Visiting Paris is an exciting time for art lovers. This city hosts the Louvre, the Orsay, along with countless other world-class art museums. But what if you are bringing young children? Many families will simply forego visits to these historic places, thinking their kids won’t connect to the art on display.
But not so fast!
A lot of the best art museums have plenty to entertain and educate your little ones — you just need a tour guide who knows how to make it fun and engaging!
When you have the right approach, these places are as wonderful for children as they are for adults. And that’s important to know, because far too many families end up excluding art from their itinerary, when really everyone could get so much out of it.
One of the best places in Paris to open the world of art to children is the Centre Pompidou, Europe’s largest modern art museum. Like many institutions in the city, they’ve created kid-specific programming. And their ability to awaken the wonder and awe of art for kids is commendable.
On your next trip to Paris, don’t be afraid to take your children to art museums. It turns out they can have a great time, learn a lot about the world around them, and discover the world of art. So let’s look at some of the lessons I’ve learned on how to turn museum tours into fun experiences for kids, and then, let’s look at how the Centre Pompidou in particular does it.
1 - My Experience with teaching Art to children
Over more than a decade, I’ve honed my skills as a professional tour guide, and I’ve always made a point of learning how to keep these tours as exciting for children as they are for adults.
We all remember being kids, when our parents would drag us to do something they found entertaining but we didn’t. It breaks my heart to think that a child finds themselves in a place like the Louvre, and there is no one there to make it interesting for them!
I was lucky. My mother was an art museum tour guide herself. She started teaching me both English and art history from a very young age. And when she could not find a babysitter, she would even take me along on tours. I was extremely lucky, having a mother who knew how to ignite an interest and love of art in a young child.
I think the results are pretty clear. I ended up loving art museums so much I became a tour guide myself!
I know first hand that children can become fascinated with art museums! So I’ve always made that a large part of my continuing professional development. A large part of that work is to find the people who are running arts education programs for kids the right way and learn from them.
For instance, the Musée en Herbe is a Paris art museum dedicated entirely to children. They’ve been running since the mid-70s, so they’ve had almost 50 years to hone their collection and programming to fit kids of all ages. It’s an inspiration to visit, and it also reminds you that art really is at its best when it's fun, no matter what age you are.
I’ve also explored the Cité des Enfants at the City of Science and Industry in Paris. This area is made to teach children concepts from science and engineering. The enthusiasm of their presenters and the cleverness of their exhibit designs really impresses me every time I see it.
By reading, attending kid-friendly tour and learning from the Musée en Herbe and the Cité des Enfants, I developed several approaches of my own that I practiced during the last 10 years.
One of my favorites is the Treasure Hunt in the Louvre. This is a fun way for children to really lose themselves in the beautiful art all around them. Rather than reiterating to kids that this art is “important” and “very serious” — the treasure hunt gets them to think about what they are looking at. After all, these paintings should be thrilling!
On top of that, I stay on top of children’s art education by reading many magazines and journals on the subject. This allows my kid-focused tours to stay up on the latest insights.
Helping children get the most out of art museums has proven to be one of the most rewarding parts of my career, especially when you consider all the benefits of children’s art education.
2 - What is the Centre Pompidou ?
The Centre Pompidou is a leading art institution in Europe. Not only does it contain France’s National Museum of Modern Art (the Musée National d'Art Moderne), it also has an enormous public library, and even a music and acoustic research center focused on avant-garde sound art.
To bring it all together, the center is housed in a breathtaking high-tech architectural style. It looks kind of like a ship, or maybe a building turned inside out — making it a work of art in its own right.
And the Pompidou does something very few museums in the world do. They create special programming around their touring exhibits that basically “translates” the shows for children. That allows the entire family to enjoy a new exhibit in a way that fits everyone’s age.
Plus, they have a variety of exhibits that are made entirely for teens and children. This gives young ones a feeling of having something for themselves, which can be important for them to feel ownership over their visit.
Still other places are set aside to allow children to experiment with making art. The Kids Studio (or the Atelier des enfants) allows art making to happen, and that’s where the fun really starts! There is even an entire room where you can draw on the wall. It’s paradise for budding artists.
If you are bringing teenagers (who aren’t going to be interested in programming for little children) the Pompidou has Studio 13/16, which has programming tailor-made for older kids.
Recently, I took my daughter to see how the children’s tour had developed and what they offer right now. I was pleasantly surprised!
The Pompidou Guided Tour for Children
The children’s tour of the Pompidou gets so much right. It aims to teach children not only about art but how to draw your own conclusions about art. To help this along, they keep things calm and orderly while still allowing the kids to express their excitement, joy, and insights.
The pace is kept slow, meaning your 3 or 4 year old isn’t going to be left behind or tire out. And the entire thing takes about an hour.
It all begins with some basic yoga stretches. This gets all the kids to chill out, and it reminds them to listen to the voice of the instructor. To encourage focus, this is followed by a meditation, which includes having the kids close their eyes and imagine colors and lines. The tour has only just begun, and the children are already thinking like artists!
After these visualization and focusing exercises are complete, it’s time to enter the gallery. And how do they do this? With a fun activity where they have to walk carefully on a black line drawn across the ground.
You remember the kid’s game where the floor is lava? It’s kind of like that, only this time it teaches children to be quiet and respectful in a museum setting, as well as staying back from the artwork.
On their way up to see masterpieces by the likes of Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse, they get a spectacular view of Paris that includes Notre Dame and the Sacre-Coeur.
Once in front of these paintings, a lot of basic concepts are discussed. Children are encouraged to look at the colors, the use of lines. Nothing is “dumbed down” — instead, it’s all taught in a way that’s relevant to children.
Painters like Piet Mondrian are perfect for this. The New York City artist (Paris loves everything New York, as these are two deeply connected cities) presents simple lines and colors in striking and interesting ways. Children really light up when they see his work!
Other works, like Joan Miro’s Blue I (1961) is the perfect chance to get children to see an abstract painting in many different ways, showing them how their own imagination is a big part of looking at art.
There’s a special talk on how sculpture and painting differs, as well as a chance to walk through a Yaacov Agam installation, where your position in the room changes the piece dramatically.
In a short amount of time, children begin to appreciate how wide the field of fine art is and how much fun it can be to learn and think about. What’s more, they are encouraged to talk about what they think about the things they see, which builds confidence.
English-Speaking Kid-Friendly tour guide in Paris
While the Pompidou Kids Studio and related programming are only in French, I can translate these for your children. But if that doesn’t seem like enough, don’t worry. There are plenty of other children’s art tours I can give your family directly in English!
3 - My thoughts on Kids visiting Art Museums
Art is messy, expressive, creative, and playful — so why shouldn’t children of all ages be able to enjoy it?
The truth is, they do! Just as long as you have the right approach. Rather than lecture about art history, engage them directly with the art itself. And it’s also important to keep it a bit short. That way they leave the museum excited, not tired or bored.
If you do it right, your kids will come to see art museums as awesome places to be!
Let's schedule a kids tour of an art museum in Paris with a kid-friendly tour guide - This is one of my best recommendations for your family.