UPDATE September 2015: Stories and Art resumes for the 2015-2016 academic year on September 13th at 1:00pm. This program is scheduled to run every second Sunday of the month, but please be sure to check the Yale University Art Gallery event calendar for details about upcoming programs before you go.
I’ve been really excited to write this post today. I know that I typically talk about how I’m a Rhode Island native who moved to Connecticut nine years ago after a brief stint in Atlanta, GA, but the truth is, I’ve actually been a CT resident once before–when I spent 4 years living in New Haven as a Yalie more than, gulp, a decade and a half ago.
So when the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, CT reached out to us to let us know about their terrific family programs, including their FREE monthly Stories and Art event for families, I jumped at the chance to take my kiddos to stomp around on my old stomping grounds!
Oh, and fair warning, you may have to bear with me today as I occasionally wax nostalgic 🙂
Starting with a parking garage. Yup. A parking garage. Although there is lots of metered street parking at Yale, I usually prefer to head for a garage when I visit. There are so many convenient ones and then you don’t have to worry about things like feeding a meter (although that’s not necessary on a Sunday, I believe) and parallel parking with impatient drivers trying to whiz past you as you back in. You can find a great map of the Yale campus and public parking areas here.
The Chapel-York parking garage is where I parked my car Junior and Senior years. As it turns out, this was also the most convenient parking option for us on this day, as it is open to the public and just steps away from the Yale Art Gallery. Ahhh, it hasn’t changed a bit.
The garage has an elevator, so you can easily get yourself down to the ground floor with a stroller.
Because the program didn’t start until 1:00 pm, we had planned to arrive early enough to grab some lunch from one of my favorite eateries (Claire’s Corner Copia), which happens to be completely vegetarian and offers a mouth-watering selection of salads, soups, entrees, baked goods and desserts (oh, the desserts!), and then head over to Old Campus for a picnic. The Yale Art Gallery is located on the corner of York and Chapel, and Claire’s is just a short walk down Chapel Street from the Gallery.
Lunch in hand, we headed around the corner and down College Street to the Phelps Gate entrance to Old Campus.
Old Campus, which contains the University’s most historic buildings since it moved to New Haven in the early 1700’s, houses a mix of classrooms, offices, and other university facilities, but is primarily known as the quadrangle where most of the freshman live for their first year before heading off to their designated residential colleges for the following years (yay Davenport!).
The kids had fun running around and blowing off some steam before the big art gallery session.
And of course, as any good Yalie would do, I had to give ol’ Woolsey’s toe a shine (for good luck). Naturally, the kiddos followed suit. Tradition is very big here 🙂
And then it was off to the Gallery.
These stairs lead up to the front door, but you can also use the lift (opposite the bottom of the staircase) if you need to maneuver a stroller inside.
The museum is always FREE and open to the public (although donations are accepted in a box by the entrance), so no need to worry about tickets or purchasing admission. Once in, you’ll want to head for the information desk. There, you can pick up a FREE family guide to the galleries.
This interactive kit contains some helpful booklets that can make the experience even more meaningful for youngsters, as well as a “felt kit”, which allows them to create some mess-free art of their own as they tour the galleries with you 🙂
Also included is a similar booklet for looking more closely at the architecture of the building and the materials used to build it. One of the great things about these guides is that you can really use them anywhere in the museum. You don’t have to find a particular room or a particular piece of art. You can go where you want to go (for a change!) and your kiddos will be able to use their guides and felt kit in any room.
If you have an oversized bag or backpack, you’ll need to stow it in one of the lockers before you enter the galleries. Quarters are necessary to operate the lockers, but are returned to you once you unlock the locker. You can borrow a quarter from the information desk if you need to (they don’t mind– just try to remember to give it back when you’re done).
I know it can be a little
terrifying unsettling to have to leave your diaper bag behind, but it’s really for the safety of the art. They don’t want anyone turning around too quickly and accidentally knocking over a precious sculpture or brushing against a priceless piece of art with a tote bag or backpack. If you have a smaller bag that you can bring to house your essentials (say, the size of a normal purse– you know, like the kind you used to carry before you had kids), you’ll be able to keep that with you. But don’t sweat it if you forget. The Gallery has small tote bags that you can borrow during your visit.
One word of caution while we’re talking about not wrecking the art: there are places in the Gallery where you’ll find what the family program teachers adorably described to the kids as “hidden art.” This means, there may be some instances where you don’t even realize the thing you are touching is a work of art. Like here in the lobby. Yup. Learned that the hard way.
So just be aware of what’s around you. There are lots of security guards around though, so if it looks like you’re getting too close to something you shouldn’t, they’ll let you know 🙂
Speaking of touching things, the Stories and Art program meets at the couches in the lobby, and it begins with a short introduction that includes some direction for the kiddos about what to do with their hands in an art gallery. The kids were given three options for their hands to help them keep from touching things they shouldn’t: at their sides, behind their backs or in their pockets 🙂 Boo took this lesson very seriously.
Once everyone was clear on the gallery etiquette, it was time to go in!
When you get to the designated area of the museum, grown-ups (and kids too if they really want one) can grab one of these folding gallery stools (hanging on the rack there). Although, you are also welcome to sit on the floor with your child.
The program is run by graduate students at the University, and it sounds like over time they have really put their own stamp on it and turned it into an event that families look forward to and return for each month. In a nutshell, it works like this: families gather in front of a designated work of art, one of the graduate student “teachers” tells a story which has some association with the art, and then the teacher interacts with the kids to discuss how elements of the story and the artwork are intertwined and help them make some connections between the stories and the art. It sounds just like a college-level art history class, right?! But it’s for kids! How cool is that?!
The stories we heard today were not your typical children’s stories either, and they were not read out of a book but rather told to us (and isn’t storytelling an art form in and of itself too?). Sometimes the story was directly related to the painting we were looking at (such as a story about how Jackson Pollock painted as we were looking at one of his works).
Or this story and art pairing where the Irish myth the teacher recounted took place in a stretch of landscape depicted in the painting.
Another time though, the connection was less specific, but still meaningful, such as hearing the story of King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone while contemplating a painting of castle ruins in the English countryside.
Each time, we walked to a different area in the museum–different floors even! It was nice for the kids to break up the sitting with a little movement.
The three story sessions lasted about an hour total, which seems like a long time to expect children to sit still, right? But I was so impressed by this group of kids! Or maybe it was the teacher’s ability to hold their interest. They paid attention, they participated, they made some really insightful observations! All of which leads me to believe that you can never be too young to appreciate real art (and if you don’t believe me, check back in a few weeks when I’ll tell you about a fine art gallery tour designed just for babies!).
After the stories, there is usually an activity to help further connect the stories and the art. Today, since we had ended with a story that involved a cave, we spent a little time looking around that gallery for other paintings of caves.
Typically, at the end of the session there is either a felt kit for the kids to use or pencils and paper for drawing.
Boo drew for a long time. I asked him once if he was almost done and he gave me an emphatic “no.” A few minutes and a whole lot of lines and squiggles later, he announced that it was done. I love it how kids just know when they are done 🙂 In this rather abstract work (kind of Pollock-style but with a pencil!), I see a pig, a dinosaur, and a dog. How about you?
Boo was still talking about the paintings when we met hubby and the little guy in the lobby afterwards. (Turns out my 20-month-old was a little too antsy for this program, but he and hubby had fun touring the other parts of the very stroller-friendly museum.)
After all that studious attention to art (Boo and I had quite a few conversations about the paintings and I was really impressed by his powers of observation!), I thought a treat was in order. So we headed across Chapel Street to Atticus, the bookstore/bakery/cafe I used to frequent as a student so many years ago, for one of their giant chocolate chip cookies.
Hubby and I totally wanted to grab a couple delicious lattes for ourselves, but I thought it was probably not a good idea to be balancing two hot beverages while trying to maneuver two kids plus all our stuff around the block, across a busy street, and back into the parking garage. We’d just have to wait for a drive-through for our caffeine fix 🙂
The Yale Art Gallery’s Stories and Art event for families is such a unique find. It’s a thought-provoking, challenging (in a good way), enjoyable program that teaches, entertains, and most importantly, helps parents get started having real conversations with their kids about art. It’s never too early!
Have you been to a family-focused program or event at a local art museum? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also find them on Facebook.
Yale University Art Gallery Hours:
- 10:00 am–5:00 pm
- Thursday (Sept.–June)
- 10:00 am–8:00 pm
- 11:00 am–5:00 pm
Closed Mondays and on these major holidays: New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day
The Stories and Art Program takes place on the second Sunday of every month (September through May) at 1:00 pm. Meet at the couches in the lobby.
- Stroller Friendly: YES.
- Coffee Mug Friendly: NO.
- Restroom: YES.
- Baby Changing Station: YES.
- Parking: The Gallery itself does not have a parking area, but there is metered street parking on nearby streets as well as several parking garage options.
- Food for Sale: NO.
- Outside Food Allowed: NO.
- Cash Required: NO for the Art Gallery. YES for the parking garages.
- Dress Code: NO. But be aware that large bags and oversized coats will need to be left in the lockers off the lobby. You can borrow a small tote bag from the Gallery if you need to bring a few things with you, but your bag is too large.
- Evening/Weekend Hours: YES.
- Age Recommendations: Although there is no set age range for this program, my general understanding is that it is mostly geared towards children 10 and under. Your child should be comfortable sitting still for a period of time (10-15 minutes for each story). At 4 1/2, Boo was not the youngest one there, nor was he the oldest. We even saw a few babies in strollers–Hey, it’s a fun way for parents to enjoy the galleries too!)
- Discounts: Can’t do better than FREE!
- Birthday Party Venue: NO.
- NEW New England Air Museum – Located in Windsor Locks, CT, NEAM houses dozens of historic civilian and military aircraft and memorabilia in two giant hangers that visitors can tour. A family-friendly destination, the museum also hosts a variety of fun and educational events and activities for kids. Check out their 2015 April vacation activities from 4/13-4/17 & 4/20-4/24! (Read the OAAM post on this destination here)
- Connecticut Children’s Medical Center – The state’s only free-standing hospital that offers comprehensive, world-class health care to children. Based in Hartford, Connecticut Children’s also provides services at several locations throughout the state.
- The Independent Day School – Located on a rural campus in Middlefield, CT, this private pre-school, elementary and middle school serves families from over 20 communities.
- Mandell JCC – The Mandell JCC, Zachs Campus, 335 Bloomfield Avenue, West Hartford, CT, welcomes and serves families and individuals of all ages, stages, backgrounds and faiths. Our fitness, wellness and recreation, arts and culture, camp, early childhood education programs, classes, clubs and services are open to all. You Belong Here!
- Marie-Chantal Luxury Children’s wear – Giving one lucky reader a chance to WIN $500 to spend in their online store. Marie-Chantal is a global lifestyle brand creating unique and beautifully crafted designer children’s clothes and gifts for boys and girls from newborn to 12 years old.
Want to keep up with things to do with kids in Connecticut?
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