Thursdays are Mama & Anna Days around here—no babysitter, no Papa, just Anna and me. With the high temperatures these days hitting a frosty -15°, it’s a bit of an effort to head outdoors…and you sure don’t want to stay outside.

So we head to the museum.

Sara Naumann blog kids at museums

We make an effort to go to our little local art museum pretty regularly—either just Anna and me, or all three of us. It might come as a surprise to know just how fun it is to go to the museum with a preschooler. Here’s why we love it:

1. She loves it. Even though it’s technically for grown-ups, art museums are full of images and color. Some paintings are huge, and that’s exciting. Some paintings are tiny and you really have to look carefully. Some are realistic and some are giant crazy splashes of color. It’s energy and vibrancy and there’s always something new, or something you haven’t seen before. It’s actually really perfect for kids.

2. I get to see what catches her eye. At home, her books and toys are chosen for her. This is one of the rare opportunities for her to explore things that appeal to her, but not necessarily to me. She’s exposed to different colors, themes and art forms—and she can choose which ones to look at more closely. Who knew she would love stone sculpture so much?

3. We get to be part of the community. Museums, like libraries, exist for the community. Our entrance ticket supports the artists, curators, security guards (more about them later) and everyone else who works there. And Anna learns that art can be public, and accessible—and that a museum is a normal way to spend an afternoon, just as much as going to the playground.

4. Anna is nearly three years old. There are places in the world where she can run and holler and touch whatever she wants and there are places where she can’t. Museums are one of those places. But just because they’re not designed for kids doesn’t mean they’re off-limits. Instead, she needs to know how to behave in places like that so she can access them too.

5. She sees things that exist for reasons of beauty, or self-expression, or experimentation. And we get to talk about them: “Why do you think he painted that elephant green?” “Because he likes green, Mama!” Of course.

One interesting note: The woman at the counter once warned me: “There’s a naked man upstairs”—not a real one, mind you, but a photo. I’m not so concerned about that, but I was surprised to see another photo nearby, with armed guerrillas carrying some pretty heavy-duty weapons on a war-torn landscape. So do a little research as to the current exhibition. War and protest photos might not be your thing.

6. I like to go to the museum. My work days are spent in my office at home, filming or designing or writing—rarely do I take precious Babysitter Time to noodle about in a museum. So this is my chance to see the latest on exhibit and get my art fix. (And leave the house, regardless of the weather.)

7. You can take it home. Okay, not really–but we usually follow up a museum trip with an art session of our own. We went from oil paintings at the museum to sheep made from cotton balls at the craft table.

8. She gets her fill of horses. Really—have you ever noticed how many paintings (especially historical portraits) have horses? Yeah, for this horse-mad little girl, it’s like a treasure hunt. Find the horses!

Oh, about the security guards: We are usually the only people in the museum. Not very many people go to museums around here, for some reason. So the first few times Anna and I went, the security guards were very…um, conscientious. Like, I felt like had we our own personal guard following us, as if he or she was Velcroed to me. It was uncomfortable, and relatively annoying.

I don’t know if they thought Anna would misbehave, or if they’re normally that clingy, or if they were just bored or thought I would rip a painting from the wall and sprint out. But now that we’re considered regulars, we don’t have the Velcro Guards on us. Which is nice because “please stop following me” is not in my Polish phrasebook.

Some things that have made our trips a success—

– Eat before you go. There’s a lot of standing and walking and sometimes stairs to climb.

– Don’t push it. We stay for about an hour. A full day would be too much for Anna at her age.

– Hold hands and walk. The Velcro Guards will be amazed by you.

Last tip? Some museums have free admission on certain days of the month. This is a great opportunity to take a child for the first time, since admission fees can be a bit pricey sometimes. And if you enjoy it, check out available museum passes that give free entry when you pay a yearly fee.

And you might just find that it’s a great way to spend the afternoon—regardless of the weather.

Happy Monday!