Kids in museums can be like oil in water—a resistance to coming together.
And it's true: museums have the potential to be snooze-worthy experiences with their long hallways, countless cases holding items that are several centuries old and plaque after mind-numbing plaque of information without context.
While these whine-inducing conditions do exist, parents have a lot of control over how a museum can be experienced. It's in that experience where the potential for rich, interesting conversations and educational curiosity exist. It takes a little extra work, but don't let that deter you from taking the kids to museums. Here are 7 tips for embracing the museum experience with your kids and laying a foundation for lifetime of interest and inquiry (yes, even about those plaques).
1. Arm yourself with information
Regardless of the type of museum you're visiting, check out the website before you go so you know what to expect. Make note of exhibits, workshops or family events of interest to ensure you hit those highlights first.
Many museums have a family-friendly section on their websites, which may include activities like scavenger hunts and games you can use to guide your visit. Programming geared toward children is also a great way to explore museums for families, because docents already have particular activities based on specific exhibits planned. Also, find out if you can carry snacks with you (easy-to-eat and without the mess, of course), or if there is a snack bar on site for when the little ones get fussy.
Museums tend to be less crowded in the morning, so get there when the doors open. Everyone will be alert and ready to explore, and parking won't be a problem. In general, weekends are a nightmare. Also, some museums have discounted family rates on certain days of the week or times of the day, so check in before you visit to get the most bang for your buck.
3. Drum up excitement …
Involve your kids in making plans before you visit to encourage engagement. Talk with them about the exciting things you're going to see and do at the museum. Once there, lead by example. If you show enthusiasm about a particular piece of art or a certain artifact, your kids will follow your lead.
4. … but talk about museum etiquette
Before visiting the museum, make sure your kids know how to act in such an environment. In many museums, this means no touching art or other objects, and inside voices are appropriate. However, despite the rules, make an emphasis on what they can do. You can play games like "I Spy," or ask your kids to count shapes and find colors in the objects or pieces of art. Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation about the items.
5. Get outside
If the museum has a sculpture garden or other exhibits housed outside, visit them when your kids start to lose interest inside. Though it's important to respect these spaces as well, getting fresh air lets the little ones get some of that bottled-up energy out.
6. Don't try to do it all
Even for adults, spending a day at a museum can be a very long, drawn-out experience. You may only get an hour of attention time out of your kids before they start to get antsy, which is why you need to hit up the most interesting exhibits or activities first. Once they start to lose interest, it's time to take a break for a snack or head out altogether.
Back at home, let the conversation about the day continue. If there were artifacts or pieces of art that sparked an interest in your children, encourage exploration. Let your kids make their own pieces of art or check out books from the library about topics of interest to read as a family.
Though not every visit to the museum will be a success, even a small spark of interest may be the perfect flame you need to inspire another visit on another day with the kids.