My son loves cars. And by love, I mean, he could name 20 different vehicles by the time he was two. So how we made it to 3 ½ years old without visiting the Art Car Museum is beyond me. The museum is essentially the permanent version of the Art Car Parade. On any given day, there are 5 or 6 art cars on display and artwork on the walls. The exhibits change about every 3 months, so it’s a great museum to revisit. And the cars are amazing! Thousands of objects from popular culture and vintage markets decorate the cars. I expected my son to run around for awhile and then we’d leave. But turns out that the objects on the cars were a really cool way to engage my son on interesting topics. Here’s what we unexpectedly learned from the Art Car Museum.

Art CGeometric patterns on Art Car Museum in Houston, TXar Museum in Houston, TX
Wendell by Joe Haden

1. Patterns and Geometry
We’ve all seen those pattern recognition exercises right? Red sock, blue sock, red sock, which one comes next? I understand the point, but it seems a bit dull. Check out the patterns on this car though. The guide (who was just lovely) told me that flash photography lights up the patterns. My son and I looked at the circular patterns made of triangles. We looked at how some triangles alternated in some bands, while in other bands, the triangles pointed in the same direction. And smaller circles were nested inside bigger circles. Wow—who knew concentric circles could look so cool!

Faith art car by David Best at the Art Car Museum in Houston, TX.
Faith by David Best

2. Biology
The Faith car was not my favorite. There is a massive African Cape Buffalo head on the front and several horns or tusks on the car. I didn’t broach the topic of wildlife conservation with my son, but others might. Instead I focused on the anatomy of a well-preserved fish on the side of the car. We looked at how many tiny teeth the fish had. And what are those huge jaws for? Why the better to eat little fish with! We had an amazing view of the gills to then talk about how fish breathed. We rounded out the biology lesson by discussing how fish use fins to move through water.

Fish detail from Faith art car by David Best at the Art Car Museum in Houston, TX.
Detail from Faith by David Best

3. Art
Anything can be a subject of art. The current wall art exhibition showcases painted tires in Houston. Did you know we had a painted tire culture here? It was a fitting theme for the museum. My son and I looked at the different size treads on the painted tires. We tried to guess where the tires with the big treads came from. My son decided they were from a tractor, of course.

Glueing marbles at the Art Car Museum in Houston, TX.
Glueing marbles

4. How to use a glue gun
This was a practical lesson in art and patience. One of the staff kindly showed my son how to glue marbles one-by-one on a long piece of metal. This piece, along with many others, would then be used to decorate the front entrance of the museum. Pretty cool.

What I learned on the other hand were that teaching moments are everywhere—even on art cars.

Please comment on any cool teaching moments you’ve had with your kids!


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