Many families are intimidated by the thought of visiting a museum filled with ancient sculptures, famous paintings, and priceless artifacts, but it’s not as difficult as one might think to survive a museum visit with kids. With the right amount of planning and preparation, children can enjoy museums almost as much as adults. They may not appreciate it in the same manner, but they will certainly learn something, and that’s never a bad thing.
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How to Make Visiting a Museum with Kids Easy
1. Prep your children before you visit the museum
Before visiting a museum, you will want to tell children what they can expect to see and the museum rules. Explain the ropes in front of the paintings and the silent alarms.
Talk about museum etiquette. If there are certain pieces of art or sculpture you wish to visit, be sure to discuss these ahead of time to build excitement.
We recommend finding books in the library or using websites to share some background information with children. When kids are invested in the visit, they will be more willing to explore once they get inside. This is a win-win for everyone.
For example, if you are visiting the Louvre in Paris, you will probably see the Mona Lisa. Consider checking out a book to read ahead of your visit. We recommend Who Was Leonardo Da Vinci? and Who Stole Mona Lisa?
2. We don’t recommend visiting a museum with kids when they are hungry or tired or “hangry”
Make sure your children are well-fed, or you have snacks on hand before you even head through the doors. Be sure to check whether or not the museum has a café available in case the kids need food.
If you have a stroller and a tired kid, it might not be a bad idea to put them in the stroller and hope they take the hint to fall asleep.
My final advice is to not waste money on admission if your children are hungry and angry (at each other, or at you for that matter), this is what we call “hangry”. You know your children best, don’t take them to a museum if the timing is bad.
3. Consider renting an audio guide
I think an audio guide is worth every penny. Our kids love pushing the buttons, finding numbers on the artifacts (think of it like a scavenger hunt), and listening to the history and stories instead of walking aimlessly through the museum.
Some of the newer guides even play music, which my kids find very enjoyable. I can hardly get them to return the headset at the end of the tour.
4. Have a rule that everyone stays in the same room until the adult(s) say it is time to move on
Our kids would run through an entire museum in 15 minutes or less if given the chance, so we try to engage them by sticking to the “one room at a time” rule. No one is allowed to move on until everyone has finished.
One way we are able to keep everyone around while my husband and I enjoy the artwork is to play a guessing game. Each person chooses their favorite piece of art in the room, and everyone takes a turn guessing which piece has been chosen.
Once we guess their selection, we ask them why they chose that piece, and some reasons are simple such as, “I like the colors”, while others are more thought-provoking, as in “I like how the light catches the waves on the ocean”.
5. Make connections for your child
If you find a piece of art and you are able to connect it to a real-life experience, that will make the visit more memorable for your child.
Maybe there is a picture in your home of a Monet painting and then you see a real one at a museum, share this with your child. Ask them questions about what they see.
Some good questions to ask might be: What do you see? Why do you think the artist painted (made it) this way? What do you think the artist was trying to say? Have you ever heard of this artist? Does this picture/sculpture remind you of anything? Have an open dialogue with your child, allowing them to appreciate the beauty around them.
6. Bring colored pencils and a sketchbook
One of my children loves to draw. He could spend hours drawing anything and everything. If I take a sketchbook and colored pencils and put him on a bench in a museum, I can guarantee you he will find something in that room to draw. If he doesn’t, he will create something from his imagination.
Even young children will enjoy drawing on a pad of paper. If they’re not enjoying the museum tour, at least they have something to keep them entertained.
*Note: some art museums are starting to provide art supplies, so check the museum’s website in advance, you may not have to bring your own.
7. Give them a camera and let them go crazy (so to speak)
Kids love cameras, so let them take pictures (if the museum allows it). Better yet, have a photo scavenger hunt where each child has to find and photograph five or ten different items throughout the museum (examples: a boat, a piece of fruit, a man with a beard, a flower, a statue, etc.). Set some rules so they aren’t running around and disturbing other visitors.
8. Do your research ahead of time
Many of the larger museums are trying to incorporate family-friendly activities into their programming. Some have art classes on-site, others have scavenger hunt tours that can be booked in advance, or book a private guide. I’ve found mine listen better to other adults sometimes, especially when those people are experienced storytellers.
9. Hand over the map and let them choose where they want to go
As children get older, they’ll want to have a say in where to go and what to see. Be sure to incorporate their choices into your visit so everyone is happy.
10. Start off with virtual tours
If you don’t think your kids are ready for a museum experience, spend time at home prepping them for a visit. Many famous museums offer these, including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, The British Museum in London, and the Museé D’Orsay in Paris. Use Google Arts and Culture to find these insider views and videos.
We love how museums inspire children and encourage them to learn about art history and world-famous artists. While you might not think you are ready for visiting a museum with kids, we promise it’s possible by starting small and working your way up to some of the best museums in the world!