Entering a darkened fort to make fluorescent paintings glow under a black light, twirling ribbons so they dance through the air, and making snow angels and jumping into piles of packing peanut “snow”—these are just a few of the fun-filled experiences our youngest visitors have had at Play Date with Art. Once a month, from September through May, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Windhover Hall is transformed into a dynamic, interactive space where children ages 5 and under can enjoy hands-on projects and a joyful romp in the light-filled prow that overlooks Lake Michigan.
Established in 2012 with support from Four-Four Foundation and an anonymous donor, Play Date with Art was created to provide an engaging and safe space for our youngest visitors to explore and enjoy the Museum. “It’s nice to have a critical mass of kids and families here during the week,” one parent and long-time Play Date participant explained. While the Kohl’s Art Generation Studio and the ArtPack station are both open during Museum hours throughout the week, many adult caretakers have expressed a desire for similar programs specifically geared to infants and young children. “It’s nice to not have to go all the way into the Museum. It’s a more relaxing time, especially with transitions for the little ones.”
Play Date with Art runs from 10 a.m. to noon on the second Friday of each month. Children and their guardians can drop in at any point during those two hours to make art and play. Themes change every month (see this year’s themes here), and the art on view in the galleries inspires the art projects, including the materials and techniques explored. A red and violet Sol LeWitt lithograph led to children making their own prints using bright paints and materials such as toy animals, string, and bubble wrap. Georgia O’Keeffe’s colorful Lake George Autumn inspired a morning of decorating fall leaves, which were then attached to child-size trees or raked into piles on pretend grass. “We usually use [Play Date] as an excuse to check out whatever works of art you’re talking about that day,” one parent shared.
Babies, toddlers, and young children are constantly gathering information about the world as they develop, so providing them with opportunities to handle a variety of materials in diverse ways allows them to build on their understanding of how things work. One parent commented, “I like exploring different processes that we don’t usually use at home.” Of course, it’s also always fun to play with other children in a large and sunny space like Windhover Hall!
In addition to the drop-in art making and space for physical play, children love hearing and participating in Singing Time at 10:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. Local musician, storyteller, and early childhood educator Steve Girman leads these performances during every session of Play Date with Art. With his ukulele, harmonica, and a wealth of other instruments, Steve draws everyone in and presents songs both familiar and new. He might teach everyone a new dance, lead a parade around the space, or bring out puppets to add to the festivities.
A favorite of Museum staff and visitors alike, Play Date with Art always proves to be an especially fun (and adorable!) time. On February 14, celebrate Valentine’s Day with us at Play Date with Art: We Heart Art. On March 13, our theme is “Mix ’n Match,” and we’ll be using “Fanciful Fabrics” on April 10. We round out the season with “Connect the Dots” on May 8. Play Date with Art is free with Museum admission, and kids 12 and under are always free thanks to Kohl’s. We hope you and your little ones will plan a Play Date with us soon!
Play Date with Art is sponsored by Four-Four Foundation and an anonymous donor.
Dianne Choie is the Youth & Family Programs Coordinator. She is responsible for the Museum’s ArtPack Station, runs the monthly Play Date with Art program for children to age 5, and teaches Studio Tour Workshops, Youth Studio Classes, and Summer Art Camps.