PLEASE NOTE: This post was written in 2015, and while it should still give you a good overview of the experience, it is also possible that it may contain some outdated information. Please check their website for the most current information, especially about things like hours, schedules and pricing. If you see something in this post that needs to be updated, feel free to leave us a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to make the updates. Hey, it takes a village, right? 🙂
PLEASE NOTE: NBMAA has recently undergone a renovation that has dramatically changed the building, including the parking lot, outdoor spaces and areas that we mention in this post like the ArtLab. Check out our original NBMAA post for a sneak peek of the renovated ArtLab space!
UPDATE 8/11/15: NBMAA made some changes to their website so some of the links in this post were no longer working. I tried to update them, but in the event that I missed a link or two, you can find all the information about NBMAA’s family-friendly programs here.
Also, please note that the museum now offers a program for kids ages 2-3 called “Museum & Me Too: Toddler Time.”
Thank you to the New Britain Museum of American Art for allowing me complimentary admission to the museum. All opinions are 100% my own.
If someone had told me before I had children that an honest-to-goodness art museum would be one of my favorite places to take my baby/toddler/preschooler, I would have thought they were crazy. Seriously off their rocker! I mean, what?! Baby and art museum do not mix. Right?
Wrong! Fast forward five years and two kids and wouldn’t you know it, an art museum is one of my absolute favorite places to bring Boo and the little guy. The New Britain Museum of American Art, to be exact. In past years, we checked out one of their particularly family-friendly exhibits (although, I would argue that ALL of their exhibits are family-friendly!). We also brought the senior members of the OAAM crew to one of their drop-in Saturday morning Art Start classes. Plus we’ve spent plenty of time hanging out in the always open kids’ Art Lab.
And then, just when I thought I couldn’t love the New Britain Museum of American Art any more, the little guy and I headed there recently for their newest kid-friendly (or should I say baby-friendly!) offering: Museum & Me: Playdates with Art. Yup. It’s official. I am completely, totally, irrevocably, head-over-heels in love…with the New Britain Museum of American Art 🙂
Think you can’t take your baby or toddler to an art museum? Think again! This program is specially designed for little ones ages 0-2!
Let’s back up to just about a year ago though. I had recently published this post filled with super outing ideas for new moms. So when Mandy and I brought the kiddos in for the Art Start class last May, my mind was already buzzing with questions for Katy Matsuzaki, Coordinator of School & Family Programs at the museum, about the possibility of a class for babies at NBMAA (the little guy was just 9 months at the time). Well, guess what?! To my surprise and delight, Katy informed me that such a class was already in the works and a pilot class had even been scheduled for that coming August. I marked my calendar.
Of course, then last summer got turned topsy-turvy when we decided to sell our house and move down the street to bigger digs (one carload at a time, may I add–and I do NOT recommend that method of moving, even if you are only going a mile down the road!). So June ran into July and July quickly turned into August and before I knew it class day had come and gone and I had not been able to attend.
Happily though, the class–adorably titled “Museum & Me: Playdates with Art”— was a success! Which meant that I would have more opportunities to test it out with my little guy. And finally, this past April, I was able to make it there. Hooray!
The building was looking a little different that day, mainly because of a large-scale construction project going on to add a new Art & Education wing to the museum (and the possibility for even MORE new family-friendly programs! Yay!).
Fortunately, the ongoing construction has not significantly altered much about how visitors park at or enter the building (although you’ll notice that a portion of the parking area is taken up with the construction). Here’s Boo modeling the walkway to the museum’s entrance that’s just off the parking lot back in 2014 (pre-construction).
So for those logistical details, you can jump over to my original post about the museum. Even though the parking lot is a little smaller right now, it is still the best place to park for stroller access to the museum since it is adjacent to the entrance ramp leading the front door (and as Katy reminded me, the Museum & Me program actually starts a FULL HOUR before the museum opens to the general public, so you should have no trouble securing a parking space.)
Speaking of timing, let’s start there. The Museum & Me program takes place from 10-11:00am on select Friday mornings (currently they occur about once every two months, but hopefully the museum will be able to increase the frequency once the renovations are completed). As I mentioned above, this means the class starts A FULL HOUR before the museum even opens. How amazing is that?! The entire museum, totally reserved for moms (or dads or grandmas or nannies) and their wee ones!
The class is FREE with museum admission (and if you are particularly organized, you can even use a library museum pass to get in for FREE that day as well). It’s a drop-in class, which means you do not need to register in advance or even tell them that you are coming.
After you pay for your admission at the front desk, you can proceed through the glass doors to your left. (No, he’s not real; but he sure looks it, huh? If you have no idea what I am talking about, just wait until your first visit–you will!).
If you want to leave your things in the coat room off the lobby first, you can (there’s also a restroom there). But feel free to bring all your stuff (stroller, bag, coats, etc.) with you because there is plenty of space to stash your things in the gathering room.
The Stanley Works Center, which serves as the “home base” for this program, is just around the corner and on your right.
This is where the group meets, hangs out for a bit, and will ultimately reconvene when the gallery tour is over. It’s also open to children and caregivers THE ENTIRE TIME, so if you need to take a break or feed your baby or your little one just isn’t feeling the art today, you can return there whenever you need to.
Also, there’s coffee (and tea and water). Yay coffee! And snacks. Yay snacks! All complimentary. If you prefer, you can even bring in your own coffee beverage and snacks. Just be sure to leave all food and beverages behind in the Stanley Works Center when you make your way into the other parts of the museum.
As you can see, this room has been transformed into a baby/toddler paradise! There are brightly colored mats on the floor (and matching bean bag chairs!). Books, toys, puzzles and other sensory objects are everywhere.
There is even an opportunity for the little ones to express their artistic side!
Here’s where I need to mention that I had a very special helper that day. Her name is Pat and she is one of the wonderful docents there at the museum. At each Museum & Me class you will find several of these lovely ladies helping out with the little ones. (And if you think they are wonderful to have around in this room, just wait until you go up into the galleries!) They are kind and patient and so excited about sharing this experience with you and your little one. And I seriously could not have written this post without Pat (thank you again, Pat!). You’ll see why in a moment 🙂
So anyway, Pat and the little guy bonded almost immediately over board books, bouncy balls, and bottle caps (in a tube). Good news for me as it freed me up to take lots of pictures!
After some playtime in the Stanley Works Center, it was time to head out into the main part of the museum. Katy (in the center there) welcomed everyone to the class and spent a few moments talking about how to engage the babies (and toddlers) as we explored the galleries.
She had lots of helpful tips like focusing on pieces of art that are high-contrast. And she even had a mission for us today, which was to look for artwork that fit today’s theme of “laughing.” Each Museum & Me session has a theme like that because, let’s face it, it can be helpful to have a little bit of direction as you go out and explore with your kiddo!
Here we go! A dozen babies and toddlers let loose in an art museum! What could possibly go wrong? Haha. Just kidding…sort of 🙂
We all took the elevator up to the second floor (strollers are welcome, of course, but a wearable baby carrier might be better for getting your non-walker–or wobbly walker–up close and personal with the art), and headed into our first gallery.
Since no one else was in the museum yet, we didn’t even have to worry about being disruptive with a dozen under-2-year-olds. And we just took to exploring the exhibits together (with the help of Katy and those amazing docents I mentioned earlier).
One work in particular was a perfect fit with our laughter theme. It’s a video of many different clips of people laughing. The little guy loved that. And he also loved looking at his own smile/laugh in the mirror.
This piece was popular as well. I never really noticed it before on my previous visits, but if you stand on top and look down, it appears as though you are floating atop a bottomless hole! The little guy and I both found that a little mind-bending 🙂
Something else I had overlooked on earlier visits to the museum are all the unique and fascinating benches that punctuate the galleries. The benches themselves are a marvelous study in form and particularly texture– smooth ones, rough ones, cold ones, flat ones, bumpy ones. Art you can sit on! Or in this case, art the kiddos could climb on, slide on, lie on, pound on, and ride on 🙂
But even the “regular” art seemed to capture the kids’ imaginations. It was amazing to see how into it they were! It makes sense though, right? Little kids love to look at things, especially things with shape and color and texture. And what has more shape and color and texture than art???
And faces. Little ones loooooove faces. Again, a no-brainer, right?
My vehicle-loving Boo would have been obsessed with this one!
When the kiddos had made their way through the upstairs rooms, we headed down the main staircase so as not to miss the latest (and incredible!) art installation there.
Or the Chihuly chandelier hanging from the ceiling (that my photo could never do justice).
But today, the little guy was most enamored with the horse sculptures in the downstairs hall. I have no idea why, but he just loves horses!
Back in the Stanley Works Center (about an hour after we started), it was time for a snack for the little guy (crackers!), a cup of coffee for me (heaven!), and a little more time to chill. Actually, little ones and their caregivers are welcome to hang out in this room as long as they like, even after the program ends around 11:00. And of course, since participants have already paid for museum admission for that day, there’s no rush to leave at all.
We decided to head over to the Art Lab (which is back through the main lobby and just down the hall on the other side). This is also a great place to hang out with books, dress-up clothes, blocks, and other things kids can use to get creative.
If you can stay for lunch, I highly recommend the cafe. I’ve eaten there a few times and it is delicious! There’s even an outdoor patio with tables and umbrellas so you can hang out and enjoy the weather during the warmer months. (And so long as you are purchasing food or beverages at the cafe, you are welcome to bring in your baby/toddler’s food so they can eat their lunch while you enjoy yours).
We had so much fun at the New Britain Museum of American Art’s Museum & Me: Playdates with Art class! It was such a unique and exceptional experience to have the whole art museum practically to ourselves and to be able to explore the galleries through the eyes of our babies and toddlers. As it turns out, you’re never too young to appreciate art!
I am sad that in just a couple months the little guy (who turns 2 in July) will have aged out of this wonderful program! But the good news is that the success of Museum & Me has created a “graduating class” of two-year-olds primed and ready for a brand new NBMAA program called Museum & Me Too, which will be geared towards those 2-year-olds 🙂 This program will launch this coming September (currently slated for its inaugural meeting on September 11, 2015 from 10-10:45am).
I know I can’t wait! Ahhh, my love affair with NBMAA continues… 🙂
For questions about children’s programs, please contact Katy Matsuzaki, Coordinator of School & Family Programs, (860) 229-0257, ext. 220 or at email@example.com.
The Museum & Me program meets from 10am-11am on select Friday mornings. It is a drop-in program; no registration necessary. The next scheduled dates for this program are:
- June 12, 2015 from 10-11am
- August 14, 2015 from 10-11am
- October 9, 2015 from 10-11am
- December 11, 2015 from 10-11am
General Museum Hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Thursday: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday: noon – 5 p.m.
Closed New Years Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas
Museum & Me is FREE with your paid museum admission!
- Members FREE
- $12 for Adults
- $10 for Seniors
- $8 for Students
- Children under 12 FREE
- Saturday admission from 10 a.m. to noon is FREE
- Stroller Friendly: YES. The entire museum is stroller-accessible, but I would recommend planning to use a wearable baby carrier while you are exploring the galleries with your non-walking little one. It will allow them to have a better view of the art and enable you to interact with them more fully.
- Coffee Mug Friendly: YES. You can bring in your own travel mug but it must remain in the Stanley Works Center while you enter the rest of the museum. Complimentary coffee (and tea) is also available there.
- Restroom: YES. Restrooms with baby changing stations available on both floors.
- Baby Changing Station: YES.
- Parking: YES. There is a big lot adjacent to the Museum. Street parking in front is also available.
- Food for Sale: YES. The museum has a wonderful cafe with lots of delicious menu items.
- Outside Food Allowed: YES. Just so long as it stays in the Stanley Works Center. You can also feel free to bring your baby/toddler’s food into The Museum’s cafe so long as you are also purchasing food and/or beverage there.
- Cash Required: NO.
- Dress Code: NO.
- Age Recommendations: The Museum & Me program is designed for little ones from birth up until they turn 2. But the Museum has lots of exciting programs for older children too!
- Evening/Weekend Hours: YES.
- Discounts: A Museum Pass may be available from your local library and you can use that to gain free admission into the museum. Also, there is FREE admission to the museum from 10am-noon on Saturday mornings.
- Birthday Party Venue: YES. See here for more information.
- 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.
- The Little Green Tambourine – Located in Canton, CT, this healthy living creative arts studio offers a variety of opportunities for kids to learn and play.
- 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!
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