Museum 123 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum 123 is a different sort of counting book. Rather than asking a child to count objects on a plain white page, let’s count objects found in world-famous artwork, carefully selected by the experts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

It seemed like a good idea. We could get double the educational time, practicing counting and exploring fine art at the same time. In practice, however, it didn’t work out so neatly. The pictures aren’t labeled, so sometimes we had to hunt for what we were supposed to be counting, which meant my 3-year-old quickly lost interest; so much for math. Then again, the pictures are small portions of the artwork, so we often didn’t have any idea of what the larger work was about; so much for exploring art. In the end, this was a book we put back on the shelf.

I do think the idea is a fundamentally sound, though. Counting things in real life, like the grocery store, is a common and effective way to teach numbers. Finding things to count in a painting or other artwork is a good way to get kids to pay close attention to what they’re seeing. I think the aspect that the book missed is the context; to appreciate the artwork, we need to be able to see the entire thing.

So grab a coffee-table art book from the library, pull up some pictures from a website, or head down to your local art museum. You and your child can search out things to count, colors, shapes, letters, and more, and then you can extend the conversation by discussing what might be happening in the picture. You don’t have to be an art expert at all, just willing to stop and look a while.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art can be found online at

Available on Amazon

Museum 123 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Little, Brown and Company, 2004.

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