The Toddler Tour: Part One, The National Gallery

The Toddler Tour:

The National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion Square

National Gallery: The New Wing


Family Friendliness:

As befits its status as a national institution, The National Gallery serves families very well. There has been a real effort to develop educational resources for young users, from the longstanding series of Family Workshops that have been running every Sunday since I was a child, to more recent developments of structured engagement with toddlers and babies. There are child-specific audio guides, which give age appropriate introduction to the work. There used to be a drawing area in the Atrium for spontaneous response, but the last time few times we have been there it has been closed. For the very youngest of visitors, there are buggy tours, which let Mum and Dad get a head start on culturing their children. Ask for an Art Pack at the Information Desk on your way in. We do, even though it is a bit text-heavy for an almost-three-year-old and most of it doesn’t get used yet. But the backpack, which is filled with crayons and colouring sheets, gives the toddler a sense of purpose, and this week we even stopped to do some scribbling when he noticed some older school children doing the same. Nothing like peer pressure, even when they are so young!

Accessibility of Art:

I really enjoy the diversity of the National Gallery’s collection. Because its brief is mostly historical, the work tends towards the representational, which I have found is a better starting point for my toddler than more modern abstraction. There are plenty of identifiable objects to reinforce language acquisition, and narrative based scenes that help with storytelling. Even the less representational pieces, like Picasso’s Still Life With Mandolin, play with form and perspective in a fairly accessible way. We have a game we play, where we choose one picture to theme our visit around and make a story up , sometimes based on the clues of the title, other times not. When he is interested enough, he chooses: this visit was all about the crucifixion!

The combination of sculpture and painting also works well for us at this particular phase of development. We love the three dimensionality that sculpture offers and in the park afterwards stand on rocks and try to copy the poses. As an adult user, however, I have been majorly irked by the limitations imposed by the ongoing renovations. Obviously they will make for a better gallery for the future, but  I dread to think what international users must think when they encounter such a paucity of paintings on display.


Excellent facilities. Clean and spacious changing areas. A cloakroom to leave buggies and paraphanalia while you browse. Lifts to access the upper levels. A well stocked, if slightly expensive cafe, which has just been taking over by the Itsabagel crew. A recent addition of a kids play area will make lunch for grown-ups more civilised but I try to avoid unless its tipping down outside. We have been tripped up by its attraction on occasion and failed to make it up the stairs.

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