Visiting a Not-Necessarily-For-Kids Museum With Kids
by Katie Beltramo
While I love visiting museums with my kids, I know that many families. . . well, they just don't. Here are some tips to help you and your family enjoy museums of art or historic artifacts.
Get Familiar Ahead of Time
Why does everyone stand around the Mona Lisa at the Louvre? Sure, it's a great painting, but what feels most amazing is that you're actually seeing THE Mona Lisa, after seeing it in books and movies and hearing about it for years. Even if you're not going to see something world-famous, your kids will be more excited if it's something that they've heard about before. Look up the museum online, and ask your kids what they're most interested in seeing. Check out a book from the library, or read a storybook related to the topic. Want your baby to grow up loving art? Try the Mini Masters series of board books.
Even if you don't "get" modern art, try a modern art museum. The unconventional media and current trends toward interactivity can be especially appealing to kids. Visit small, quirky museums that house, say, a single type of object. You're likely to encounter passionate staff and interesting stories. Visit national and state parks, which attempt to offer exhibits that appeal on a wide variety of levels. Stop to look at statues you encounter and visit sculpture or botanic gardens. Keep in mind that you and your child might have very different tastes, and that's okay, because you can learn from each other.
Going to the grocery store is no fun when kids are tired or hungry, and it's no fun going to a museum with cranky kids, either. Plan ahead for optimal alertness. If you have little ones, find out ahead of time whether you can use a stroller or baby carrier in the museum to eliminate kids collapsing early.
Kids need to know that they must not run around, touch, or even approach art or artifacts too closely without a go-ahead from you. My daughters used to get quite offended if a guard stepped in when they got too close. "I know we're not allowed to touch!" they'd declare, stung. So I added the explanation: these guards and staff don't know you. You could be a wild hooligan for all that they know, so don't make them fret unneccessarily.
The museum staff really know their collections best. When you first arrive, report to the nearest information desk and ask for advice. You might say, "We've never been here before and I'm not sure how long the baby will last. What are our must-sees?" or "What exhibits do the children seem to like best?" If you're at a history museum, exhibits about how children lived and played or about handling body functions are popular with kids, for example.
Don't plan on more than one or two hours at a museum. In the long run, it's better to spend 45 minutes really enjoying yourselves than dragging children around for four hours and convincing them that museums equal misery. Many museums have special free days or evenings, and these offer great opportunities for a quick visit.
Have a (Flexible) Plan
If you are visiting a very large museum, it's a great idea to plan ahead what you're most excited about visiting. After a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I joked that I needed to get the kids blinders: they were so interested in the Etruscan art that they first encountered that I thought we might never make it to the Impressionists I craved. That said, be willing to let your children take a lead. If you feel like they're going too slowly, ask them about the pieces that they're looking at. If you think that they're racing through too quickly, remind them that they can come back to their favorites once they've gotten an overview.
Talk About The Art
Don't get caught up in a stuffy conversation about history and art. Have fun with it by playing games or having contests. Some ideas include:
- Have each person in the family choose their favorite piece in the room, then try to persuade everyone else why that piece is the coolest.
- Do a scavenger hunt: who can find the most animals, spoons, or any other items in the room? This is a great way to get kids to examine pieces more closely, like noticing the animal-like claws on furniture legs.
- Look around the landscapes: where would you most like to live?
- Examine the portraits: which person would you most like to visit? Whom would you avoid? Whom would you most like to be?
- When you're visiting historic houses or anywhere with a room set-up, wonder out loud how life would be different if you lived here, or make up stories about the objects that you see.
Hit the Grown-Up Friendly Spaces Before the Kid-Friendly Spaces
If you're visiting a museum that has an area set aside for children, head for the regular galleries first. If kids are moving from a staid, no-touch gallery to an area with paints and clay, they're likely to get a second wind and enjoy it more. Trying to pull kids away from the hands-on stuff to go into a quiet gallery space? That transition is less likely to be successful.
Do Some Follow-Up
After a museum visit, plan a reality TV-style contest and ask kids to create art or a story inspired by their visit. Wait a few days and ask what they liked most and least about the trip so that you can plan for next time.
Remember that you're modeling for your children. If you're excited about art, history, and culture, they're more likely to get excited, too, and you'll all have more fun.
For more ideas about how to get kids interested in art, check out our terrific article Tips for Getting Kids Excited About Visiting An Art Museum.
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