Most kids seem to be in search-and-destroy mode when it comes to visiting museums. Items sitting stationary behind glass tend to send youngsters directly through to the gift shop and out the door. However, an educational excursion to a museum can charter interest from your techno-tuned, micro-attention-span child if properly executed.
Sheilagh Roth, founder and executive director of the English Nanny and Governess School in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, says her early love of art and a degree in art history grew from childhood visits to art exhibits. Whatever type of institution your family visits, Roth recommends always letting the kids lead you to what engages them most. “All children will be drawn to something,” she says. “Go with their interests.”
Most museums have child-friendly programs and tour books. With some Internet research or a quick phone call, you can easily develop a plan to direct children to displays that make their eyes twinkle. To ensure your visit is a success, follow these simple guidelines.
Lay down the ground rules.
- Discuss important rules, such as no touching, no climbing and no loud talking. Modify the talk if you’re headed to a hands-on museum where some of these actions are part of the attraction.
- Determine a pre-set amount of time and money to spend in the gift shop, and stick to it.
Play it safe.
- Explain that it’s important for your child to remain in your sight at all times. In case of separation, choose a pre-determined meeting spot.
- Take a photo of your child with your cell phone before you begin exploring. If an all-out search is required, museum staff can see exactly what your child looks like and what he’s wearing. Place a business card with your contact information inside your child’s shoe for an added precaution.
Bring the learning home.
- Have your children write or learn more about their favorite features of the institution.
- Experiment mixing primary watercolors to create fun hues after an art museum visit. Kids can use their colorful creations to depict artworks they’ve seen.
- Buy modeling compound, available at school and art supply stores, to build sculptures.
Make the experience interactive.
- Spread out the map of the museum and let children choose their must-see attractions. Ask them to help you navigate, too.
- Play I Spy with your tykes. Have them pick their favorite colors or a particular object, such as an animal.
- Compile a list of objects for a scavenger hunt, which requires kids to find items on a list. Award a gift-shop prize to the winners who find everything on the sheet.
- Bring along a sketchbook or notebook so kids can draw or journal about what they see.
- Relate yesterday’s objects to today’s. For example, a knight’s helmet protects its wearer’s face like a catcher’s mask does for an athlete.
- Allow young museum-goers to pick small objects or postcards from the gift store to start an at-home collection.
“Trips to a museum should be fun and not rushed,” Roth advises. “Allow your children to enjoy the museum at their own pace and don’t try to see everything in one visit.” Depending on your kids’ ages, 30-60 minutes may be the limit for one day.
Most of all, start planning right away for your next great museum adventure. The Smithsonian Institution offers a keyword and state search engine at www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday that helps users find all types of museums in all areas of the country.