The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) is leading a new trend by offering museum tours to its youngest visitors. These fun and innovative tours for 2–18 month olds—developed by one of the world’s foremost experts on the impact of early art experiences on infants and toddlers—teach parents and caregivers how to engage babies’ with art, which in turn promotes brain growth and literacy skills.
In her groundbreaking research, Dr. Kathy Danko-McGhee, director of education at the Toledo Museum of Art, studies how babies and toddlers respond to art and how exposure to art fuels the learning process.
“Being literate in the arts gives young children an advantage in learning to read and write,” said Dr. Danko-McGhee.
Introducing infants to art promotes neuron connections in the brain. By interacting with an adult in naming and describing different characteristics in a work of art babies develop early language and comprehension skills.
“Even though babies are nonverbal, they still take in a great deal of information,” said Dr. Danko-McGhee. “Babies tell us their preferences through body language—they fixate on a detail, smile or reach for an image or object.”
A stimulating environment is important for babies and young children because much of the brain develops during the first few years of life. The visual system, in particular, develops rapidly over the first few weeks. In addition, effective learning occurs more often when children are exposed to material that is captivating.
“Understanding babies’ visual preferences, inside and outside the museum setting, and how that can affect cognitive development, is important information to share with parents and child care professionals,” said Dr. Danko-McGhee. “During our tours, we talk about brain growth in the early phases of development and how parents can interact with their children to promote engagement with works of art.”
The monthly baby tours at the Toledo Museum of Art began on an experimental basis last year. Because of their success, they now are a regular part of the Museum’s schedule of Docent-led public tours. The tours are approximately 30 minutes to accommodate babies’ limited attention spans.