It might seem counter-intuitive, but a visit with a baby to an art museum can be an enjoyable experience. It’s all about finding the right rooms. Use these tips to plan your baby’s first art adventure.

Taking Baby to an Art Museum

High contrast art and abstract art with color blocking at an art museum can be a feast for baby eyes and a learning tool.

High contrast art and abstract art with color blocking can be a feast for baby eyes and a learning tool. Photo courtesy of Jackie Gibson

It sounds like a terrible idea. Visit a place where people quietly mill around staring intently at wall hangings and murmuring politely to one another…with a screaming, squirming, peeing infant?

My recent visit to the Art Institute of Chicago wasn’t thoughtfully planned out. Truth is, if I had really thought about it, I might have talked myself out of it.

The hubs and I took the baby downtown to see a small traveling exhibit at a building near the art museum. That exhibit was cool and short and easy on baby…but we paid $25 for parking and we weren’t about to get back in the car after 20 minutes.

So we moseyed down the street, looking for something to do, eager to get back inside on a chilly day. We quickly came upon the ramp to the Modern Wing of the Art Institute and thought, ‘Hmm…can we do this? Sure we can do this. I don’t know if we can do this but it’s cold and that ramp is slippery today so hurry up and get up that thing and let’s just get inside!’

We connect over things like art and architecture so, despite the $22 ticket per adult (baby was free), we decided to stay inside and look around.

The day was a learning experience, but more inspiring than awkward. And as with every trip out of the house, it gave me more confidence for future adventures.

Here are the 10 things I learned, worth keeping in mind for your museum visit:

It’s not so bad. Actually, taking a baby to an art museum can be pretty great. The vast majority of museum patrons were so impressed that we were out and about that they went out of their way to open doors and fawn over her cute little face. We felt the love.

The whole room-by-room setup is perfect for babies—or really anyone with a short attention span. We could dip into the photography room and if she started to fuss we could just duck right back out. It’s much easier than a small store where you have nowhere to escape for quiet (or to escape if you’re the loud one).

Seats are made for sitting. And there are a lot of seats in art museums because they want you to admire and ponder the art. I still don’t have all my energy back from that whole traumatic birthing thing so it was lovely to be able to take a seat in each room and rock her or just relax.

Contemporary art exhibits with video performance art can keep baby entertained during a visit to an art museum. Photo courtesy of Jackie Gibson

Contemporary art exhibits with video performance art can keep baby entertained. Photo courtesy of Jackie Gibson

Those “less exciting” art exhibits are ideal when you have a baby with you. We probably would’ve skipped the antique furniture room and scooted straight toward the Monets in the past. But now, the furniture offers a chance to teach words like “chair” or “table,” and we got to enjoy that completely alone with baby because nobody else chose the furniture room.

Performance art videos = relaxing screen time. Sure, it was weird watching a woman spend 15 full minutes staring dispassionately at a candelabra. But we got to sit in a dark room on one of those seats made for sitting while baby stared at the movie like it was the coolest thing she’d ever seen.

Color blocking is a teaching tool. We used to see abstract art and be like, “It’s just blue streaks. I could do that.” Now we’re like, “Baby, this is BLUE. That one is RED. Over there is YELLOW, can you say YELLOW?” Viewing high contrast primary colors on a giant painting is so much more exciting than pawing at a board book of colors.

In our case, stumbling upon the ramp for the art museum led to a great day out with baby.

In our case, stumbling upon the ramp for the art museum led to a great day out with baby. Photo by Jackie Gibson

Special exhibits cost money. So maybe don’t spend the money until you know baby can handle the extra 20 minutes. While we were at the museum, they had an exhibit of Van Gogh’s bedroom paintings. But by the time we got to that part of the museum, munchkin was ready for a bottle and we were ready to go home.

Special exhibits for families are worth it. Check with staff when you buy your tickets, but often there are areas recommended for families with children. While we were there, there was a touch gallery and an installation of various textures. These were earmarked for people with special needs but also noted as great exhibits for families. Babies love exploring new textures, so this exhibit was ideal.

Save the screaming for the busy sections. Maybe this sounds counter-intuitive, but yes, go to the loudest rooms and the most popular exhibits when baby is about to freak out. When it was about bottle time we could see her getting fussy and squirmy so we bee-lined for the packed entrance hall to strap her into the stroller. She fussed and fussed and no one knew because it was already so loud.

Know your baby, of course. Mine just happened to sleep well the night before and we hit the museum between feedings so she was pretty content (actually shockingly calm and curious). But there are days when she is cranky and I’m exhausted that I know I would never take her out of the house much less to a bustling museum. Just know your baby and know what you can handle—but also know you’re stronger than you realize, baby may actually love art, and museum-goers may admire her sweet slobbery face as much as a Renoir.

Learn which rooms and exhibits will interest baby—and where to get away.

Learn which rooms and exhibits will interest baby—and where to get away.

Bonus tip: If you love art but you’d rather dip your toe first, try a visit to a gallery or a traveling exhibit. It will be quicker and less crowded. And who knows, it may go so smoothly you end up moseying down the street to the big museum.