Thank you to the Florence Griswold Museum for giving my family complimentary admission to the Museum for the purpose of writing this post. All opinions are 100% my own.
OK…fair warning, friends. I am going to geek out BIG in this post. Shawna was right on the money when she thought I’d be interested in writing about Discovery Sundays at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme because this wonderful family-friendly activity encompasses pretty much everything I’m passionate about. Art? Check. Beautiful outdoor space? Check. Warm, inviting atmosphere and engaging, hands-on activities for a busy 3-and-a-half year-old? A somewhat surprisingly HUGE check on this one. I know what you’re thinking: “Is this chick NUTS?! She went to an art museum, right? Those places are FULL of valuable things my child is definitely not supposed to (and will definitely want to) touch!” I know that you’re thinking this because I had some very similar thoughts before our visit.
However, I was incredibly pleased to find several age-appropriate ways to not only entertain my child, but to help him engage with the art and history of the location–many of which are available every day that the museum is open, and not just on Discovery Sundays. I found myself internally exclaiming “Oh my gosh, that’s GENIUS!” again and again. There was so much to do that we didn’t even get to everything and will most definitely be heading back before long. Since my family went primarily to have the whole Discovery Sunday experience (a quick art lesson followed by some panting on the museum grounds) I’ll focus primarily on that, but will highlight other kid-friendly fun along the way.
The museum campus is quite expansive and the grounds are absolutely gorgeous. The Flo Gris is way more than just one historic house! When we arrived we took the driveway past Miss Florence’s iconic yellow home and followed it to the (free) parking lots adjacent to Krieble Gallery, which houses the admission desk, museum shop, Cafe Flo, and the museum’s current art exhibition.
The fun started the moment we entered the Gallery building. The museum gift shop is immediately to the right of the entrance, next to the admission desk, so while I went about gathering information about the grounds and taking care of admission, Bug, his Daddy, Nana, and Great Auntie (who just so happens to be an art teacher) scoped out all the shop had to offer.
(As an aside, everyone should make a point of bringing an art teacher with them when visiting an art museum. It’s like having your own, personal docent.)
Anywho, upon checking in at the admissions desk Bug received his very own “Sticker Book Guide to the Florence Griswold Museum.”
This is a real treat for three reasons: 1) The very first page of the book summarizes all of the wonderful kid-friendly activities that the museum offers.
2) The book itself reads like a storybook and beautifully summarizes the history of the Florence Griswold Museum in a very accessible way, illustrated by gorgeous fine art pieces.
3) The book serves as a sort of passport. Each time your child visits the museum, they receive a sticker to complete one of the paintings in the book. After six visits, you earn a prize!
There is no limit on the amount of time you take acquiring the six stickers, but you do need to make sure you hang onto the book between visits if you plan on trying to earn the prize. Since Bug doesn’t really have a grasp on that whole “delayed gratification” thing yet and his brain might have short-circuited if I’d told him there was a prize to be had, yet no way to earn it immediately, I didn’t mention that part to him. For a 3-year-old (or thereabouts) it’s fun just to go to the desk and get your sticker for the day.
Down a short hallway to the left of the admission desk are the Krieble Gallery restrooms (both the men’s and women’s bathrooms have changing tables) and if you hang another left you’ll find yourself at the highly acclaimed Cafe Flo.
Though we didn’t have the opportunity to dine at the Cafe during our visit the menu boasted a delicious array of dishes prepared by Gourmet Galley, utilizing fresh, local ingredients. Not only that, but I was assured that there are a variety of kid-friendly selections, even if they aren’t printed in the menu. Since the offering changes as ingredients come in and go out of season, make sure you ask your server what is available for your tiny diner that day. When I spoke to the staff on hand they seemed more than happy to accommodate!
Or, since outside food is permitted on the museum grounds, you can always pack your own lunch and a blanket! There are certainly plenty of great spots for a picnic.
Our little group’s first stop during our visit, though, was the current art exhibition: Flora and Fauna: The Naturalist Impulse in American Art. We had honestly not even planned on spending that much time in the gallery since it was a gorgeous day outside and we’d come specifically to check out the painting activity (more on that later), but the exhibition was so engaging we couldn’t help but stop in!
I’d highly recommend checking out Flora and Fauna in particular while it’s still around (through September 17) since there is loads of highly recognizable imagery for kids (birds, animals, fruit, etc.), but the staff at the Florence Griswold Museum has also done an excellent job making the art accessible and interesting to even the youngest patrons. Allow me to introduce you to the “Can You Find Me?” cards:
These laminated cards, held together by a metal ring, are scattered around the gallery and are so much fun. We found this particular set on an upholstered bench in front of one of the paintings, but we saw others hanging in other places as well. If you have any trouble finding a set during your visit, don’t hesitate to ask someone. Though the exhibitions change there are always corresponding “Can You Find Me?” cards that encourage kids to search for different details in the paintings. It was kind of like a real-life I-Spy.
There was also a fun little coloring activity to enjoy!
But why stay inside and color with pencils and crayons when we could be outside with PAINT? So we took the scenic route through the gardens from the Krieble Gallery over to the Hartman Education Center.
Going through the gardens brought us to the entrance at the back of the building, but the front looks like this:
And it is in this building where the main attraction of Discovery Sundays lies: the necessary supplies for some authentic “en plein air” painting, just like the artists of the Lyme Art Colony did over 100 years ago! I suppose it’s possible, even likely, that Henry Ward Ranger didn’t sit on a carpet circle while he painted and he probably didn’t need a little color mixing cheat-sheet so that he remembered how to make orange, but that’s beside the point entirely.
It should be noted that painting supplies are only available on Discovery Sundays April through September since projects change from painting to special event-themed crafts when the annual Wee Faerie Village starts in October (see Shawna’s 2013 post about that event here).
Among the items provided are: smocks (recycled button-down shirts), carpet circles or folding stools for sitting on while you paint, a small metal pail of water along with a handful of brushes in various sizes, a canvas board to create your masterpiece on, paper towel, clipboard, and a pallet with acrylic paints in white, red, yellow, and blue. These supplies are more than satisfactory for the experience, but artists are welcomed to bring their own supplies as well if they’d prefer. There is also, very conveniently, another restroom in this building along with a water cooler.
After a quick painting lesson (how to mix colors along with some helpful composition pointers), we were turned loose to CREATE!
It was in this moment that I actually got to pause and reflect on what a great, inter-generational experience this was for my family. Three generations enjoying a memorable afternoon together in a place that was equally pleasant for all of us. Now don’t get me wrong – watching your child enjoy an activity meant for children can be great too, but there was something truly special about participating in this all-ages activity together.
Once that approximately 5-minute period of time was over, Bug was ready to move on to the next activity. So, off he went with his Daddy to find the Art Cart (available on the museum grounds April through October near Krieble Gallery) while Nana, Auntie, and I enjoyed some time painting by the river. At times like this, having what could be considered an absurdly high adult to kid ratio is really extremely handy.
Bug selected the “Leaf Rubbing” kit, brought the materials back to our painting spot, and got right down to work.
By the time he’d finished this activity, we had all “gotten to a good stopping place” with our paintings and were ready to return all of our borrowed supplies.
And after having spent, quite literally, hours at the Florence Griswold Museum, there were still things left to do and see – even for a museum patron Bug’s age. There is a completely separate set of “Can You Find Me?” cards for the museum gardens located in the Rafal Landscape Center…
…and a scavenger hunt for kids in the historic Florence Griswold house…which, I’m a little embarrassed to say, we did not even set foot in the day we were there.
Fortunately, there are some excellent excuses to go back for another visit in the very near future! Old Lyme’s townwide Midsummer Festival is coming up July 28 & 29 and Florence Griswold Museum is hosting a full slate of events as part of the festivities, including “Folk Music for Young Folk with David Fry” at 11:30am and 1:30pm on the 29th, and of course there’s the Wee Faerie Village September 30 through October 29. But truly, who needs an excuse? I have no doubt my family will be visiting Miss Florence again very soon.
Audrey Beatty is a work-at-home mom and proud CT native. Before becoming a mother, Audrey made her career working in marketing and development capacities at various notable nonprofits including The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network. Audrey now works from home assisting with grant writing for CPBN. Additionally, she manages a direct sales business as a consultant for Norwex and also volunteers for local arts-for-youth organization, Epoch Arts. In her (incredibly precious) spare time, she loves birding with her husband, painting, and playing outside with her son. Audrey is a regular contributor to Out and About Mom. Read all of Audrey’s posts here.
Phone: (860) 434-5542
The Discovery Sundays program runs from April 2–September 24 (2017), from 1:00-5:00 pm. (Included with regular Museum admission.)
Krieble Gallery and Griswold House – Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm and Sunday, 1-5pm
Please note that the Museum is closed New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
Chadwick Studio & Rafal Landscape Center – Open during museum hours the first Sunday in April through October
Cafe Flo – May 2 through October 31, 2017, Tuesday-Saturday, 11:30am-2-30pm and Sunday, 1-3:30pm. Reservations are only accepted for parties of six or more. Call 860-434-5542 x126 for reservations.
Admission includes access to exhibitions, the historic Florence Griswold House, and the rest of the Museum’s grounds and facilities.
Adults – $10
Seniors (62+) – $9
Students – $8
Kids 12 and under – FREE
NOTE: During Wee Faerie Village, September 30-October 29, 2017
Adults – $15
Seniors (62+) – $14
Students – $13
Kids 12 and under – FREE
During this time, museum passes, library passes, 2-for-1 offers, and other discounts apply to the regular admission fee.
Stroller Friendly: YES (Though if you plan on doing the en plein air painting, you may want to consider using a carrier instead in order to walk over the lawn and get closer to the river.)
Coffee Mug Friendly: YES (Although no food is allowed in the Florence Griswold House or the Gallery.)
Baby Changing Station: YES
Parking: YES (no extra charge)
Food for Sale: YES (Find more info about Cafe Flo here; kid-friendly menu options available–just ask!)
Outside Food Allowed: YES (Although no food is allowed in the Florence Griswold House or the Gallery.)
Cash Required: NO
Dress Code: Smocks are available, but you might still want to dress your little one in clothes that won’t make you cringe at a splatter of paint 🙂
Age Recommendation: 2.5-3 years and up, though I could easily imagine strolling through the galleries with an infant in a carrier too.
Evening/Weekend Hours: YES
Birthday Party Venue: YES. More info here.
Discounts: $1 off admission coupons are available through the Florence Griswold website here (scroll about halfway down the page to fill out the form for the coupon). Also check your local library’s selection of museum passes!
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