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5 museums that connect kids with art

Elliot Soto, 2, plays in the Art Studio at the Boston Children’s Museum.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe staff

For adults, taking in art usually means observing, staring, focusing, finding meaning. For kids, art can be all of those things, at least for a few minutes, or until they want to touch, feel, roll, push, pull, and play. Fortunately, in Greater Boston, where interactive museums abound, the opportunities for kids to play with art or use art to play are plentiful. Here are a few of our favorites:

THE ART STUDIO — Boston Children’s Museum, 308 Congress St., Boston, 617-426-6500

The Art Studio at the Children’s Museum is the ultimate hands-on museum exhibition. Every day of the week teachers and art coaches — with parents or guardians standing by, of course — guide kids as young as 2 years old through the early stages of being artists. Often the art the kids make is themed after an exhibition at the Children’s Museum, like “Boston Black,” which celebrates the contributions African and Caribbean Americans have made to Boston over the years.

Kids are given raw materials including paint and paper, clay, and even recycled household materials, from egg cartons to milk jugs, and are encouraged to create with them. Sometimes that means bold brushstrokes. Other times it’s as simple and giggle-inducing as dipping little hands in a bucket of paint and then slapping those hands all over a blank canvas.


Speaking of themed activities, for the entire month of October kids who visit the Art Studio are being guided through projects that observe the Children’s Museum’s 100th birthday. Kids will be asked to check out 100 different “mark making” objects in the Art Studio in October, and with those objects either add to a growing collage that other kids have already contributed to or make something new.

November’s theme will be “see through art,” made from recycled plastic bags.


DRAWING CLASSES — The Harvard Museum of Natural History, 26 Oxford St., Cambridge, 617-495-3045

If you haven’t visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History, you’re missing out on a tremendous collection of temporary and permanent exhibitions supplied by Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard University Herbaria, and the Mineralogical and Geological Museum.

Among the more popular galleries are the Africa Gallery and the New England Forests Gallery, both of which display animal and plant life native to their respective regions.

But the museum’s staff knows it can be difficult to coax a child to a museum with nothing more than the promise that they’ll see cool, educational things. So at this museum kids have their pick of a series of drawing classes, each aimed at a different age group. The classes typically range from $25 -$90, depending on a student’s museum membership status.

Starting Oct. 22, for example, kids 7–12 can participate in “Animal Artists: A Four Week Course,” in which they’ll be allowed to get “face to face” with animals in the museum, from zebras to lions, tigers, and bears, to sketch them.

And in November, comic book artist Maris Wicks will teach “Illustrating Animals: A Comic Book Workshop for Kids,” from ages 9 to 13.

Charlotte McCafferty, left, drew with Clare Tuttle at Boston Children's Museum. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe staff

PLAY DATES AND FAMILY ART MAKING — The Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-478-3100

Folks who don’t know better think the ICA is a museum just for intellectuals or lovers of conceptual art. The truth is the ICA is one of the most family-friendly, kid-friendly, down-to-earth museums in Boston.


The last Saturday of every month the museum hosts a free family (up to two adults accompanying children under 12) play date so full of activities it lasts all day. As with most area museums, the play dates at the ICA are themed. The Oct. 26 play date, for example, is called “Imagineering with Color.” An instructor will help kids and guardians study the paintings of Amy Sillman, currently on display at the museum, and families will be able to discuss their findings with artists in different galleries.

For an equally fun but educational break from “Imagineering,” the Urbanity Dance crew, featured artists in the ICA’s Youth Performance Series, will perform at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater.

The Nov. 30 play date will again feature exploration of Sillman’s exhibition at the ICA, paired with a concert by musician David Grover and his band. Boston area children’s choruses will perform with Grover’s band.

The ICA also has its “Family Art-Making” series. The Nov. 3 family art event will be a three-and-a-half hour class called “Film-Making 101.” Kids 8 and older and an adult guardian will be taught the basics of making a film, from choosing a theme or topic, to adding sound and special effects.

Each kid/adult team will have a short film completed by the end of the class. The film-making class isn’t free — $45 per pair for ICA members, $50 for nonmembers, and $25 per extra child or adult — but scholarships are available for Boston Public Schools students.


ARTFUL ADVENTURES — Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-267-9300

No, you can’t touch the masterpieces on the walls of the Museum of Fine Arts. But art inspires, right? So the MFA has developed a line of classes for kids who want to learn to make their own masterpieces.

Among the options is the “Artful Adventures” series. Classes fill up quickly.

If your kids are interested, choices range from a four-hour drawing techniques workshop for 13-to-18-year-olds to figure drawing for the same age group, textile design for ages 9 and up, and printmaking based on artworks like Rembrandt’s etchings and Andy Warhol’s sketches, also for kids 9 and older. Most classes cost $9.50.

ART MAKING, STORY TIME, AND FESTIVALS — Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex St., Salem, 978-745-9500

If there is a theme in the Peabody Essex Museum’s kid-friendly programming it is “collaboration.” Virtually every art project — from exhibitions and galleries to educational fare — at the PEM involve interaction between host or teacher or guide and child.

Take the museum’s “Drop-in Art Making” series, for example. On Oct. 19, the class instuctor, following the theme of “Artistic-Animal Collaborations,” was planning to teach an all-ages class on creating art with animal appendages: Instead of finger painting, students paint wearing artificial animal claws.

During the Sunday, Nov. 17 “Story Trails” time, children ages 5-8 will have the book “Meet Me at the Art Museum,” by David Goldin, read to them, and they’ll get a tour of some of the museum’s “hidden” spaces.


And the ongoing “PEM Pals” series, which occurs Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m., gives children under the age of 5 the chance to do interactive book readings, casual dance classes and informal music and art lessons, and hands-on activities.

James H. Burnett III can be reached at james.burnett@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesBurnett.