An Art History Professor’s Tips for Taking Your Kids on a World Tour—From Home

Historians in the News
tags: museums, tourism, art history, public history, historian, online history

During this surreal time of social isolation, when I’ve been at home since mid-March with my wife, 5- and 7-year-old daughters and hairless dog (really), I’ve been thinking about how to best use this unexpected bonding time. Our younger daughter is still in kindergarten, so has no work assigned, but we have to homeschool our older daughter, a low-key affair as she’s in her first year of elementary school, but it’s a new routine all the same.

As a professor of art history, and someone who often tries to find inventive ways to help my kids learn, I’ve been trying to think of this period as a bonus. It is also a challenge; my girls are in the phase where their main interests are unicorns and slides, and have limited patience for activities beyond what you’d imagine a 5- and 7-year-old would be into. I also have enormous respect for early childhood educators—I teach university level and higher, and my patience for the dynamic with my own young kids, when it comes to homeschooling, is shamefully limited. I mean to say that I may be a professor and enthusiastic teacher, but I don’t feel any “better” at this than anyone else, when it comes to my own family. 

But this time has allowed me to put into concentrated, organized action a master plan, which I call The Lesson Plan (with caps to make it seem more official). For a few years now I’ve been selecting a single, low-key lesson each day to teach my girls. It is often so simple that it isn’t even really a lesson proper: we’ll read a single entry in a children’s encyclopedia, or chat about how the dinosaurs went extinct, or I’ll explain what a telephone booth is (and why they went extinct). Sometimes it’s a classic video clip (the “stateroom scene” from The Marx Brothers, the “fish slap dance” from Monty Python or “Make’Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain). I’m always careful to stop before this interaction feels too “lesson-y,” to keep it fun and interactive, asking lots of questions and giving my full attention. Then I reward the girls by following it up by doing whatever they want to play (screens excluded) for 15 minutes.

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