Looking at Art with Kids: Norman Rockwell

looking at art with kids: norman rockwellHave you spent any time looking at art — in a MUSEUM — with your child? Even though I’m an arts educator who spent years leading gallery tours and training docents, we don’t spend as much time in art museums as I’d like because, you know, my children look at everything as a potential playground. I have an arsenal of gallery games and tricks up my sleeve, but they’re no match for a 2-year old!

This isn’t to say that we don’t look at art. We look at art at home, and sculpture gardens are a preschool parent’s best friend. But given my love for visiting art museums, I’ve had to seriously adjust my expectations of how a visit feels.

In a word. Short.

This summer we had the pleasure of visiting Cape Cod’s Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, MA. If you ever find yourself in the area with little and big people, it’s a multi-generational gold mine. A few highlights were Hidden Hollow (an outdoor classroom and fun zone), the indoor carousel, and gorgeous gardens and grounds. What we didn’t expect to see was a traveling Norman Rockwell exhibit, Norman Rockwell Beyond the Easel.

My mother-in-law wanted to see the show, and while I did too, all I could imagine was the push-pull of my two- and four-year-olds to skedaddle in the wake of weary art patrons and Rockwell’s photorealistic paintings.

looking at art with kids: norman rockwellBut the interpretive team did a great job bringing Rockwell’s work to my kids’ level. We snapped lots of photos in the Model T, put on old-fashioned clothes that matched the style of Rockwell’s models, and assembled a magnetic version of Rockwell’s famous painting, The Runaway (1958).

looking at art with kids: norman rockwellDo you know The Runaway? It turns out that Norman Rockwell’s narrative work provides a rich platform for children to search for meaning, and my my 4-year old loved it!

We were all fascinated by the side-by-side comparison of the final painting with intermediate sketches and the black-and-white photograph that Rockwell staged as inspiration. We did a lot of tennis-match looking to spot the similarities and differences, which made me appreciate Rockwell’s eye for details and storytelling even more than I had before.

Try it for yourself…it’s super fun.

Print the two images, and then look at them carefully with your favorite little person, an experience that fosters creative thinking and curiosity. Beyond making comparisons, you can try asking a couple inquiry-based questions (based on Visual Thinking Strategies) that will get the conversation flowing:

  1. What’s going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that? (ask this question if your child offers a subjective answer such as “The boy likes the Police Officer.”)
After that, if you want more information about The Runaway and the photo that it was based on, click over here.

looking at art with kids: norman rockwellIf you find yourself falling in love with this image or you want to see more works by Rockwell or other beloved American artists, you might enjoy visiting Art.com’s Americana gallery or go directly to The Runaway on Art.com. I own a few pieces by Art.com, and the quality is beyond belief. I almost feel like I’m looking at the original piece. Are you an artist looking to properly display your most current masterpiece? Make sure to size out the proper picture frame from one of the many suppliers out there. We all know a frame can make or break your artworks display!

They also do an incredible job framing their work, which was the first thing I noticed when I opened the carefully wrapped print that arrived on my doorstep. You can see what I mean in this craftsmanship video, which shows how Art.com‘s frames are handcrafted in America.

You can also find Art.com on Pinterest, where they pin cool art and, ahem, I hear there’s a BIG giveaway happening soon for their Pinterest followers.

What was the last museum you went to? Any tips on visiting art museums with kids?

This post is sponsored by Art.com, but all opinions are my own.


  1. Hi Rachelle – I stumbled onto your site this evening here in Australia via a pinterest pin – so glad to have found it & have spent the last couple of hours looking through old posts and resonating with so much that you have written about and said.

    Your post about children and galleries made me laugh at a memory of taking my son, Lachie, to the Melbourne Art Gallery for the first (and last) time! He was probably about 2, and we walked in, went straight to the counter to ask which displays/areas were most appropriate for children. The lady behind the counter told me that the children’s area was closed for renovations, but that the modern paintings on the top level were probably most appropriate. So, we caught the elevator up a few levels, walked into the main gallery, started to have a look & before I knew it, Lachie went straight up to a really huge painting/canvas and gave it the hugest smack he could muster…. I was mortified as it made an enormous bang noise which sent 2 security guards and a museum staff member running. They were very angry and told me the painting was a new acquisition worth 5 million dollars! They took us to an office where we had to provide our details should legal action need to be taken for any damage! That was about 18 months ago, and I haven’t heard from the museum! But I left so upset that I haven’t been back! I think I’ll leave gallery visits for when my son is an adult and we can catch up and laugh about this over a coffee together!

    • Hi Libby,
      What a story! I’m sure you weren’t expecting Lachie to whack a painting, but having worked in museums I’ve seen and heard of much worse. There was a story that came out a few years ago about a 12-year-old boy who deliberately stuck a piece of gum on a 1.5 million dollar painting: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4767888.stm At least Lachie was just being 18 months old, and not intentionally harmful. And I once had a co-worker who licked…yup, licked…Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights…as an adult. Look forward to getting to know you. I’m so glad you found me!

  2. Lovely post Rachelle! And I agree.. my kids love museums and art galleries… but they also love to WHIZZ through them. It then surprises me quite how much they remember about what they saw when we get home or even a few weeks later!

    Have pinned.


    • Hey Maggy,
      This post reminds me so much of you, and the Kids Get Arty party. When I was in graduate school I did some research on what children remember after their field trips to museums, and while it’s not always the art (it’s often the architecture of the space or lunch on the grounds), the experience of going to a museum undoubtedly sinks into their conscience.
      Thanks for the pin!

      • Absolutely 🙂 Recently we went to the British Museum and us adults found it, ahem, a little boring (lots of artefacts, not quite my thing), but my 3yrs old adored it and we found all sorts of things together. She still talks about Mama Wata now (I admit, I like that sculpture too). So cute. And yes, lunches often feature in our post excursion chats! 🙂


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