Adults go to museums to learn about culture and history. They go to appreciate art, observe artifacts, and understand people and events in a totally new way.
It just so happens that kids love to do these things, too—perhaps even more so than adults. Many adults are hesitant about taking their kids to the museum: museums, after all, are perceived to be ‘adult’ places, with strict silence, hours of standing, and above all, very expensive, very fragile items on display.
The truth is that many kids get a kick out of museums, and they can gain a lot from being exposed to exhibits at home and while traveling. Here are a few pointers to help you navigate museums with your family.
Keep a museum outing interesting by focusing on an exhibit that will enthrall your child. Kids who love to color might be keen to explore art up close and personal, while those obsessed with Disney Princesses will likely be dazzled by jewelry and ornament collections. Few kids will be bored by the sight of dinosaur bones, and anything animal-related is usually a hit.
Scout Out Kid-Friendly Spots
Believe it or not, many museums welcome kids with open arms and even offer special hands-on kids-oriented exhibits. Check out the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Chicago’s Field Museum, or the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC.
Do Your Research
Get your child excited about the museum by doing some research together leading up to the excursion. Learn about which exhibits are on display, and check out a few websites or books that will pique your (and your child’s) interests about the topic. Seeing the exhibit with a little bit of context will be even more meaningful.
Timing is Everything
If possible, aim to check out an exhibit at a quieter time, like on a weekday or after the exhibit has been around for a few weeks and the initial crowds have calmed. For younger kids especially, be mindful of working around meal times and naps. Everyone will be happier when they’re fed and well rested. Finally, don’t expect to see the entire museum in a day. Limit museum time to a couple of hours to keep everyone interested and in good spirits. If you live by a museum, look into unlimited family passes that will allow you to duck in and out at your convenience throughout the year.
Set the Scene
If it’s your child’s first time visiting a museum, have an honest discussion with them prior to the outing. Talk about appropriate behavior and etiquette, and about being respectful around the objects at the museum.
Make up activities centered around your outing, like counting how many paintings contain birds or by finding an object that is orange. Do a quick Google search of “your museum + kids” to see if there are any kid-related resources that you can take along.
Ask your child questions about what they are observing. Let them tell you what they like and what they find interesting. For example, have them find their favorite painting in an art exhibit: when you return home, encourage them to draw their own interpretation of the painting.
Give Teens Autonomy
Taking a teenager to a museum is obviously a little different than taking a child. Your best bet is to let your teen be independent, by allowing him or her to choose which exhibit to explore and setting his or her own pace. Agree to meet at a certain time in a particular place, and trade stories about what you saw.