Museums are something you may have frequented as a singleton or couple without kids but once you start your family, these cultural outings may have fallen by the wayside. You don’t have to give up your favorite galleries or drag your kids kicking and screaming to exhibits – you just need to ignite their interests. Try these tips to raise a museum-loving kid and you may find you appreciate both your kids and the cultural outings in ways you never did before.
Here are five things to try:
#1 Start when they’re young
As soon as your kids are walking and talking, they’re old enough for short museum outings. You may be tempted to strictly stick to “kid’s museums” when your little ones are young, but this may not be the best approach. You don’t want your children thinking that every museum is a loud, touchy-feely, free for all. Instead, take them to “adult” museums when they’re young but make it fun. Play “I Spy” with exhibits, ask your child to tell you what family members a portrait resembles, or as what piece of history or art they’d like to take home. If photos are allowed (most museums are open to this now), snap pics of your child imitating exhibits and then print them out and tack to the fridge at home.
#2 Always leave them wanting more
Nothing kills a child’s urge to do something again more than being dragged through an event. So don’t try to complete a major museum in one visit. The only way to see an entire museum in a day is to speed race through it. This will exhaust your kids mentally and physically and take the fun out of it. Instead, choose one gallery, artist, time period or a special exhibit to focus on so that the visit has scope and purpose, and you’ll leave them with plenty to see next time. For a younger child (five or under), cap the visit at 45 to 60 minutes. For age six to eight, 60 to 90 minutes is workable. For age nine and up, max it out at two hours or so. Better to take them out crying for more than crying in frustration.
#3 Download interactive apps to engage
Where museums were once camera-free and phone-free zones, now they encourage personal devices as part of the museum experience. Many museums offer an app specific to their facility. For instance, MoMA’s app offers self-guided tour info, a camera feature, search functions and lets you curate your favorite content. The Smithsonian’s new app brings exhibits to life. And, if the museum you plan to visit doesn’t offer an app (although most do), you can use other tablet and smart-phone tools to enrich your visit. Use a sketch app to let your child try and reproduce an exhibit they like or download a photo manipulation app then snap pics of paintings or exhibits and play around with them.
#4 Look beyond local offerings
The easiest thing is to visit museums near you. If you live in an area that’s rich with culture that’s great, but if you aren’t in a museum-filled area, you may run out of places to visit or discover you’re not near museums that cover your child’s interests. If your child is into airplanes, why not add a trip to the Kennedy Space Center as part of your next Disney World visit? Also look at museum offerings within a couple of hours drive or close to a relative you owe a visit. Click here to search for museums by state. And don’t discount smaller museums. These are often cheap (or free), highly focused and able to be done without any stress in one visit. Anywhere you vacation, you’ll find a museum.
#5 Expand your own horizons
While you may prefer art museums, your kids may be more keen on science, classic cars or natural history. Plus, there’s a whole swath of museums that don’t fit into common categories. Step outside the lines when choosing museums to spark your kids’ interest in learning new things and seeing the unexpected. In Tennessee, there’s an amazing towing and recovery museum with vintage fire and rescue trucks. Alaska has a museum devoted to hammers (any Thor fans out there?). Iowa has a matchstick museum that features a match-made miniature Hogwarts. Take your kids to explore museums from the serious to the whimsical – your kids will love it and you will too!
Some other things to remember – no matter what museum you visit – is to pack snacks, stop and rest weary feet, don’t postpone bathroom breaks and never show up hungry. Also, do research ahead of time to plan your visit. Find out what days and times are less busy, whether there’s a snack bar or restaurant, if there’s an app, what touring exhibits are open and if there are free or discounted days or coupons. Finally, keep the visit chatty and interactive. Ask questions and talk rather than encouraging quiet contemplation.
Check out this list of museum suggestions in our article “From The Midwest to the West Coast…Must See Museums”
Also, consider some of these museums that host summer camps for children: