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March 5, 2014  |  Learning and Engagement
Tours for Fours: Experimenting with New Formats

One thing you’ll never hear me say about working in MoMA’s Department of Education is “I’m bored.” In fact, what I love most about my role as a researcher and evaluator in this department is the constant interest on the part of my colleagues to experiment, innovate, and try new things. There’s always the desire to find ways to improve and/or to assess the current offerings. No one is ever comfortable with just leaving things as they are. It’s this collective dynamism that drives a lot of what the Department of Education does.

Recently, two of my colleagues in Family Programs expressed interest in trying out some iterations of their successful Tours for Fours program to see what tweaks would make that experience even more engaging for four-year-olds and their caregivers. Kristin Roeder, one of our amazing MoMA educators, was also keen to be a part of the experimentation and came up with variations on the more typical Tours for Fours tours. All of us were interested in looking at length of tour, number of works included, art works chosen, theme, activities, and variables in the group (size, ratio of children to adults, inclusion of younger siblings, etc.) to see if there was an ideal mix for this particular age group. In February we tried out three different variations of MoMA’s Tours for Fours.

Using Materials and Techniques as a theme and focusing on artists’ gestures, the three variations were:

1) Comparing and contrasting two works in the galleries
2) Focusing on one work in the galleries and doing a complementary activity in the classroom
3) Engaging with three works in the galleries and receiving a related activity at the end that families can do together at MoMA

Photo: TK

Kids talking about how Pollock put paint onto canvas: “He made it crazy!” Shown: Jackson Pollock. Number 31, 1950. 1950. Oil and enamel paint on canvas, 8′ 10″ x 17′ 5 5/8″ (269.5 x 530.8 cm). Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund (by exchange). © 2014 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Jackie Armstrong

Each of these was documented through observational notes and photographs. Prior to the start of the tour, I collected e-mail addresses from parents so that we could send a follow-up survey to find out what they thought about their experience. Following each tour, Family Program staff, the lead educator on the tour, and myself sat down to debrief (what worked, what didn’t) and to consider what might be worth trying going forward.

While listening to Jazz music, Educator says: “Make your fingers jump when you get to a square.” Photo: TK

While listening to jazz music, our educator says: “Make your fingers jump when you get to a square.” Shown: Piet Mondrian. Broadway Boogie Woogie. 1942–43. Oil on canvas, 50 x 50″ (127 x 127 cm). Given anonymously. Photo: Jackie Armstrong

What we know so far based on observations, educator reflections, and feedback from parents is that:

• Tours should include at least three works during the 45 minutes. Adults expressed an interest in exposing their children to a variety of works and four-year-olds lost interest if too much time was spent on one work. For future iterations of this tour we may experiment by including four or five works during the 45 minutes.
• Including works that are familiar and unfamiliar to most adults is a good way to keep families engaged
• Themes that inspire curiosity and enable families to get into the head of the artist/be an artist are really effective (e.g. gesture)
• Hands-on activities are appreciated and present teaching opportunities that children will not only enjoy, but also remember
• For gallery-based programs like Tours for Fours, activities that take place in the galleries are best as getting to the classroom and getting an activity underway takes too much time away from the tour; families also expect to be in the galleries as classrooms do not offer the unique or immersive experience they are looking for
• Involvement of the adult caregivers is key to a successful tour; ideally, adults and children should be thinking and talking about art together
• Younger children (particularly siblings) who come along on the tour often distract the four-year-olds and/or cause disturbances that upset the tour, however we realize that families generally like to stick together so we need to find more effective ways of addressing these realities
• Providing a little activity for families to take away at the end of the tour is an appreciated gesture, and for families that do the activities it really adds to their time at MoMA

 Parent: “I thought someone who could talk to children would talk to her about art. Instead, someone talked to her about how people make art, allowed her to imagine and practice it, and sent us on our way. We went home and made our own Jackson Pollock. It was beyond awesome” Photo: TK

In a MoMA classroom one parent noted, “I thought someone who could talk to children would talk to her about art. Instead, someone talked to her about how people make art, allowed her to imagine and practice it, and sent us on our way. We went home and made our own Jackson Pollock. It was beyond awesome.” Photo: Jackie Armstrong

In March, we are planning to test out more variations of Tours for Fours. We hope that this loop of iterative testing will help us create a tour that best matches the needs and abilities of four-year-old visitors (and their adult caregivers).

Have you been to a MoMA Tours for Fours program? We’d love to hear from you!

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