At this time of year, with the weather cold and wet, outdoor activities are often a bit limited. What better time, then, to take a trip into London and make the most of all of the wonderful art on offer? I love taking my children to art galleries. They never fail to find inspiration and are always super keen to get out the paints when we get home. It is also very refreshing to see familiar work through their eyes. They often have a completely different take on it and express some strong opinions. My daughter once declared Matisse to be ‘not a very good drawer’ – eight year olds are harsh critics!
There are some great activities in the London galleries aimed specifically at children and many of them are free. I thought I’d share a few on here as I have often only found out about them accidentally.
National Portrait Gallery
I have taken part in these sessions before and would highly recommend them. They have lots lined up for half term and it is all free. Some of the sessions you do need to get a ticket to reserve a place so turn up a bit early, get your ticket and then have a wander around the galleries for a while. Children find portraits fascinating and it is something they can directly relate to. They have too many different sessions for me to list here so check out their website and see what takes your fancy. They all look brilliant to me!
You can also get a family audio guide here which is very interesting for children and adults alike. I have found that these help to keep little ones focused. They enjoy searching out the paintings and finding out about their background. It also means that you can spend your time focusing properly on just a few pictures rather than trying to look at the whole Gallery (which is exhausting – I have tried!)
Loads of stuff going on for children here too. They have sessions running every Sunday and also run a special programme of activities in the holidays. Many are hands on drawing and making sessions inspired by the work in the gallery and most are free. They even run sessions for under fives so everyone can get involved. For slightly older children they do family walk and talk sessions which I have been on in the past and have found to be fab. The people who run these sessions are so knowledgeable they really bring paintings to life for the children. Again, too much for me to list but you can check it all out here
They also provide family trails for children to follow and answer questions about paintings. There is usually an opportunity for children to draw their own versions of what they see in the gallery, which my children always enjoy.
The Tate website is great for arty activities for kids. Even if you can’t make it to the gallery, children can find out lots about art here and most of it is interactive. Children can even upload their own art work to be displayed on their digital gallery.
The Tate Modern itself is a great venue to take children, even very small ones, as there is so much space for them to run around. The Turbine Hall always seems to be full of small children rolling down the hill! You can also climb to the top and look out over London and see which landmarks you can spot. They also provide child-specific audio guides and can give you suggestions of which work to look at. Their Top Ten Tips for Children and Families is definitely worth a look before visiting to help you get the most out of the vast array of art on offer. Again, the majority of this is completely free.
Tate Britain runs family gallery exploring sessions which are suitable for ages five and up. A guide will take you to paintings relevant to children and delve deeper into its background. You can also pick up a ‘family welcome card’ which will guide you to a specific painting and give you lots of information about it. A handful of these could easily keep you busy for hours!
In February, Tate Britain is hosting the BP Family Festival which looks to be a great selection of really creative, fun activities for all ages. You can find out more about it here. These events are also free.
That is just a brief overview but I hope you’ll find it helpful. We really are so lucky to have all of this free learning and inspiration so near by.
Other tips for a stress free (and cheap) day out
Take a picnic.
Avoid the hassle and expense of finding somewhere to eat. Most venues have somewhere to eat them. If not, you can sit in Trafalgar Square (National Portrait and National Galleries) or by the river (Tate Modern and Tate Britain). What could be better?
Take paper and pencils
You don’t want to get caught short if inspiration strikes! Speaking as someone who once had to buy a set of pencils in the National Gallery Shop, it is much more economical to take your own!