Hey Mom, Let's See Art!

Many children love to create art, but looking at art is often a different story. At the mention of museums, my son usually groans. But not last week.

It was Alex's school vacation, and I broached the idea of going to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), with his friend Prescott and Prescott's mother.

He let out a grudging "OK." So far so good. When I told him what we had in mind - an exhibit on Wallace & Gromit - I even got a triumphant "Yes!" out of him.

Wallace & Gromit, the inventive animated film characters you've probably seen in "A Grand Day Out," "The Wrong Trousers," or "A Close Shave," are guaranteed child-pleasers. They are the subject of a delightful new show at the MFA, which entertained us for more than an hour.

We thought that would be enough for the boys. How wrong we were. Prescott proceeded to lead Alex down several corridors. "Come this way," he insisted. "You have to see the Egyptian mummies. Oh, and you'll love the masks." Then came the Roman jewels and coins, the church door from Spain, the 17th-century tapestry, and more - with the wide-eyed boys taking turns leading their arts-editor and art-teacher mothers along.

At one point, we nudged them into the Impressionist galleries to show them some painting techniques we thought they'd like.

They couldn't have cared less.

So much for our momish approach to learning about art. Realizing that nothing could be as exciting (or enriching) as their self-guided tour, we clammed up and followed them once again.

Then, one boy suddenly reminded the other of the electronic Yahtzee game in the car, and they made a beeline for the exit doors. Our day at the MFA was over. But what a day it was.

Perhaps I'll still get a groan out of Alex when I suggest a museum visit, but probably not as often now. There's nothing like one child's enthusiasm, curiosity, and sense of adventure to rev up another's.

Not every child has a friend like Prescott. There are many other ways to get kids into your nearby art museum. Here are some of the best suggestions I've come across:

* Choose a child-friendly show. Installations are especially popular since they invite exploration.

* Call first to inquire about special programs for kids.

* Don't be intimidated. You can learn about art together. Encourage discussion with a few basic questions: What do we see? What's going on? How does this artwork make you feel?

* Make an adventure out of the whole experience.

* Take at least two children.

* Don't stay too long.

* Send us your tips for looking at art with children or comments on the Arts & Leisure section to wolcott@csmonitor.com

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