How To Make Any Museum For The Whole Family
As the weather starts to change, you may be on the lookout for more indoor activities for the young ones in your life. Museums can seem like a go-to, but it’s not always as easy as that.
Though the interactive nature of these museums can help pass the time, there may come a point that you’re looking for something a bit more adult. Something artsy, something historical, something that’s … not covered in slime. Is that too much to ask?
What’s more, regularly going to a range of museums offers plenty of educational benefits to kids, from hands-on exhibits to an introduction to cultures and communities from all over the world.
The only issue is getting them to have as much fun at the more grown-up museums as they do at the local science center (which you may have gone to a few dozen times already).
With that in mind, we came up with a guide that will make museum visits more engaging for the whole family (though we can’t promise you’re going to be free of slimy science for long).
12 Easy Ideas For Making Any Museum Kid-Friendly
Start With The Gift Shop
Get Them Talking
Contrary to what popular documentaries might have you believe about museum visits ending in the gift shop, we think there’s even more merit to starting there.
As Oren Miller lays out in his experience at the Baltimore Museum of Art, there’s a power to having young ones stop by the gift store and pick out a postcard before they’ve started the museum.
This technique allows kids to pick their own adventure. With their postcard or souvenir in hand, you can let them guide their visit.
As they look for the matching treasure, it’s likely they’ll be more receptive to stories about the art and the artist. And if this little mission worked well one time, you may find that you’ve got a reliable trick for helping them discover art throughout the museum.
There’s nothing like the dreaded, “I’m borrrrred” to ruin a trip to a museum before it even gets going.
Though there’s value in letting kids work through these feelings of boredom, it’s up to you if you want to try and work through that lesson after having paid to enter a museum.
Instead, use simple questions to keep them engaged with the art, sculptures, or exhibitions in front of them. There’s no need for college-level analysis here. These are a few that can spark observations:
- What do you see happening in this picture?
- What makes you think that?
- Why do you think the artist did that?
- What was the first thing you noticed?
If you were making a painting like this, how would you do it?
Transform the museum experience from simply standing in front of historical relics to actively seeking out the next exciting item on the list. Putting together a checklist of sorts can help guide your young one’s focus, especially when it connects the theme of the museum to their interest.
If you’re raising a How To Train A Dragon fan, then challenge them to see how many dragons they can find at the next traveling exhibition about the History of Chinese Art.
(And if your young one needs a little extra motivation, let them know they’ll earn their Museum IRLA coin once they finish the list.)
Make It About More Than The Museum
Museums can have a reputation for being quiet and stuffy, and some kids react strongly about going from the second they hear about them. The trick here? Instead of making the museum the focal point of the day, frame it as part of a themed special day.
Is there a holiday that connects with the exhibition? Maybe a pre-Halloween visit to an exhibition about Egypt could be the start of a fun, mummy-filled day.
Are your kids running low on art supplies? Stop by for fresh markers and then passing a quiet moment doodling masterpieces in the presence of Impressionist masters could be the way to go.
Go In Character
If you’re visiting a museum to look at art from another period or to learn about a culture from another time, why not dress the part?
From museums that rent costumes (we’re looking at you, Fort Bend Museum!) to putting together your own costumes beforehand, you can help make the museum visit more immersive by activating their imagination (plus you’ll have great photos for the holiday cards).
Play I Spy
One way to help your young ones notice more of the details in an exhibition is by changing the activity from art appreciation to a little bit of art play…. With I Spy!
I spy with my little eye… a man with very high socks!
I spy with my little eye… a painting made of dots!
I spy with my little eye…
By getting them to actively look for something in the room rather than just glossing over the art on the walls, you help make the sometimes-overwhelming museum environment become more manageable.
More Digital Devices
While it’s not the advice you’ll hear from most people, we’re going to suggest something unconventional: while you’re at the museum, let your kids go wild with digital devices.
We agree with GuidiGo about how this could work. Some museums have applications for your phone or tablet that let you experience the museum as a form of augmented reality. Museums in Singapore, London, Paris, and more have been coming up with some fun ideas. This use of technology can give your young ones a new lens through which to explore.
The other are the audio devices that many museums rent out to help explain the art. In addition to getting short explanations of the audio, playing with the device itself can be a fun diversion.
Also, don’t forget to check if there are children-specific audio guides!
Gift Shops And Cafés Are Part Of The Museum
When you plan a regular weekend with kids, you make sure there are breaks for snacks, time to play, and time to rest (before more snacks, more play, and more resting again later).
Think about the museum in the same way. There’s no need to see every exhibit before collapsing exhausted into a seat at the café, and there’s no reason to wait until the end to wander around the gift shop.
The museum shouldn’t be a time to experiment with your young one’s daily rhythms. Instead, says Mama Loves Paris, focus on the idea of making the museum visit a pleasure, memorable one, even if half of it is spent in the café.
Leave Before You’re Ready
As an adult, you may have a slightly longer attention span than the young ones you’re shepherding through the museum.
Maybe in your museum-visiting prime, you could go for three, four, or even five hours at once. In that sense, visiting museums is like training for a marathon. Just like you wouldn’t expect someone to be able to run four hours in one day after never having before, it’s unreasonable to expect kids without much museum experience to last for hours on end.
Instead of hours, just aim for an hour. The goal here is to leave while everyone is still happy. We don’t mean to pry the kids away from an exhibit they love, but try and leave while spirits are good.
In doing so, you accomplish two things: you make this museum visit a fun one - and you create a positive association with the idea of visiting museums in the future.
Art Can Be Serious And Silly
While museums may have some rules about behavior (no eating, no running), that doesn’t mean your family has to stay boring and stuffy the whole time.
Since life often imitates art, why not let your kids imitate the art they’re looking at? From attempting the poses of royalty to contorting to match the interpretive curves of sculptures, the chance to get physical will help them pay more attention to the art in front of them (rather than the amount of time they’ve been in the museum) - and it’s plain old fun.
Be warned, though! This exercise has been known to cause fits of laughter and silliness, so it may be best to save the photo review until you’ve left the museum.
Hand Over The Camera
Museums are well-designed works of art meant to house well-designed works of art. So why not let your kids honor all of that art by getting creative?
Handing over your camera phone - or bringing the family’s digital camera - and leaving it in their control for the trip to the museum gives them a new way to consider the art and sculptures and history in front of them. Rather than simply look at it, how will they compose an interesting angle?
By letting them treat the day like a photoshoot, you can also open up conversations about what they noticed, what they like about seeing art, and how they go about making their own art.
Walk The Walk
Sometimes going to museums can feel like something we should do. Whether it’s a traveling exhibition about human bodies or some renaissance paintings on loan from Europe, new options are always popping up - and it’s up to us to think about how we embrace them.
The key to making those options interesting for your young ones is to be interested in the museum yourself. As Kids Out And About explains it, part of making the museum visit more interesting is developing those interests beforehand.
If you want to foster more of an interest in art, display art at home or talk about the art you see when you’re out and about. If it’s about science, you can create that connection through books and videos.
The point is if you’re actually curious about the museum - and you’re not just going because you think you have to - you’ll be in a better position to encourage your family’s curiosity, too.
What about you and your family? Have you used any of the above strategies to help ease your young ones into more meaningful museum visits?