Sessions for primary schools

Bring National Gallery paintings to life with a session delivered by a gallery educator.

Interactive Gallery sessions (Free for UK schools)

Magic carpet storytelling (EYFS)

Come aboard the magic carpet and let your imagination fly. These interactive 30-minute story-telling sessions introduce Early Years Foundation Stage pupils to the world of a painting.

Talking paintings (Key Stages 1 and 2)

These sessions are designed to build children's confidence and enjoyment in looking at and responding to paintings.

Gallery educators encourage pupils to think, imagine, and make connections within and between paintings while making links with their previous learning and experiences. Sessions last one hour and are free for UK schools. For overseas groups, there is a charge of £50–75 a group.

Pupils will see a maximum of three paintings as part of their facilitated visit.

Themes for Key Stages 1 and 2

Please choose from a theme below (please note that we cannot guarantee that you and your pupils will see a requested painting as part of your guided visit):

General introduction

Pupils will get to know the national, and therefore their, collection. Through careful questioning and structured activities, gallery educators will help them to discover art for themselves, improve their observational skills, and discuss their findings. The paintings selected will give an overview of the timeframe, genres, and themes included in the collection. Pupils will also explore changes in style, content, and painting technique over time, developing skills to start exploring on their own.

The world around us

Pupils will be introduced to the ways in which artists have represented the natural world and the built environment. Through investigating paintings in the Gallery, they will discover for themselves the artistic techniques that bring the painted world alive. Sessions may focus on depictions of water, weather, plants and animals, or buildings and will consider how artists have represented their chosen element and created a world the viewer can inhabit.

Please specify upon booking which area(s) you would like your session to focus on, namely; water, weather, plants and animals, or buildings.  

Myths and legends

Pupils will explore the ways in which artists have told stories in paint; how they have plotted complex narratives, created atmosphere, introduced characters and engaged the viewer in the emotion of the story, all in a single canvas. They will be encouraged to work through the story as it is portrayed in the painting, using the visual clues the artist has included, and give their own opinions and interpretation. This session is therefore suitable both as an introduction to the topic, and for groups who already have a working knowledge of myths and legends.

Reading paintings

Specialist educators will introduce pupils to the techniques needed to read a painting. Through careful questioning and structured activities, pupils will be encouraged to discuss what they see and to make connections between elements within the painting and interpret their findings. They will enhance their visual literacy skills and build their confidence in investigating artistic clues and symbols, developing the necessary skills to start reading paintings for themselves.

Still life, landscape, or portraiture

Pupils will be given an overview of their chosen genre, looking at how it has been approached by different artists working across the periods covered in the collection. Specialist educators will guide pupils through the key elements of composition in their chosen genre and encourage them to compare variations of style and technique.

Please specify upon booking which area you would like your session to focus on, namely, still life, landscape, or portraiture.  

Materials, techniques, and processes

Pupils will explore how a painting is made, both physically and compositionally. They will be introduced to the different materials and processes artists have used over time and how painting style and subject matter have developed. Through guided looking they will examine how artists have composed the painting, used colour, light and tone, and how effects such as texture and perspective have been created.

Please specify upon booking which area you would like your session to focus on, namely, colour and light, pattern, or perspective.

Religion in art

Though the religious works in the collection are essentially Christian, pupils will be encouraged to think more generally about how artists have portrayed the sacred, imagining spaces paintings were commissioned for and what they meant to people at the time. Through large-scale altarpieces and smaller works for private devotion, pupils will investigate how artists have used symbols, colour, and composition to represent stories and key beliefs.

Sessions may act as a general investigation or focus on particular festivals such as Christmas or Easter.

Take One Picture: Peter Paul Rubens, 'A Roman Triumph', 1630

A Roman Triumph by Rubens provides the stimulus for Take One Picture 2015/16. Pupils will explore the focus painting along with two others chosen to complement their understanding and observational skills. This session will work either as an introduction to Take One Picture or to enhance and consolidate knowledge for those who have already worked on the project.

Find our more information about our Take One Picture CPD days.

Year 3 teacher from St Mary’s Primary School said:

‘It was so well pitched to the age of the children- excellent!’

Year 2 teacher from Annemount Nursery and Preparatory School said:

‘One of my pupils said, ‘I know what I want to be when I grow up, a painter!’ He was so inspired by the paintings, thank you!’

Paintings for all sessions will be chosen with the particular group in mind and will be age and subject appropriate.  While it is impossible to guarantee groups will see specific paintings, gallery educators will endeavour to select paintings that demonstrate the breadth of the collection.

To book

Please phone 020 7747 2424 (select option 1)

Group sizes: 10–90 pupils (maximum of 30 students per group)

Pupils with additional and special needs: Please specify upon booking if your pupils have additional needs.

Cancellation policy: 28 days prior to session

Self-guided visits

You may prefer to design and lead your own Gallery session. To book a self-guided visit, please email