Old and Big

By: Lisa Hoffman, curator of education on May 9th, 2018

A “Happy Birthday” chorus lilted through the gallery as a 2-year-old was feted by fellow class participants, including twins who declared that they were “old and big” (in a program for children 18 months to 4 years). A newly minted big sister returned with her mom and shared news of her little brother’s arrival. And the following day, the Woodson Art Museum welcomed the youngest Art Babies participant in recent memory . . . a 3-week-old cherub snuggled close to a proud, elated, sleep-deprived first-time-mom.

During the greeting for each of the Museum programs I lead, I ask participating children to announce their names, ages, and to introduce “who is sharing art with you?” The responses include mamas, daddies, grandmas, nannies, mommies, grandpas, sitters, and one wya (the moniker given by the first grandchild to the grandmother). It’s delightful to observe a child pondering the question while seated in mama’s lap. Being asked to consider mom as a unique, separate individual is a developmental leap.

One participating family includes tots, the mom, and grandma with her grandbaby (cousin to tots) in a baby sling carrier. One toddler often arrives with the mom, grandma, and great-grandma. Families are growing – figuratively and literally – in our galleries. I regularly hear stories of older siblings and extended family members returning for weekend visits when my tots act as guides in the galleries, sharing their enthusiasm for the Woodson Art Museum.

I once distilled the scope of my job into one sentence; I share art. I also witness and guide transitions. Programs for babies through 4-year-olds recur monthly; because our young participants’ life experiences span fewer than 48 months, thirty days bring exponential growth.

I’ve had the privilege of watching one baby grow from infancy into a teetering tot taking tentative steps and then into a 2-year old charming me with his expansive vocabulary. I joined in his mom’s excitement when she shared pregnancy news and watched the course over the following months. I met dad for the first time when he escorted his son – sporting a hospital i.d.-like wristband printed with “Big Brother” – to a subsequent Art Time for Tots program and proudly announced that mom and newborn sister were well. Three months later, the whom-did-you-bring-to-the-museum-with-you question was answered with “mommy and sister.”

Most programs are offered for a range of ages. Art 4 You is different; it’s for 4-year-olds with busy mornings. The impetus arose from a conversation with a grandma who was lamenting telling her granddaughter that entering 4K meant no more mornings at the Art Museum. So, an afternoon session was organized. It now has morphed into a “transition” program. Last year, a frequent tot-program participant and I exchanged kudos that he was “graduating” from tots programming to Art 4 You because he’d become a big boy. At the start of his first 4-year-old session, he introduced his mother by her given name.

Grow “old and big” at the Woodson Art Museum. Share art and meaningful transitions in the galleries. Admission to the Museum is always free . . . for babies to 102-year-olds and beyond.

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