The Pre-K Invasion: Developing New Tours for Young Audiences

This April, some of NMWA’s oldest paintings entertained the museum’s youngest audience. In a series of pilot tours for preschoolers, NMWA’s Education staff led 140 energetic Pre-K and kindergarten students through the galleries to examine portraits, colors, and shapes. Seated on rainbow-colored carpet squares, tiny visitors listened to stories, explored paintings, and experimented with diverse materials in their own art projects.

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Pre-K visitors explore poses and posture in front of Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

As the intern charged with crafting this new tour experience, I quickly realized that flexibility was key. Months of planning and research culminated in three thought-out lesson plans. However, unexpected obstacles still arose. School buses ran late, large events occupied the museum’s Great Hall, and an educator was accidentally scheduled to give two tours at once. I designed the tours to last 45 minutes, allow for ten students per educator, and conclude with an art-making activity in the Great Hall. In the end, the tours lasted an hour and art-making occasionally shifted locations.

Pre-K visitors experiment with art-making in the galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Pre-K visitors experiment with art-making in the galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Activities morphed based on the students’ interest, participation, and cooperation. Some of the preschoolers enjoyed using viewfinders to act like “color detectives” while other groups found the tool distracting. By the last program, we had figured out the most efficient ways to use materials in the galleries.

The art-making, movement activities, and stories captivated our young audience. The preschoolers found the dog in Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman and the unicorn in Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly in Her Mind easy to talk about—as well as the eye-catching outfits of each painting’s subject. They enjoyed mimicking shapes and lines with their bodies in front of Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain and using “magic paintbrushes” to imagine the expressive brush strokes in Joan Mitchell’s Orange. Students were eager to mix oil pastels and rip colored tape in their hands-on art activities. While creating self-portraits, they used hand mirrors to admire their faces. They were proud to take their artwork home as a reminder of their experience.

Overall, the program was a huge success! Logistical hurdles aside, we received positive feedback from teachers and chaperones who thought the tours were engaging and age-appropriate. Hearing kids say, “Wow! This place is cool!” or mention how much fun they had made the entire experience worth every ounce of effort it took to make it happen. I am excited for the future of these tours and cannot wait to hear how they play out during the next school year.

—Valerie Bundy was the winter/spring 2016 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She is a former Pre-K teacher who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in museum education at the George Washington University.

Little Legs and Big Imaginations: Tours for Pre-K Visitors

NMWA hosts free and hands-on thematic tours for students in kindergarten through high school. This April, the museum launches a pilot series of tours created specifically for early learners—children ages 3–6. As the Education Department’s intern, I collaborated with the museum’s summer Teacher Institute alumni to create a Pre-K tour for NMWA. Teachers answered surveys, provided feedback on lesson plans, and signed up to bring more than 140 Pre-K students test the museum’s pilot tour.

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Valerie Bundy reads Hanoch Piven’s book to preschoolers; Photo: NMWA

I wanted to create an art-filled tour that would hold the interest of young minds. I considered which museum spaces were best for a young, energetic audience. Are objects positioned low enough for young children to see? Is there space for ten kids to sit comfortably without obstructing other visitors’ paths? Which art materials are allowed in the galleries? How do kids with little legs maneuver quickly through the museum?

Feedback from teachers, personal experience, and collaboration with staff helped answer these questions.

We decided to offer tours that are shorter than 60 minutes, focus on two artworks, and begin before public hours. This project will introduce early learners to art concepts in three categories: colors, shapes, and portraits. Before exploring the collection, students will listen to a story related to the theme of the tour: My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, Perfect Square by Michael Hall, or My Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil by Hanoch Piven.

On the tours, we will visit large artworks with a lot of visual interest—like Antoine Cécile Hortense Haudebourt-Lescot’s Young Woman Seated in the Shade of a Tree. Chakaia Booker’s attention-grabbing Acid Rain might be too accessible for little hands, so we wukk explain “museum manners.” They might be asked to look at Lynda Benglis’s Eridanus and re-create its shape and lines with their bodies, identify the colors in Elaine de Kooning’s Bacchus #3 using color-detective spyglasses, or pose like Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman before creating their own self-portraits.

Students explore Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain

Students explore Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain; Photo: NMWA

In the museum’s Great Hall, our tiny visitors will have the opportunity for hands-on material exploration. We will encourage them to experiment with the process of creating by using materials like oil pastels, colored pencils, glue, fabric, and paper scraps. Because the Great Hall’s marble floor would be uncomfortable to sit on, we ordered carpet squares for the kids. Prioritizing the process of making over the final product, we hope to expose Pre-K audiences to authentic materials and get them inspired by NMWA’s collection. The museum’s Great Hall often provides a stunning backdrop for various elegant events, but it’s exciting to think of the space filled with rainbow-colored carpet squares, art supplies, and preschoolers with big imaginations.

—Valerie Bundy is the winter/spring 2016 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She is a former Pre-K teacher who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in museum education at the George Washington University.