Many families are intimidated by the thought of touring 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 a museum visit 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.
Tips for how to survive a museum visit with kids:
1. Prep your children before you visit the museum
Tell them what they can expect to see inside and the rules of the museum. Explain the ropes around 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. If possible, find books in the library or websites online and share some background information with the 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.
2. Don’t take them 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. Know 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 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 ones 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 in place that everyone stays in the same room until the parents 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 beauty around them.
6. Bring colored pencils and a sketch book
I happen to have a child that loves to draw. He could spend hours drawing anything and everything. If I take a sketch book 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 museums are starting to provide art supplies, so check the museum website in advance, you may not have to bring your own.