Kids break dancing against a laser-light backdrop, toddlers finger painting without making any mess at all and tiny artists admiring their sculptures displayed among blue chip masterpieces—all this and more happens inside the brand new de Youngsters Studio, an interactive (and always FREE) play space and gallery at the de Young Museum. Read on for all the details!

Designed to Spark Curiosity
The first thing kids see upon entering the new de Youngsters Studio is a large glowing pillar, alight with floating, glowing splotches of primary color. Instinct immediately kicks in and the kids slap their hands on the orbs. In response, they splatter and combine, creating new shapes and hues.

Each of the half dozen activities within the studio exhibit the same pull on kids—they are drawn to it and immediately start touching and creating, learning as they go how each activity works. There are also additional elements and explanations that inspire adults to engage and further explain concepts to the kids. This is by design. The de Young tapped the award-winning design firms fuseproject, headed by Yves Béhar and Tellart to design the space and activities. “We designed unique digital experiences that involve the kids physically: with their hands, body and mind they explore their own creative practice and understanding,” says Béhar. “To me this represents the possibilities of physical and digital learning at the service of future artists and designers.”

So Many Mediums
As they explore, visitors move through five interconnected cubes. Even passing from one space to the other is an adventure: Kids pass through colorful waterfalls of canvas strips or around glowing or semi-translucent panels. Each cube houses a unique creative activity, allowing kids to experiment with color, texture and sculpture. They learn about composition by arranging colored shapes on a light table and watching how the forms change in real time as they are projected on screens all around them.

In another space, the wall is laid with textured tiles. Those textures are replicated in a digital finger painting activity. Instead of selecting colors, kids choose which texture to draw with on large screens. Nearby, a wall flashes with colorful lasers that mimic the movement in front of it. Kids are inspired to dance, pose and spin to see how the colorful art will react.

Smart Screentime, Free For Everyone
For parents who might be wary of an art space dominated by so much digital, screen-based play, the museum emphasizes that the programs were designed in accordance with the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics: The tech-based activities are carefully designed to create open-ended outcomes that are augmented when used with the help of an adult.

And while a visit to the studio is the perfect add-on to a day at the museum (we recommend checking it out in combination with Ranu Mukherjee: A Bright Stage, which blends tech, video, drawing, painting and choreography to stunning effect), because the de Youngsters Studio is located in the free, open-to-the-public part of the museum, you can always just drop in, no ticket required.

de Youngsters Studio
de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco
415-750-3600.
Online: deyoung.famsf.org
Hours: Tues.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Opens to the public on Dec. 1
Cost: Admission to the deYoungsters Studio is free of charge

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—photos and story by Erin Feher