Happy Museum Monday! Did you know that International Museum Day is coming up later this week on 18th May? As both a mother and as someone who has worked in museums for many years, I am a great believer in taking children to museums from an early age. Both my boys saw the inside of their first museum when they were just a few weeks old. Now, at age 4 and 8, between them they have quite a few museums under their belt, so I thought I would share some of our top tips for visiting museums with kids.
1. Adjust your expectations. Be realistic about what you’re going to see. That French Impressionist exhibition you’ve always wanted to spend some quality time in? Well, now is not that time. Best to come back another day without your children.
2. Zone in on one area. Don’t feel you have to see everything, especially if it’s a big museum. Pick one area to spend some quality time in, instead of trying to race through the whole museum at once.
3. Let your children be your guide and lead the way. It’s fun to see the museum through their eyes, as they pick out the things they’re interested in. That’s not to say you can’t also point out things you think they may enjoy – why not spend a little time on the museum’s website ahead of your visit identifying a few particularly interesting exhibits.
4. Think about time of day. Go at the time of day that works best for your family’s routine. First thing in the morning museums tend to be quieter and children often have better concentration and more energy than at the end of the day. But if your children are on best form after lunch and a nap, go then.
5. Make sure your children are well fed. It sounds obvious but remember to take mealtimes into account. There’s nothing worse than a hangry toddler. Many museums don’t allow you to eat or drink inside, but I always bring some water and snacks too, just in case. Most museums and gallery cafes are family-friendly and stopover there can break up a trip.
6. Locate the loos! On your arrival, find out where the toilets are so you know where to dash to when you need them. Also, if there are lockers or a cloakroom, check in your coats so you don’t get hot and bothered or end up having to carry them all.
7. Engage them in what they are seeing. Set yourselves some little games or challenges, e.g. naming, finding or counting certain things. A round or two of ‘I-spy’ always works well. With older children, ask questions to start a discussion, e.g. ’What do you think the people in the picture are saying to each other?’ If your children enjoy drawing, bring a sketchbook and pencil to let them capture what they see.
8. Keep it short and sweet. Don’t overstay. When your children are done, they’re done. Pushing them any further will only end in tears (on both sides). You can come back another time and if they leave before having a meltdown it’s more likely to result in a happy experience that will make them keener to come back.
9. Be prepared for repetition. There will be those museums you visit just once, and those you will visit again and again because your child wants to go and see his or her favourite car or dinosaur. Both are okay.
10. Think outside the box. Everyone knows kids love dinosaurs, mummies, and rockets, but don’t just stick to the usual suspects. Try taking them to other museums too – you may be pleasantly surprised.
Do you have any further tips to add? Please feel free to share your tips in the comments below. You can find lots of great recommendations for museums to visit with kids in my weekly Museum Monday feature, and further tips and recommendations from other families in my Museum Explorers interview series.