Museum hack: “I Spy” passes the time

Scott's wife discovered a way to keep her their toddler happy in a big art museum, at least for a while:

My wife and I recently took our 2.5 year old daughter to the National Gallery in Washington, DC. As we walked up to the building our girl asked if this was the museum and then shocked us by stating that she wanted to see the ballerinas. It took a minute but then we realized that her Olivia book [listed in the "Things We Like" sidebar, of course! — Ed.] has a picture of Degas' ballerinas and a Jackson Pollock. The National Gallery has both sculptures and paintings of the dancers by Degas.

We took our little one to see the sculpture first and by the time we headed upstairs she already had enough. The hack: my wife started playing the "I spy with my little brown eye" game. It worked like a charm. The artwork gives you plenty to "spy" and our girl really got into the game. We only stayed about an hour but it made the visit much more enjoyable for us and everyone else at the museum.

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  1. Karina says

    What a coincidence! Last night we went into a gallery shop and kept my two sons (5 and 2.5) entertained with the I spy game for a few minutes while I looked at the sculptures and paintings. I spy is a great game to get them to observe (not just look) at their surroundings, while reinforcing colors, inside/outside concepts (we play a lot in the car), big/small and so on.

  2. Whitney says

    I’m a huge fan of the books in the I Spy series. They are fun for adults and children. My nephew and I had our first bonding experience over these books. There are board book versions, too, and my 20 month old is really into spying “choo choo twain” and other familiar objects in the complex photographs.

  3. rotangus says

    There’s a fantastic card game my kids loved. It’s called “Where Art Thou” and is a set of hard-format cards showing illustration snippets from famous paintings at several museums. You can use the cards to play several games (Concentration, a bingo-like game, etc.)

    Not only did they have fun with the cards themselves, whenever we visited a museum we’d sort out the cards showing art in its holdings. Then they’d go on a “treasure hunt” to find as many of the originals as they could based on the cards. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is one of the participating institutions.

    The thing is still available. A search on these terms will bring up vendors – toys “where art thou” “matching game”

  4. Jeff - OWTK says

    The National Gallery of Art is amazing. For those unable to visit, they have a great Kids Website @

    There are some wonderful interactive online art projects for kids (and adults!). I am particularly fond of the collage making.

    I would not advocate your kids spend a ton of time on the web, but spending some time on this site will be both fun and educational.

    Our household loves the ISpy books. My daughter is able to find objects so small and hidden, I am amazed at the concentration and focus that “teaches” her. We just puchased a PC ISpy game for our 6 year old nephew. It too looked very interesting and he is said to be enjoying it.

    Yikes! I am pushing too many kids to the computer screen!

    Jeff – OWTK

  5. hedra says

    A variation for a slightly older child that works well is a treasure hunt. Not so much ‘I spy’ with the parent spying first, but a list that they have to go find all the items, with you following along.

    Our local art museum has sponsored treasure hunts on different themes – pirates was the latest one. The kids have to find paintings or sculptures noted in their hunt list. If they get them all, they get a toy (this time, a nice teddy bear dressed as a pirate). A little time scanning the website may give you ideas for what they can find in each area of the museum. Great way for grandparents to take kids through museums, IMHO! Ask if they have a program like this before you start – they may already have one in place.