I'm a mom of 2 and take my kids to see art all the time. Whether they love it or have a tantrum in front of a Picasso, I never regret the experience.

The author's son in an art instalation
The author's son at an art installation.Courtesy of Sumitra Mattai
  • When I was growing up, my parents didn't take me to see art in museums or galleries.

  • Now I'm a textile designer and a mom of two, and I take them to see art all the time.

  • I plan our visit before we get to the museum so my kids stay engaged and don't get overwhelmed.

Growing up in a Guyanese Indian family in the New Jersey suburbs, I wasn't raised in a culture of visiting art museums and galleries. These spaces felt like they were meant for other people — the wealthy and white — but I gravitated to them anyway.

As a teenager, I took in as much art as I could through books and visits to New York City. My parents admired my sketches until I started talking about a creative career.

"You want to be a basket weaver?" my father said in disgust.

It turned out he had me pegged. I majored in textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design, where I spent many hours handweaving in the loom room.

Now, 20 years into my career as a textile designer, I have the privilege of giving my two children access to art.

Seeing art in person can be an engaging activity for kids

As much as the world has changed since I was a kid, I'm still convinced that there's nothing like seeing art in person. At its best, an encounter with art is visceral and transformative and helps us to reexamine our humanity.

On social media, artwork is both infinitely shareable and painfully inconsequential, reduced to phone-sized squares flitting past our glazed-over eyes. With some light research, I believe physically going to see art can be as engaging for families as attending a concert or watching a live sports match.

The author's son looking at art
Courtesy of Sumitra Mattai

I had this aha moment on a trip to the Centre Pompidou in Paris with my 7-year-old son. In an installation by the artist Christian Marclay called "Surround Sounds," animated projections of comic-book text moved rhythmically around a darkened room, varying in speed and intensity like a dance. There was no sound but the whir of the projector, but the effect was mesmerizing.

As I watched colorful light dapple my son's face, I felt like I could see portals opening in his mind. We spent at least half an hour in the space, and he didn't want to leave. I was grateful I pushed through my own doubt in bringing him to the museum.

I plan our trips before we get to the exhibitions

Like any outing with children, a successful art field trip requires planning, and I have a few practical tips to help with your next adventure.

This may seem obvious, but the first step is confirming that the museum is open. I've made this mistake on more than one occasion and had to reroute the whole day while feeling foolish. And because of the pandemic, many institutions have changed or limited the hours and days that are open to the public. Book tickets ahead of time to avoid lines and long wait times.

If you're visiting a major institution, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, choose one or two specific exhibitions, rather than trying to cover too much ground. If the weather is good, an exhibit on a rooftop or outdoor space is ideal. Look for a show that ties into a topic being covered at your kid's school.

Never visit a museum on an empty stomach. Even the finest works of art cannot combat "hangry" children. Eat beforehand and travel with snacks and water.

Every museum has a gift shop, and a postcard is an inexpensive and lightweight way to commemorate the outing.

Whether my kids are enthralled or having a tantrum in front of a Picasso, I never regret the experience. I had to find my way to these spaces, but I want my kids to know they belong.

What's meaningful to me may or may not resonate with them, but I think it's important for parents to share their passions.

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