Magritte or de Forest? Truth is, when it comes to modern art, children don’t need to understand it to appreciate it. Thanks to video and sound installations, light sculptures and a subversive use of space,  modern art appeals to young children through play and exploration. With programs designed with the young in mind, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA ) has become a family destination where little ones are invited to explore the galleries intuitively, effortlessly forging their personal take on art. How about reserving your next free Sunday for an art adventure? Here is what you need to know before you foray into modern art territory.

The best introduction to the SFMOMA is a visit on Family Sundays (pictured) the first and third Sundays of each month, when art activities are organized at the Koret Visitor Education Center on the second floor and whimsical frames are scattered throughout the museum so children can get photos of themselves as a “work of art.”

Insider tip: Sign up for the 1 p.m. Family Tour when you arrive at the Koret Visitor Education Center. Group numbers are limited to provide a real interaction between the kids and the docent. These docent-led gallery tours are tailored to the age of the children in the group and last 30 minutes.

Four times a year, the SFMOMA organizes Free Family Days where families with children get in free and can partake in art activities throughout the museum. Don’t forget to check the website for upcoming days.

Insider tip: The best part of free family days is the Mods, a free kids club for kids ages 4 to 11. By becoming Mods, kids receive a free badge and each time they visit the SFMOMA and wear the Mods badge, an adult gets in free with them. Talk about a steal!

If you visit the museum on a regular day, head directly to the information counter and pick up a SFMOMA Not Your Ordinary Treasure Hunt. Time to relax, take the back seat and let your child lead the way! With this activity guide in hand, children can design an itinerary through the museum based on their imagination and preferences. Examples of what you might be asked to do: find stairways, pretend you’re artists or push the top button in the elevator. Chances are you won’t get the traditional art tour but how about an involved child instead of a wimpy one?

Or, grab an iPod at the Haas atrium, and follow its interactive tour of the museum for children. This app, inspired by the online interactive feature (think, video game type)  The Country Dog Gentlemen Travel to Extraordinary Worlds is a fun way for kids to discover the galleries with two Roy De Forest dog characters. Prompted by games and activities, kids can explore the galleries at their own pace, gently boss you around and find at least one item of interest per room. You can borrow the iPods for free at  the Haas Atrium when you deposit a valid ID.

Insider tip:  for a more artist-oriented tour, take older children to the Koret Visitor Education Center, pick up Family Guide activity cards on René Magritte, Robert Rauschenberg, Frida Kahlo, Roy De Forest or Henry Matisse and head to the galleries with a pencil to look, learn fun facts and explore the SFMOMA’s art.

If your child needs a rest from walking around the building, you can borrow a stroller for free at the coat check downstairs or simply bring your own to roam the galleries. When the kids get restless, head to the Rooftop Garden where they can run around while checking out sculptures, and parents can enjoy hot drinks and small eats. More substantial dining (including delicious soups and veggie choices) can be found at the Caffé Museo at street level.

One last note: little ones may get a kick out of the Sonic Shadows exhibition. As visitors cross over the 5th floor pedestrian bridge, their footfalls contribute to real-time recordings of ambient sounds. Too cool! The exhibition runs until November 6, 2011

After your art exploration, cross 3rd Street and head to Yerba Buena Gardens where you can peacefully sit on the lawn and watch the waterworks. If your kids have still more energy, you can start a new adventure by crossing the pedestrian bridge and heading to the eastern half of Yerba Buena which houses the fabulous interactive media museum, ZEUM, a great children’s playground, a carousel, and an ice-skating rink with a bowling alley. Or save that trip for another time.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne

—Laure Latham