We have been visiting museums of all kinds with our children since they were very small. Art museums, science museums, history museums, and more! We believe that this is a vital part of our children’s education and upbringing and are happy to include museum-going as part of our regular routine.
With that said, it definitely isn’t easy! We have lost a child (thanks to security, he was found before he even realized we were worried). We’ve had diaper blowouts so bad that they required an emergency clothing purchase in the gift shop. Not to mention the whining, complaining, foot-dragging, eye-rolling that is to be expected.
Over the years we have made mistakes and learned from them. So, today I thought I would share our best tips and tricks that we’ve picked up along the way.
6 Tips and Tricks for Visiting a Museum with Small Children
1. Get a Membership
If you are fortunate enough to live near a museum, get a membership to it. That way your children can start becoming familiar with it, learn what to expect, and (most importantly) be able to take short trips to the museum without feeling as though you are wasting money.
If your family consists of more than 3 people, and if you are planning on visiting at least 3 times a year, you will (almost always) save money with a membership. Having a membership will encourage you to drop by when you are in the area. In addition, most museums have member benefits. For example, our Museum of Science in Boston has reciprocity with hundreds of other museums around the country. You’d better believe we’re going to take advantage of that perk while we are on vacation out of state this summer!
The cost of a membership might seem prohibitive to many. I’d recommend asking for memberships for Christmas presents or children’s birthdays. Each Christmas for the past five years, my parents have gifted us a membership to a museum of our choice. It has by far been my children’s favorite gift each year!
2. Aim Small
Short trips are absolutely critical when visiting a museum with small children. We generally aim for 1-2 hours per museum visit. Because we have a membership, we don’t feel guilty for “wasting money” by only staying for a short time. Also, the kids don’t get bored or (usually) complain when they know our visit is limited in time.
We try to visit two galleries or exhibitions per visit. We’ll ask the kids for their suggestions, visit special exhibits that are available for a limited time, and also make sure that parents can see their favorites.
For example, we visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston this past week. We decided to see two particular galleries/ exhibitions. First, we visited the Arte Popular (Mexican folk art) exhibit that was closing the next day. Then, we spent some time in the Impressionist gallery, focusing particularly on the Monet paintings. And that was it. We aimed small, and everyone was able to enjoy the visit.
3. Check out Children’s Programs
Many museums have special children’s programs or activities each week or month. Be sure to take a look at the website to find offerings that interest your family.
For example, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (one of our favorites!) has a children’s art room open each Saturday. The children’s curators have out special art projects designed for different ages and ability levels. Our kids have made patterns with silk screens, prints with sponges, and stationery using dried plants and flowers. They can easily spend an hour in the art room each visit. Best of all, it’s free with admission or membership.
4. Bring Paper and Pencils
This is always a lifesaver! I keep a few small notepads and some pencils in my purse during museum visits. The kids can take them out and sketch works of art that they see that day. They have drawn mummies, Roman sculptures, Sargent paintings, and more.
5. Take Snacks Along
Check out the museum policies beforehand to see if snacks are allowed to be eaten inside. Most museums have dedicated areas for food, while others have lovely courtyards that make perfect picnic spots. We all know that hungry kids are crabby kids, so plan ahead! Bring a few granola bars, cheese sticks, or whatever your children prefer to munch.
6. Share Highlights on the Way Home
The final impression is often the one that sticks in the memory. Try to make this a positive one by having everyone share highlights on the way home. As we were driving home from the Museum of Fine Arts last week, I asked my kids to each share their favorite part of the museum today.
George liked a large dog statue that was outside in a courtyard near where we snacked. Ella enjoyed a large painting of three girls from the early nineteenth century in the American wing. And, Andrew’s favorites were the Monet paintings in the Impressionist exhibit.
The entire conversation took less than five minutes, but it ended the day on a positive note.