Chicago’s Art Institute: A Magnet for Kids


“Painting is the most magical of mediums. The transcendence is truly amazing to me every time I go to a museum and I see how somebody figured another way to rub colored dirt on a flat surface and make space where there is no space or make you think of a life experience.”~ Chuck Close

Visiting the Art Institute for the first time was overwhelming – from taking in its scale to experiencing its collection.

Even more stunning to me were the innumerable cohorts of children huddled in small numbers with their museum mentors. School groups that included a French class with a French speaking docent, pre-school children leaping gracefully through the modern wing, and high school students fixed on making meaning from art were everywhere.IMG_6369 IMG_6409

Round every corner was another conversation led by devoted docents whose sole duty was to turn kids on to art. And they were succeeding at the task.

Here’s what I noticed as we joined one group, then another. (1) Students were focussed on the story of each painting. Why? An adult had told them an intriguing tale; given them enough information to whet their appetites. IMG_6391Suddenly they were peering at a picture book with words, a tree with extended, visible roots. There was a context in which the painting lived.  IMG_6377(2) Kids were quick to notice specifics. Having pointed out what to look for, guides took the class from the “big picture” to the intricate details. And It was mere moments before they noticed even more. Why? With a few clues they’d become investigators; soon enough they felt like experts. And they were eager dig deeper.  (3) 21st century skills like making hypotheses, verifying a theory, inferring, and synthesizing were being applied with ease by these students. Why? When an adult asks children to think deeply, and they know there is more than one answer to a question, kids will reason differently. They will take risks. They won’t care if their ideas seem far fetched. They’ll just put them out there anyway.

Our kids need interactive museum moments. 


IMG_6414IMG_6415Being on site with actual works of art made by real people with extraordinary life stories at momentous times in history puts kids in an environment which provokes their best thinking. Give them a pencil and piece of paper for sketching or gathering data, and they realize just how important a role art can play in their learning lives.

The processes of observing and analyzing artwork involve the same skills kids will need as inventors, engineers, artists, scientists, policy makers,  and problem solvers of all kinds in their future lives, 

How fortunate young museum goers are to be looking into art!   Nancy Harris FrohlichIMG_8875


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