Our 3 Favorite FREE Family Programs at BYU

For the first five years of me and Dave’s marriage, and the first two years of Ella’s life, we lived right by BYU (Brigham Young University) in Provo, Utah. Even though I had gone to school and worked on campus throughout that time, I still hadn’t heard of most of these fun and FREE family-friendly programs until recently … after we had ironically moved about half an hour north! We love all of these fun outings so much, though, that we still head down for them quite often. It’s a good excuse to drop by the dozens of food places we love in Provo, anyway 🙂 This programming is really high-quality and I can’t believe a lot of it is free and open to the public! 

Van Gogh to Play Dough at the M.O.A.

I’m starting with my favorite program first. I ADORE Van Gogh to Play Dough! This little art program is on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 10-11, and is for 2-4 year olds.  I’m almost reluctant to tell people about it because it takes some pre-planning to get registered and I don’t want more competition. I’m kidding! Sort of …. actually I’m really sad that Ella’s preschool schedule conflicts this year so we can hardly go, so someone go in our place!

Basically, they have a theme for the program that runs for two months (like January and February would be “Our Families,” for example). They ask that you only sign up once during that cycle, since it’s the same activities and projects for the duration of that theme. When you arrive at the MOA, they have books and a few toys laid out for you to play with until they get started. Two college students lead the program, and start with a story and a little introduction. Then they lead you out into the galleries to look at pieces of art that fit with the theme for the month. They have cute little activities that tie in at each station. It’s super well-organized and they keep it very age-appropriate and moving briskly to keep up with short attention spans.

After checking out the art, you head back to the studio where they have three art projects set up, which emphasize what you’ve learned about art that day. The last half of the hour-long program is free time to work on your art. It’s so cute and well-thought-out, I’m so sad every time we miss an opportunity to go! It’s a great way to introduce appropriate museum behavior and an appreciation for art. My one piece of advice would be to maybe wait until they’re at the older end of two. In fact, I don’t think I took Ella until she was three. It would take quite a precocious two-year-old to get much out of the art analysis aspect 🙂 I think it’s nice that they let little siblings join in, though. I can’t wait until next summer when both of my girls can participate!

You can get more information about registration on the Museum of Art’s website. I signed up for the emails so I get a head’s up when it opens. I write the day on my calendar because it fills up fast.

Discovery Reading at the Bean Museum

Most Utah Valley moms are familiar with the Bean Museum because it is an awesome on-campus FREE museum that is pretty kid-friendly (I say pretty because the whole “don’t touch the animals” thing takes some emphasis, at least with my kids). This life-science museum is basically a huge collection of preserved animals. It’s actual purpose is more scientific than that, but we just kind of regard it as a free, lower-stress version of the zoo ;). 

While they are kind of known for their live-animal shows, Ella is actually more into their Discovery Reading program, which happens Thursdays at 11 am. The live shows are really cool and I’d say worth checking out with older kids, but for little ones that kind of have a hard time staying engaged with something that’s happening farther away, up on a stage, the reading program is a nice, short, more up-close-and-personal intro to animals. They often have things like bones, feathers, snake skins, and even sometimes live animals for the kids to check out, which correspond with the biology-centric story for the day. After the program you can go check out the animals for a little while, and yes, probably spend most of the time at the tiny slide and tunnel in the back, but at least you’ll feel like you did something educational! This is one of our go-to, “It’s winter and there’s nowhere to go and we are going crazy at home” outings.

Family Concert Series

I don’t know if there’s an angle or lighting that could have saved this photo, tbh. 

This is a really cool opportunity that we actually just found out about this past spring, thanks to our niece, Emi, who we got to see perform with the BYU Wind Symphony. The Family Concert Series was made possible by a donor, and consists of free all-ages-friendly (even babies) concerts put on by BYU’s music ensembles, on specific Saturdays throughout the school year. There are only a few each year, and they are on kind of random days, so you need to look it up and make sure to mark it on your calendar because we’ve missed a few and been bummed later. These are held in the de Jong concert hall in the Harris Fine Arts Center, and tickets aren’t required, but people usually get there a little early for good seats, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen people turned away.

Ella, at four, is on the younger end of really being into these concerts, admittedly! I think maybe 6 and up would be the target audience, but they are short (about 40 minutes) and they keep it to pretty upbeat, kid-friendly pieces. The conductor usually gives a little introduction and reminder to stay quiet, so I feel like it’s a good introduction to how to behave at a performance. And at the end the kids usually get to go up and talk to the performers and look at their instruments. Ella got to hit a giant gong last time, which was cool! If the day they fall on happens to be one a first or third Saturday of the month, head over to the MOA for open studio afterwards and make a morning of it! We are always kind of desperate for something fun to do on a cold-outside Saturday so I love having a free activity like this available!

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I know that the Museum of Peoples and Cultures also does story times, and I think when my kids are older, if we still live in Utah, the planetarium shows would be cool as well, but these three programs above are Mizukawa tested and approved at this point in time. If you know of any additional programs at BYU (or other schools) that we should check out, let me know!