The Museum of Modern Art and Games

The Museum of Modern Art and Games

Yesterday I was able to take a trip to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Manhattan. While wandering the museum, we discovered that they have a game designed for children to play as they view the art. The docent we spoke with said that while it’s called Material Bingo, she thinks of it as more of a scavenger hunt.

Material Bingo

While the child goes through the museum, they search for different materials that make up the art pieces they are viewing. When they find one of the materials, they can slide down the pink vellum to mark that spot on the bingo game.

I love this game for many reasons. First of all, it’s entertaining and easy for youngsters to understand, while also making them engage with the art in a different way than they might have if they were just going through the museum on their own. Second, it’s not always obvious what materials are included in a piece, so this game fosters communication and social interaction for our students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental delays. Lastly, it produces some surprises even for adults.

Below is a great example of this. Many people were joking about this piece of plywood that had been painted black. And honestly, it is the kind of art that I typically just walk past. But because I was playing the game, I took a closer look to find out what materials it was made from, and was surprised to find that an inkjet printer had “painted” the plywood black. I quickly found “ink” on my Material Bingo card. But more than that, the game sparked a conversation about the process of creating this piece.

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MoMA has other activities and programs they use to engage students with art, but this one is simple and does a great job of immediately connecting it to your tour of the museum. While they do have some programs for students with developmental disabilities (such as Create Ability,) I was not able to find anything specifically outlined for students with ASD. I did download MoMA’s app, the MoMA Art Lab. It’s a well-designed app that I can see many of my students enjoying. That being said, there are other apps out there that are very similar.

Our end goal with students with ASD is to get them to engage with the world in ways similar to their typically developing peers. Material Bingo is just the sort of game that students with ASD can use to experience more success with trips to museums. It provides focus, a goal, and is directly related to the typical experience of visiting a museum to view art. It also provides a replacement behavior for many of the fixations that you see students with ASD perseverate upon. Lastly, it encourages interactions with peers and adults.

I’ll definitely be recommending it to the parents of many students I work with, and I’d love to hear from any readers who have played it with children with autism on their visits to MoMA. If you don’t have access to MoMA, it’d be relatively easy to create your own version of this game. If you try creating it on your own, let us know and we can share!

Suggested Skills & Modifications: Below are my suggestions for skills that can be practiced and/or generalized with this activity, along with potential modifications. Unlike all other posts on this blog, I have not yet had the opportunity to play this game with students with ASD. These modifications are based on past experience with similar games as well as past experience with field trips for students with special needs.

  • Scanning – In order to play this game, your student must be able to scan in a multitude of ways: scanning the field of 25 pictures on the Bingo card, scanning the piece of art to discover the materials, and scanning the written description of the piece of art to find where materials are listed. It is relatively easy to modify this based on your student’s ability level. For the bingo card, you can make it simpler by saying something such as “I see a material that is on the top row of your Bingo card.” This way you are narrowing the field down to five pictures. You could also use a blank sheet of paper to cover pictures on the card to visually narrow down the field of pictures. For scanning the piece of art, you will largely have to use verbal prompts (such as “Look at the bottom.”) or gestural prompts (such as pointing to certain areas of the piece.) For the written description, you may have to read it for your student or point to certain words.
  • Comparisons – This is a great activity for comparing two or more pieces of art. Asking your student what two pieces have in common helps with language skills and takes the Bingo game to a higher level. You can also compare the number of materials used in two or more pieces of art. This is particularly important for our students with ASD who can discuss art in this more concrete way, but may struggle with abstract questions or questions about what pieces they like most.
  • Intraverbal Conversation – The Bingo game acts as a visual prompt for students to begin or participate in a conversation. Each picture not only names the material but also shows a visual example of what that material looks like. (Though in some pieces, the written description may state a material was used that is not clearly visible within the art itself.) You can initiate conversations with Wh- questions (such as “Where did the artist use pencil?”), exclamations (such as “Look at that!” or “What a surprise that this artist used an inkjet printer!), or statements (such as “I see fiberglass right there.”) The hope is that your student will use the game as a way to respond to statements appropriately, and begin to initiate conversation based on the game as you make your way through the museum.
  • Peer play – This is a great game for students with ASD to play with siblings or other family members in their age range. It’s also good for class trips. If two or more students are motivated by the game, the visual cues and the range of artwork itself has the potential to lead to appropriate interactions with less prompting from adults than may be required in other games.

A final note about visiting the museum and other similar outings: Just like I have mentioned in relation to other games, a common modification for students with ASD is reducing the duration of an activity. This is more challenging when making an outing, because it may not seem worth getting the child ready, traveling to the museum, paying the fee, then only staying for 20 minutes. However, the experience is much better for the child and ensures a higher chance of future success if the trip is stopped while the child is still being successful in interacting appropriately.

Sometimes we get caught up in the fact that a tour is an hour long, or that we need to see all of a particular exhibit. This can lead to us pushing a child past his/her threshold and leaving the museum after maladaptive behavior, such as a tantrum. Your goal is to leave when the child still has a high level of interest so that they’re begging to go back again soon.

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