When we found out we would be staying in the Chicago area for January and February, I was a little disappointed because I am not a fan of winter. Then I remembered Chicago museum free days, and felt a little better. On select days of the year, the museums in Chicago offer free basic admission for Illinois residents. I made a goal to visit one museum or attraction per week to take full advantage of the free days. We started with the Art Institute, because I had never been there before. I was nervous about taking the kids to an art museum, but the Art Institute does a great job introducing kids to art in a fun and engaging way!
The main entrance to the Art Institute is on Michigan Ave. and is so epic and iconic with the columns and lions, so I recommend checking it out. We parked in the Millenium Park garages and entered through the modern wing- closest to the Family Room. The Family Room, located to the left down a hallway just past the ticket counter, hosts free art projects and a small, but fun play area for the kiddos. Owen played with blocks and puzzles while Landon did a mixed media art project celebrating Chinese New Year. He made a lion. All of the materials for the projects, as well as instructions, are on work tables ready for young artists, and the room has plenty of books, chairs, and toys for the kids. Because it is located outside of the ticketed part of the museum, this room is open for kids to enjoy for free without having to pay museum admission. The art project stays the same for weeks at a time, but I thought it was a great resource! Once we finished our art project, we headed over to the Journeymaker. It is a large touchscreen program that helps create a personalized scavenger hunt for each young museum visitor. We picked a theme- ours was “travel through time”, then the program had Landon pick different paintings and other pieces of art to answer questions like “What vehicle are you using for your journey?” and “What special tool do you need to finish your mission?” Once we had picked six different famous pieces from the museum, a full color, customized booklet printed out with all of the art we needed to find, and where each piece was located. The program even planned out the order and route of the paintings to be from nearest to furthest from the Family Room.
All of a sudden, the kid who was not very excited about the art museum was VERY excited to find the paintings in his booklet. For each painting, there was an activity in the booklet to complete. The activities were geared for kids a little older than 4, but Landon was able to complete the pages with help. He was really excited and loved hunting through the galleries! The bonus came when as we were looking, another painting would catch his eye and he would stop and look at it for a few minutes. We walked through many of the galleries I wanted to check out, and I even had the chance to stop and appreciate a painting every once in a while. There are so many famous paintings at the Art Institute, it was overwhelming at times!
We first went to the American art section, and I learned something about these two famous paintings (above and below). The one above is the African-American response, or version of the painting below. It certainly seems that the individuals in the above painting are having much more fun!Most of my fine art knowledge comes from a couple music civilization (humanities) classes I took in college. We studied very select paintings in that class, and then for French class projects I did reports on various French artists, so names like Cezanne, Seurat, and Monet were very familiar to me as I saw them in the museum. It was a treat to see these paintings in person!
In the Impressionism gallery, there were so many of Monet’s works, including the beautiful water lilies and the paintings below that I actually enjoyed more than the water lilies. The portrayal of the reflection on the water in these paintings was just gorgeous! The jewel of this section is A Sunday on La Grand Jatte, a pointillistic painting by Georges Seurat. I did a report on it in high school, and to see it in person was so cool! It is much bigger than I thought it was!
We walked through a few more galleries on Landon’s scavenger hunt, and ended our time at the Art Institute with the Thorne miniature rooms in the basement of the original part of the museum. A volunteer at the information desk recommended we take the boys to see the rooms because they would enjoy them, and he was right! The miniature rooms were really neat- they showed typically furnished rooms from 17th century to modern times in various areas of the world, including England and France. The attention to detail in these rooms was astounding, and Mrs. Thorne designed the rooms and had them built by master craftsmen from 1932-1940.
After finishing the scavenger hunt, Landon took the completed booklet back to the Family Room for a prize- a postcard from the museum! There were lots of postcards to choose from, and it was a great way to end our day. I never imagined that we would be able to spend several hours at an art museum with 4-year-old and 1-year-old active boys, but with the Journeymaker scavenger hunt, we had a great time enjoying the art together as a family. We brought the stroller for our toddler and found the museum to be completely accessible, although at times the elevators were not very convenient to where we wanted to go. Strollers were not allowed inside the Thorne miniature room exhibit, but overall the museum was stroller friendly! Although we didn’t get to it this visit, there is also a touch gallery with sculptures that can be touched and enjoyed with multiple senses. Admission is always free for children under 14- so bring the kids and introduce them to the amazing art available in this museum. The Art Institute is rated as a top attraction in Chicago, and one of the best museums in the world by Trip Advisor!