As with many things involving small children, a little bit goes a long way when it comes to visiting a gallery or a museum. I took my two boys, aged five and three, to the National Gallery in London over May half term. It is a vast place with over 2,000 international works of art dating from the 13th century to 1900 so it’s a good idea to either focus on a particular art movement such as Impressionism or a theme such as paintings depicting mythical beasts. Alternatively, you can join one of the Gallery’s free activities. The Gallery’s website has other suggestions on how to tackle the collection with kids.
After reading Katie and the Bathers by James Mayhew, we’d tried some Pointillism paintings at home so I was keen to show my five year old some of these at the gallery. Unfortunately, aside from Bathers at Asnieres by George Seurat, on the day of our visit the room housing most of the Pointillism paintings we wanted to see was closed so we headed for the free half term activity instead.
The theme of the workshop was landscapes and children were invited to create a three dimensional secret garden with creatures sketched from paintings they had to locate from around the gallery. This was great fun as we had the room number and a small image of each painting to find. The children were given colouring pencils and a large wooden board with paper for their sketches. After this, my son created his garden with the assistance of several artists, he really enjoyed the experience.
The workshop was open for a number of hours so children could drop in and spend as long or as little time as they desired on their artwork. I was impressed by how many people were on hand to help the budding young artists and also their backgrounds: one of the artists who assisted my son was a professional landscape painter.
If you’re visiting the National Gallery with young children, I would highly recommend reading some of James Mayhew’s brilliant Katie books beforehand as they feature several paintings from the Gallery. I had wondered whether the Gallery might be too big and serious for a five year old but this was not the case. Whilst wandering around looking at the paintings on our workshop list, I was really impressed that my son recognised a number of paintings from Katie and the British Artists including Gainsborough’s The Painter’s Daughters with a Cat. He was also keen to see the lions in Trafalgar Square after reading about them in another Katie book.
There are plenty of free family activities on during term time as well as during the school holidays making the Gallery an extremely child-friendly and good value destination. We will definitely be returning during the summer holidays.
Cost: the permanent collection is free, some temporary exhibitions are chargeable
Accessibility: there is a wheelchair and buggy-friendly entrance to the right of the main Trafalgar Square entrance. There are lifts inside the Gallery.
Refreshments: there are three separate eateries although we ended up eating a packed lunch on a sofa just outside the basement café which didn’t seem to be a problem.
Tip: check that the paintings you want to see are available before making the trip!
***Disclaimer: my very active three year old slept through our entire visit, it could have turned out very differently…***