Art Boosts Brain Power:Ten Games to Play at an Art Museum

by Jessica on May 16, 2011

A new study connecting brain waves and art images provides fascinating new ideas about the importance of art. Even if you are not an art geek (which I most certainly am), you will want to at least take a minute to think about the implications of this study.

Let me hit the highlights. Researchers have mapped the brain activity of people as they view art before. Not surprisingly, different parts of the brain are activated as the participant judges a piece of art to be beautiful or ugly. In this new study, all participants mapped activity in the ventral striatum when they viewed a picture with an artistic flair, whether or not they liked it or hated it.  This section of the brain is responsible for decision making, pleasure, and risk taking.

Cutting through all the geek talk, the study shows that viewing art provides the brain with a reward. That reward triggers a part of the brain that is responsible for good decision making. Art is not merely an aesthetic pursuit, but is a brain boosting activity.

Brain boosting power! What are you waiting for? Pack up the kids and head to the nearest art museum. The best news is that you don’t even have to say a word. Your kids will be building the brain power just by aimlessly wandering. If you would like to add a little oomph to your art visit, check out my recent series on how to the make the most of your art museum visit with your little people. For art museum fun, here are my top ten favorite games to play on your art museum trip.

1. I Spy. This is an easy game that requires no prep at all and can be varied to include all ability levels. Have fun spying with colors for the little ones. For older kids, make your clues into a riddle or rhyming game. Choose clues that will encourage your kids to look at painting that might otherwise ignore. For an extra bonus, choose a super detailed painting (like the Brueghel above) and spy as many different things as you can to get to know the painting.

2. Postcards. This is an old favorite that can really enhance a visit for the littlest artists. If you have a local art museum that you frequent, buy several postcards of the art before your next visit. Slide the cards into a 4 x 6 photo album to make them easy to use for little hands. Use your postcards to guide you through the museum.

3. Freeze Frame. Find a painting in the museum and challenge your kids to make the same pose as a figure in the painting and hold it. Do you think you could do a pose like this Degas girl?

4. Five W’s This game is for older kids, allowing them to explore the art and answer critical questions. Choose a painting in the room that you would like to study. Begin by asking your child ‘Who?’ and allow them to tell you who is in the picture. Encourage them to go with their first answer and then add more details. Continue the game by asking what, when, where, and why.

5. Treasure Hunt. This game requires a little preplanning but can add so much to your art museum trip. Write clues to guide your children to the best paintings in the museum. For a recent trip to The Art Institute of Chicago one of our clues read: From far away you can see a monkey, a dog, and ladies by the sea. Move up close and personal and what have you got? Colors, splotches, and nothing but dots.

6. I’m Feeling. This game explores the feelings that are present in art. Tell your kids, ‘I’m feeling sad, which painting would make me feel happy.” Continue with a variety of emotions.

7. Best and Worst. This is a perfect game for when you are feeling tired and need to sit and rest a minute. Choose a bench in a gallery where you can see several paintings. Ask your child to choose the painting they like best and the painting they like worst. Talk about your preferences.

8. Tell Me a Story. Give your child a sentence to start a story about a painting and encourage them to continue the story. What kind of story would you tell for this painting?

9. Shapes and Color Sort. For little kids, search for every color in the rainbow and all your favorite shapes. Use index cards to make simple flashcards that include each color and each shape. Shuffle the cards and have your child choose one. Then start on the hunt to find your shape and color.

10. Museum Resources. Many museums have resources such as guided trails or audio guides that are designed just for families. Ask at the front desk if they have recommendations for families.

This post is a part of Top Ten Tuesday at Oh Amanda


Caroline May 17, 2011 at 12:47 am

Wow, these ideas are great! I look forward to applying some of these when my son is older. I especially like the postcards and "tell me a story" idea, though all of them are great!

Modern Mom Redefined ((Kelsi)) May 17, 2011 at 1:09 am

I would've never thought of half of these ideas… very clever!!!!! Love the freeze frame idea! Sounds so fun!!!
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Krafty Max Originals May 17, 2011 at 8:30 am

Hop'pin by from 'Follow me Chickadee Tuesday's blog hop!'. I'm following your blog now, wont you please come and follow me back?? ~KM

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Katie May 17, 2011 at 9:43 am

Such great ideas! Let's just hope I can remember some of them for years & years down the road!

Betsy (Eco-Novice) May 17, 2011 at 1:17 pm

These are great ways to enjoy a museum with kids. I love the I Spy art books. I would also suggest reading some children's versions of artists' biographies, or looking at paintings and talking about them in books before going, and then how fun it would be to have your kids see the real thing! I used to love visiting art museums — I have yet to go with my little ones.

Jennifer Vanzant May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Hey girl! Thanks for the follow and the comment! I'm following you back:-)

Pam List May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm

These are wonderful ideas! Thanks for sharing. Don't let this go to your head but this is the very first non-recipe related post I have ever printed to keep in my family activity binder. I think the post card idea is just wonderful!

ICStarzz May 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm

This is awesome! I love #6 & #8!


Katie May 17, 2011 at 9:50 pm

I love number 5 and saw a family at the Eifel Tower playing a version of this. For every right answer they got the children earned a quarter or something so that they could potentially buy little souvenirs at any given site. I can't wait until we can try some of these out!

Leslie May 18, 2011 at 2:30 am

These are great ideas! I love to travel w/my kids, and have taken them to several art museums. It, uh, didn't go so well. Hopefully with these ideas I can muster up the courage to try again! :)


walkingontravels May 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Fantastic ideas! As someone working in the art museum world, I can't think of a better way to engage kids and really get them into the art. I can't wait for D to be old enough for me to try these with. That day will be here before i know it!

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