in the museum

Yes, you heard me. Whatever amount of time you were planning to spend in the museum is probably two or three times too long for your child. Halve it. Think back to what you are trying to achieve. You want your child to like art. If you turn a museum visit into a lengthy endurance test, guess what? They’ll hate it. Of course, you might actually want to linger longer to enjoy the exhibition yourself. So tag-team with your partner or a friend.

Art in Paris

When you know the kids have seen enough, one of you takes them off to the café and gift shop and the other gets to take an extended wander to soak up more of the art. Which brings us to…

The café and gift shop are your friends

My girl and I always joke that we prefer the café and gift shop to the actual museum. And we’re only semi-joking. But remember our original aim – to make a museum visit fun. So who cares if you spend just as long in the gift shop as you did in the exhibition? If your child goes home thinking museums are fun, you’re half way to winning.

Don’t pay

I suspect one of the reasons some families spend way too long in a museum is that they have paid a hefty price for admission and understandably want to get their money’s worth. Well here’s a secret. Kids don’t necessarily need to see the big blockbuster exhibition that has just hit town. Many of the city’s fantastic permanent collections are completely free to enter. This liberates you to just pop in and look at a couple of paintings and then leave within 15 minutes if that is all your younger child can take. A great example is the Petit Palais. You can just wander in, look at two Pissarro paintings and then head straight into their lovely garden which has a café.

Hit the streets!

Art in Paris does not have to mean a long queue followed by an even longer trail around a museum. Art is quite literally everywhere and you can stay outdoors to find it. Take a wander around neighbourhoods such as Oberkampf, Belleville and Ménilmontant to spot street art. Or take a tour with Street Art Paris.

street art paris

Read more here about the time MLP founder Claudette took her kids to actually make their own street art (yes, spray cans in hand!).

So get out there and enjoy some of the great art this city offers! Don’t forget to report back to MLP if there’s an exhibition or workshop your family really loved.

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