2. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
- Offers 13 superbly produced children's handbooks, such as Mixed-Up Files (a guide that dissects the time Claudia and Jamie camped out at the Met in the classic From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)
- Boasts a non-circulating library with 450 picture books for kids, including a collection of titles that have won the Caldecott Medal
- Has a quick-service eatery that serves kids' meals in boxes shaped like taxicabs
"Hello, Met!," an hourlong introduction to the museum's collection for families with kids ages 5 to 12, which includes sketching the masterpieces; classes take place every Sunday in March.
Michael Norris, Ph.D., associate museum educator, likes to compare the venerable, even cavernous Metropolitan Museum of Art to Hogwarts -- with art in it. "We're this wonderful, mysterious palace of art," he says. "And that's what I try to bring to families."
The Met has a mascot -- an ancient Egyptian earthenware hippopotamus named William --yet you won't see it used as a gimmick in the children's handbooks or the museum halls. "That was my decision," says Dr. Norris. "Our collection, which is made up of more than 2 million works of art, is certainly worthy of children and their curiosity. And I'm out to prove it."
He more than does: The Met hosts the most family programs of any museum in our survey (44 are scheduled for March alone), including "Start With Art" (storybook readings and gallery tours for kids under 7) and "Look Again!" (themed tours for 5- to 12-year-olds with music and drawing). The museum also offers 10 hourlong family audio tours.
"How Did They Do That?" -- a series of half-hour drop-in programs Dr. Norris instituted to teach families how a work of art like a suit of 16th-century armor or a Renaissance sculpture was created -- epitomizes the Met's emphasis on the art itself. "Never, ever dethrone the art," says Dr. Norris. At the Met, you don't have to.