During our last museum experience, my kids waited for their big sister outside the bathroom only to jump out and loudly yell BOO! She screamed. They laughed. In the art museum. Just kids being kids and enjoying the museum and each other… but… I don’t think the docents see it as appropriate behavior. And definitely don’t let your kid slip off his sandals while he sits on a bench.

Embarrassing memories like this definitely come to mind when I think about another museum day. Despite these past events, museums are one of my favorite things to do with the kids for learning. And most stressful.

As a family, we get to learn real world history from actual artifacts and about artists from their original art. But more than that, the kids are learning how to learn in the real world with real objects. How many grown ups do you know who go to museums for fun? Or maybe they only go to exciting ones on vacation but have yet to see the ones in their own hometowns? Let’s be different. Raise different.

It’s a high-pressure situation.

Depending on the age of your kids, family field trips can seem impossible. Sometimes, just taking all the kids somewhere on your own is overwhelming enough. Then someone suggests a museum?! However, it doesn’t have to be the impossible dream.

You are the Reason for the Museum Trip Failure… Most of the Time
#1 Reason: I Didn’t Communicate!
#2 Reason: I Have Unreasonable Expectations
#3 Reason: I Am Not Prepared
Top Ten Tips to Rock the Museum
#1 Maps
#2 Tours
#3 Hands Off
#4 Picture It
#5 Sugar
#6 Take a Break
#7 Practice
#8 Scavenge
#9 Docents
#10 Model It

Our favorite dinosaurs at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

You are the Reason for the Museum Trip Failure… Most of the Time

#1 Reason: I Didn’t Communicate!

Just like the adults, the kids also want to know the plan for the day. There will probably be complaining! Don’t ask if they want to go— tell where you are going. Otherwise, they will start off complaining.

Be patient and answer their questions about the day even if you don’t have all the answers. Just take the time – you’ll be glad later. Where are we going and for how long? Who is going to be there? What will we see? Maybe show the pictures ahead of time. Knowing they only “have” to be here for two hours is different than them worrying all day they won’t be done in time for piano or about what they get to have for lunch. 

If your kids aren’t used to museums, they have no idea how to act. Little kids aren’t going to naturally know to not step over the magic red line painted two feet in front of the painting or that they can’t get too close to the glass sculpture sitting precariously on the pedestal in the middle of the room. Why am I not allowed to touch the cool things I see? Why do I have to talk quieter? Why do I need to stay closer to you than usual?

Tell them what’s expected ahead of time and why. We stay behind the line, so we don’t accidentally hurt the painting. We don’t touch that coffin because it’s from before Jesus! We don’t run because this stuff is very important.

My Kids Have Been on So Many Benches in Museums!

#2 Reason: I Have Unreasonable Expectations

Did you set reasonable goals? Are they your goals or what you think other people’s goals are? Several smaller trips to the same museum will be a lot better experience. Don’t force the kids to stick it out to see the entire museum if they’re just complaining for the last two hours. They’re not getting anything out of it, and you’re just getting more worn-down as well. Know when to stop.

What are your kids able to handle?  What have been the other past experiences? Maybe your kids are only up for two hours instead of the four everyone else is doing. Are you trying to work through nap time? Do they need to run around a bit or need food?

A museum trip with kids is different than a trip with the husband. Remember that. Make sure you get to see the “best part” of the museum early in your trip, or you will end up dragging your kids along on your own agenda. If you want to see impressionists, go there first or you might miss it because they’re ready to leave. I might be speaking from first-hand experience!

#3 Reason: I Am Not Prepared

I hope I’m not the only one who takes out personal frustrations on the kids… Right?! Nothing will go right if Mom and Dad are in a bad mood. Just turn around and call it a day. None of these are the kids’ fault. Do your research ahead of time to limit any potential complications.

What days and hours are they open? How will your art museum day go if you find out the tickets aren’t currently buy one get one free and you just paid twice as much as expected? Are strollers allowed for my newborn and toddler? Do they have lockers for me to put the diaper bag since it’s too big to carry around? Did I just buy myself a much-needed coffee only to be told I can’t take it in?

I like to think that deep down inside, museums really do want to have kids visit. And why aren’t museums set up to be more kid friendly?! Before heading out for the day, look online to see what the museum offers to help make your experience better. Print out the available scavenger hunt. Know to ask for the kid museum bag at the front desk. Or just ask the docent at the entrance. It never hurts to ask.

Roaming the Amazing Free Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, Scotland

Top Ten Tips to Rock the Museum

#1 Maps

If the museum offers a map – get it. If they have a map to download on your phone – get it. It will give the kids a distraction and let them feel more in control of the experience. Not to mention, then you can practice map skills.

Let the kids be in charge of the path through the museum because in the end, it doesn’t really matter does it?!

#2 Tours

The best trips ever are those with a guide, and honestly, I need to be willing to pay for it more often. If that’s not available, see about an audio tour. You may need to download an app on your phone or pay more for the audio tour on the hand-held device. However, it will give the kids the momentum and distraction that they need. Not to mention, kids seem to pay more attention to people who aren’t their own parents!? Right?

#3 Hands Off

Little hands that are busy find it more difficult to touch things. Give them something for their hands: a sketch pad, a museum brochure, etc. Train them to keep their hands in their pockets. Tell them you need their help with carrying something.

#4 Picture It

Take an extra camera and put the kid in charge of taking pictures. This may mean you delete lots when you get home, but it’s not like they’re wasting film. Or in a moment of desperation, give them your phone. You may even get a picture with you in it to prove you really were there.

Hand your kids the camera!

#5 Sugar

Plan around food. That’s what you do at home anyway.

Go for a couple of hours, make an intentional break for lunch, and go back inside for an hour or two. Pack your lunch and keep it in the car. Just adding that little break will work wonders for their attention span. Bonus for letting them run around a bit during the break and burn off some energy.

If the museum won’t frown on it, give them little burst of sugar will let them go further. I’ll give you a treat once we get to the next room. If you need to be more stealth, a special piece of gum might do the trick. Busy mouths are harder to be loud. This is also my trick for getting little kids to sit still in a play. Just make sure you open the noisy sucker wrapper before it starts.

#6 Take a Break

You know those fancy benches in the middle of the art gallery? They aren’t just there for studious artists to sketch. Let your kids sit and take a break. Let the little kids sit in the middle while you walk around with the older kids who are still paying attention. Granted, tell them this doesn’t mean lay down and roll around. Not that mine would ever do that?

If no bench is available, there are corners. Tell them to sit and hand them your phone to play a game. Technology at its finest.

#7 Practice

Visit museums frequently from your hometown starting at a young age. Even if your town doesn’t have a huge museum, it’s still a museum to visit. Give the small museums support and use the opportunity to show the kids how to act in a lower pressure environment.

Don’t wait for a visit to an amazing museum across the world. You might just waste half a day doing something your kids have not been prepared for.

#8 Scavenge

Kids love scavenger hunts. Get a scavenger hunt at the front desk or make one yourself. Even if the museum has one that’s for younger kids, go ahead and grab it. If nothing else, it will give them something to do for a couple of minutes. Some websites have interactive searches on their website listed so always look ahead.

I recently heard the suggestion to go to the museum shop before walking around and pick out several postcards of the exhibits. Then the kids need to find them in the museum. Score! Can’t wait to try out this genius idea myself.

Learning from the Volunteer for Some First-Hand Knowledge

#9 Docents

Prepare yourself to be followed around by the docents. Everywhere. Tell the kids why they are there and make it a point to prove the doubting docents wrong. I think they start making assumptions of how your kids are going to act the minute you set foot in the door. Maybe there’s a secret walkie-talkie network warning the next chain of command.

Set an example so museums aren’t afraid when they see kids! 

#10 Model It

Kids mimic what they see. If you think it’s stupid or Daddy complains, they won’t want to go! Show them how you love going to museums. Make it a family trip. Talk about history at home. Learn about artists and hang up special paintings at home. Study Egyptian artifacts and talk about what they tell us about their ancient culture. Look at interactive museums online. Show the kids how adults like doing these things so they can grow up and do the same with their families.

Not Every Visit Will Be Amazing for Everyone 😉 —- Houston Museum of Fine Arts

There are so many great places out there that so many people of all ages do not appreciate. Let’s raise up a generation of kids who will one day take their own families to go see the mummies and truly appreciate history… and invite you along! Maybe by then, enough kids will have retrained the docents that they welcome us with open arms?

I hope these help you feel less overwhelmed and more prepared to utilize these real-world learning opportunities. Art museums. Science museums. History museums. Seek out free museums or invest in a museum membership that gets you in for a reduced price. Go learn! These all count!

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