7 tips for a fun visit of the National Gallery with kids

by Inga Batur

Unlike the zoo, playground in Tivoli park or Dragon Bridge, National Gallery doesn't sound like something you'd want to do with kids. But as someone who has taken their kids to this family friendly place often, I am here to tell you that you should. Because it is a great way to learn more about Slovenia and help kids appreciate art. It can be fun and here's how.

1. Prepare for the visit

While the National Gallery is very family friendly, talk to your kids before visiting non-the less. Talk about the rules: no yelling, being respectful, no touching the paintings...

But most of all, introduce them to a little green creature called Gal the Dwarf, who resides somewhere in the gallery and takes care of the paintings.

There is a story of Gal created years ago to inspire kids to visit the gallery. You can read all about it in two picture books translated into English as well, Gal in the Gallery and Ghosty in the Gallery.

2. Start with Gal

My kids were so excited when they learned about the dwarf. No wonder that as soon as we arrived, we had to go straight to his unique room. Ask at the ticket office where you can find it and go spend at least an hour there. Also check if they have the interesting educational material in the room translated into different languages.

Even if they don’t, there are still many things the kids can try, where language is not a barrier.

And that’s actually how the gallery wants you to start the visit with kids. The room is created to inspire kids to learn more about the art and works on display throughout the gallery. It also allows them to be artists themselves.

Kids can read Gal's picture books, solve puzzles of the paintings hanging in the gallery or explore the twenty-five boxes, each one covering one letter of the alphabet.

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3. Bring worksheets with you

Each of the boxes in Gal’s room contains an interesting explanation of something to do with art: an art technique, motive, period, etc.

For example, there is a box that starts with the letter I and it explains Impressionism in a fun way and referring to art displayed in the gallery.

Every box comes with a worksheet you can take with you, to help you explore that particular section of the gallery.

4. Enjoy the building

Besides the art, you are now finally ready to explore, take time to admire the grandeur of the old part of building of the gallery.

The National Gallery of Slovenia is located near the Tivoli Park, in a beautiful building, built in 1896, first used as a Slovenian cultural center. Stop for a moment on the Grand Staircase, look around the Golden Hall and the Grand Hall.

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5. Pick your favorites

The gallery’s permanent collection is divided into sections according to historical periods and has almost 600 works by Slovenian and European artists. That is a lot. If you are visiting alone, maybe you can stay focused and interested in seeing it all. But with kids, less is usually more.

Pick your favorites, because you’ll be able to explain them to kids with more enthusiasm and answer their questions in more detail.

Mine are the Impressionists. That’s the part of the gallery we never miss. And if you are at a loss on which part to choose, I’d recommend this part and getting to know some of the most beloved Slovenian paintings from artists such as Rihard Jakopic, Ivan Grohar, Ivana Kobilica and Matej Sternen.

6. Let the kids draw

But no matter how excited I am about art, I understand that my kids can’t observe a painting for more than a second.

I have discovered that if I tell them to pick one they could try and draw themselves, they take more time to enjoy it. And with so many colors and motives, again Impressionists excite them the most.

7. Make up stories

While Impressionists are truly great, there are more paintings and sculptures you can see. This is also a great way not only to familiarize yourself with Slovenian artists but a chance to learn more about Slovenian history by observing what has captured the artists’ imagination: houses, the people, nature, nobility, religion…

In the beginning, religious art prevailed and you can’t miss noticing many sculptures of saints. When the Church patronage weakened, the artists turned to making portraits of those who could afford it.

My kids enjoyed the big family portraits, but to make them even more fun and you can use this on any painting, I ask them to make up a story about it. What is the family on the painting talking about, can you hear the kids arguing about who took what, … At first, they look at me as if I am being silly, but soon enough they join in and the art is suddenly more fun.

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These are the tips I have tested on my kids and they work. But I also encourage you to check the Gallery’s website and enroll your kids in Gal’s workshops, where art is explained in an interesting way. While there, check the opening times, it is closed on Mondays and check on which days the entrance is free of charge – every first Sunday of the month. And make sure you finish the visit with some sweets, as a really good café is located in the Gallery’s foyer.

Inga Batur

Inga Batur thinks all the trips with the kids should be fun(ny).

More about Inga Batur

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