First Fives Sites
Whether you’re exploring your own backyard or vacationing across this great land,
here are 15 essential must-see, arts-packed places around the country to help you foster a lifetime of love for the arts in your children.
1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
in New York City is certainly the most obvious of the Must-Sees of the Must Sees. Greek antiquities, Van Goghs, and British armor worn by none other than King Henry VIII himself, make this treasure trove of art and history an evergreen destination enjoyed across generations. Whatever most interests your child, you’ll be able to find an art connection at the Met. But first, pick up the classic children’s book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
, the tale of a brother and sister living in the museum by night (before security cameras would bust them!) to amp up excitement before their visit. While you’re in New York, try to check out other stalwart art and cultural institutions including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
, Whitney Museum of American Art
, El Museo del Barrio
, Jewish Museum
, Cooper Hewitt
, and, of course, MOMA/Museum of Modern Art
2. Storm King Arts Center
, located in New Windsor, New York (about one hour north of the New York City), is a sprawling 500-acre sculpture garden along the Hudson River. For 50 years, Storm King has played host to large-scale art works by sculptors from around the globe. Make sure you visit an amazing giant three-legged Buddha and maze-like copper structures. Pack an extra bottle of water because, as these things go, thirst will hit hard in the middle of a sunny field. Plus, a tram runs every 30 minutes or so which helps little legs move further distances.
3. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
in Amherst, Massachusetts, is the real life home of the Very Hungry Caterpillar
and friends. Exhibits showcase picture book art from around the world, a sunny art studio lets kids create their own collage masterpieces, and a library allows little patrons to explore the books themselves. The museum was built on an old apple orchard, and families can still picnic among the trees after creating their works of art. While you’re in Amherst, take a side trip to the Emily Dickinson Museum
, the house where one of America’s most famous poets lowered homemade gingerbread down to neighborhood children from her second floor bedroom window. The museum houses a collection of more than 8,000 objects from the poet and her family.
4. The Smithsonian
in our nation’s capital is to America what the Louvre is to France. Where should you start? If art is your focus, put aside their air/space and natural history museums for another day and hit one of the many arts-focused museums that the Smithsonian has to offer. One fine choice is the Smithsonian American Art Museum
. Here, works by more than 7,000 American artists span three centuries, from colonial times to present day. Kids can study iconic work by Andrew Wyeth, John Singleton Copley, and Edward Hopper. Folk art galleries are full of works by self-taught artists who integrate found materials into their art, such as wood scraps, tin foil, and bottle caps; perfect inspiration to glean from when you’re back at the ranch. While you’re in D.C., also visit the National Gallery of Art
where their cool “Artful Conversation” sessions for kids combine a guided discussion about one piece of art with a creative sketching exercise. One other important note: The Smithsonian museums are all free. Really!
5. Located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the Norman Rockwell Museum
celebrates the Saturday Evening Post
artist, but also features rotating exhibits of contemporary children’s book illustrators. One of the most important spaces in this compact museum is the centerpiece room displaying Rockwell’s Four Freedoms
paintings (inspired by President Roosevelt’s famous speech).
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6. The Please Touch Museum
in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been hard at play since it opened its doors for the under-seven set in 1976. Their play-based philosophy is captured in six different “exhibit zones.” This is where kids can try their hand at the art of flying or move through a colorful and expansive “Wonderland” area that tips its hat to Alice, naturally. And if you happen to be on the “left coast,” make plans to visit the Exploratorium
in San Francisco. In this oversized space featuring more than 600 exhibits, discovery comes in all shapes and sizes. By offering fun tools and experiences, children learn amazing things about art and science.
7. Hello, Cleveland! Imagine 150,000 square feet, seven floors, and five theaters for (wait for it…) ROCK ‘n’ ROLL at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum
. People flock here to hear great music but also to learn about the history, impact, and lasting significance of this music. There are multiple exhibits, a library and archive, and educational programs for kids of all ages. So whether you were rocking to Buddy Holly, the Beatles, or the Beastie Boys, you’ll be a hero to your kids, especially those hard-to-please teens.
8. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
, at 472,900 square feet, purports to be the largest children’s museum in the world. There is a rotating collection of 120,000 objects, but their star attraction is glass master Dale Chihuly’s permanent installation piece, “Fireworks of Glass,” which stands at 43 feet tall. A ramp runs around the perimeter of the sculpture so visitors can study it from different heights. Beneath it, a rotating couch offers yet another view, and kids can use computers at permanent stations to simulate the art of glass blowing.
9. San Diego now has something besides its famed zoo for kids to check out. The New Children’s Museum
of San Diego’s motto is “think, create, play,” and the execution of this philosophy is evident in this 50,000 square-foot colossus devoted to the continual growth of “the language of art.” Creativity is key at the museum as children roll up their sleeves and experience the museum’s multiple galleries, workshops, and studios.
10. Here’s a tricky riddle for your kids: How can you be in four different states at the same time? It’s easy when you visit the Four Corners Monument
. Located on Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, this is the only place in the United States where four states intersect: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. (How cool is that?) Check out the parks and preserves plus the visitor center where you can learn all about Native American culture from jewelry, crafts, even foods. Oh, and one more thing. Make sure you bring lots of water. It is the desert, after all.
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11. Since it first opened its doors back to the Depression era, the Southern Highland Craft Guild at the Folk Art Center
in Ashville, North Carolina has most definitely multiplied many times over. A partner of the National Park Service, the center features contemporary and traditional folk art of the Southern Appalachians in an effort to share, educate, and preserve the artistry of this area. The center includes three galleries, a library, auditorium, and, of course, a craft shop. Children and adults have the opportunity to support the work of more than 1,000 local artisans from nine southeastern states.
12. Grab your sneakers and take a hike in jazz history at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
. (Yes, this is a different kind of national park—one that commemorates and celebrates jazz, not a battle or landscape.) Here, you’ll be able to join other jazz enthusiasts on the streets of “The Big Easy” right where this truly American-form of music all began. Where to start? Right at the visitor center in the city’s French Quarter. Along with free concerts and various walking tours of six neighborhoods, you’ll get to know the people, places, and sounds that made jazz so important to the country.
13. What if your child’s interested in architecture? No problem. Take the A train to New York City. Once there, look up and catch the Art Deco style of the Empire State Building
and the Chrysler Building
; the Beaux Arts elegance of Grand Central Station
, the New York Public Library
, and “Chicago’s” version of the style in the iconic Flatiron Building
; and the Gothic Revival grace of St. Patrick’s Church
and lower Manhattan’s, 17th- century Trinity Church
, the church that (somehow) survived the 9/11 attacks. But why limit your family to NYC? Every city in America has a history and a building or structure to see. Check out your hometown and the buildings that make it unique.
14. There’s little doubt that your student knows all about that fateful night—April 14, 1865—when President and Mrs. Lincoln went to enjoy a night at the theater. One shot changed the course of history as Mr. Lincoln sat in his box at the Ford Theatre
in Washington, DC. Now it’s time to close those textbooks and step into the actual place where it actually happened. Besides attending a live performance at the theater, you also can visit the Ford Theatre Museum which chronicles the life and legacy of our 16th president and the newly constructed Center for Education and Leadership. In addition, you’ll want to walk across the street to the Petersen House, where Lincoln died the following morning. No book or lesson can replace this firsthand experience.
And while visiting our nation’s capital, there’s another place you and your arts-loving family MUST make its way to…
15. Overlooking the Potomac River stands the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
. And if you’re looking for the arts, “the Kennedy Center got arts!” Name your favorite performance art. Theater? Got it. Dance and ballet? Got it. Opera, orchestral music, jazz, puppetry, folk music and dance. Got all that, too. As America’s national center for the performing arts, the Kennedy Center offers adults and children alike an opportunity to experience the arts up close. Open every day of the year, thousands of performances and performers from America and around the world grace its multiple stages and venues. Plus, there are more than 400 free performances each year on their Millennium Stage (at precisely 6pm every day!). But if you can’t make it to D.C., continue to browse ARTS
, just like you’re doing right now, for the best in arts education for educators, families, and students. Enjoy!