The Art Institute and Young Children

I will be honest. When I was a kid, the Art Institute was definitely not my favorite museum. Oh, it was soooooooo boooooooring. It was just walking around and staring at a wall and waiting for my parents to finish reading signs.

Now, however, the Art Institute is one of my favorite places in all of Chicago. I’m old enough now (lol) to understand the importance of so many of the pieces in their collection. I could seriously sit and just look at a painting for a long time. At least until my girls started getting fidgety. But, in the years since I was a kiddo, the Art Institute has  done an amazing job at helping people (of all ages) to love art!

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One of the best areas in the museum is the Ryan Learning Center. Amazing. Perfect for kids. And there are things that for even the youngest art lover. On their shelves, you will find puzzles, blocks, and lots and lots of books.

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When the girls were really little, we would spend hours building with blocks and reading book after book after book.

There is always an art project for kids to do that relates directly to an artist’s work that you can find somewhere in the museum. The last time we went, our girls made “light screens” in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright.

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But one of the best activities that you will find in the Learning Center is the JourneyMaker! It is amazing! The kids pick a theme, answer a few questions, and then print out their own art scavenger hunt based on their answers to use as a guide in the museum.

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The booklet that is printed, tells you exactly what gallery to find the art in, as well. This helps to keep you from feeling overwhelmed. I try to combine both girls’ Journeys on a museum map so we can save time. This past time, most of their pieces to find were close to each other in the galleries.

Once you find a piece, there is an activity to do. Kids are asked to think of what questions they would ask the art, or try to pose like a statue, or imagine if their parent was wearing the same thing as the art. Lots of fun scenarios and it  helps them to engage with the art in a meaningful and age-appropriate way.

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Now, you certainly do not have to limit your museum visit by simply finding things in the JourneyMaker. I try to pick out a couple pieces that I want to see. Or a gallery or two that I would like to wander through.

Chances are really good, you’ll find me in the Impressionist galleries.

And a stop to see one of my faves:

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Plus, there are two galleries that I promise your kids will love! The miniatures and the armor!

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(If you are visiting during the holidays, the miniatures are fun to see decked out in holiday decor! Very fun.)

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The armor exhibit recently went through a huge update and is amazing!!!


It is tempting to try to see everything when visiting a museum. I’m going to be honest and say that if you tried to see everything at the Art Institute and you are traveling with young kids, you and your kids will most likely be miserable. Oh, I’ve been there. It’s not much fun. However, if you use the JourneyMaker as your guide and then pick a few other pieces that are must-sees for you, you and your kids will have a blast visiting one of Chicago’s best offerings!

Now, tell me…..have you been to the Art Institute? What are your must-sees?


This was one of one summer bucket list items!

Our list thus far:

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