Pre-children, Mr. Artsplorer and I used to enjoy going to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for sophisticated afternoons looking at oh-so mature mature works in gilded frames. But, while we have taken the Mini Artsplorer for a wander around there before, I always had the feeling that the ground floor European gallery, with its grim-faced aristocrats and blokes with cloaks, might not hold the most context for a pre-schooler; so my inclination was to make a cursory dash through this section, and move on before she got too bored.
This week, however, we had quite the lively time amongst the historical paintings when we took a Tours for Tots. These monthly tours are suitable for ages 3 – 5, and led by the families programs producer. They have a different theme each month. Our topic was “Magical Masquarade,” focusing on clothing.
The children were greeted warmly in the lobby, and then given a mission to find a woman with a lace collar in the gallery. I liked that this immediately gave the kids a focus.
The lacy lady was quickly located, and our guide talked to the group about a few features of the painting, drawing connections to the image and things that children could relate to.
We then moved onto another room to locate a man with a ruffled collar. After a brief talk on the painting, the kids got their first assignment – to make their own lace collar. Sitting on the floor in the gallery with paper, hole punches, doilies, and sticky tape, the kids fashioned themselves into Renaissance-ready fashionistas. I particularly liked that the kids were allowed to do the crafts in the gallery, itself, rather than in a workshop because I feel like we so often tell kids what they can’t do around art (if I had a coin for every time have I said “don’t touch” in a museum…), that letting them create right in front of those precious paintings is a signal that the art is for them, too – even if they still can’t touch it.
After our collars, we still had one more project, and the kids set off to find someone wearing a crown. In front of the grand scale Sir Edward John Poynter painting The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon (or, “The Queen of Pisa,” as the Mini Artsplorer remembered it), our guide talked to the kids about the crowns, of course, and also other elements of the painting, like the figures. Then, the kids had round two of craft, creating their own bejeweled crowns. Pre-schoolers and crowns? We have a winner!
When I booked in for the morning, I did think for a moment that the $25 price was a little on the high side for a pre-school program, but now having seen how much care is given to the tour, as well as the amount of craft material that each child is provided with, it seems reasonable to me. I took a lot of good little tricks away, as well, so that I won’t feel like we have to rush past the historical paintings next time we visit.
As for the Mini Artsplorer – she fell asleep on the way home, still wearing her crown.
Tours for Tots will resume at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in February 2018