Museums are unique community resources to be enjoyed by everyone. Visits to these treasure houses give families a special opportunity to spend time with their children in rich learning environments. And for children, the wonder of seeing the real thing in a museum often allows them to make the connection between the things they see and already know with what they are learning every day at home and in school.
There is no magic formula for visiting a museum. A spur-of-the-moment trip can be just as rewarding as a planned visit. But if you have the time, enrich your experience by following these easy tips designed to make your visit to any museum an enjoyable learning experience.
Do Some Advance Planning
This Ensures Your Children Will Be Excited About the Museum Visit.
Children may be more excited about the visit if they are involved in the planning. Ways to do this include:
• Talking about what they will see in the museum, especially if it’s your child’s first visit. This conversation may include some basic information about museums and also how objects get there and why people collect objects in the first place.
• Relating what’s being learned in school to a museum visit. Children can use the visit to do research or to find out more about a subject they’re currently studying. Your local museum may have exhibits that will help bring the subject to life.
• Reviewing personal safety and behavior rules. Make a safety plan with your children in case you get separated. Discuss the role of museum guards and other staff. Talk with your children about how to behave in the museum by explaining that museums have rules of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. For example, art and history museums generally have a no-touching policy because the items displayed are rare and can’t be replaced, but children’s museums are always hands-on.
• Visit the web site of the museum you plan to visit.
Make the Most of Your Visit
Be Sure to Request Children’s Brochures
The information desk is a good “first stop” once you’re at the museum. There you’ll find floor plans with the location of exhibits, restaurants, restrooms, gift shops, elevators, wheelchair ramps, exits, as well as places to sit. Materials are often available in foreign languages.
You might also ask about self-guided children’s and family tour brochures, audio tours, gallery games, activity sheets, family workshops, and programs. Find out the times and locations for hands-on rooms, kids’ performances, musical events, storytelling sessions, or museum tours. Now you’re ready to explore.
Here are a few suggestions for a rewarding museum visit:
• Be flexible and follow your child’s lead. Don’t be surprised if your planned visit to see the dinosaur bones is put on hold because the huge elephant has caught your children’s attention. Let them enjoy the exhibit at their own pace. Be ready to discuss any questions they may have. If you don’t know the answers, jot down the questions in a notebook.
• Try to relate facts about the exhibit you’re seeing to what your children already know. For example, a knight’s suit of armor serves the same purpose as a catcher’s mask, a bicycle helmet, or shin guards—to protect the body.
• Ask your children to tell you a story about an object in the exhibit that interests them. “Who do you think wore that suit of armor?” “How did they make it fit?” Encourage them to use their imaginations. If labels or wall text provide more information, talk about it.
Children of all ages love to play games. Museum games or treasure hunts focus a museum visit and help to break up the time as you go from exhibit to exhibit. They stimulate your child’s curiosity, sharpen observation skills, and generally make the visit more enjoyable. If the museum does not provide games, make up your own:
• Postcard Games. Buy some postcards at the museum gift shop. Then turn your children into detectives and ask them to find the pictured items. Not only will they enjoy the hunt, but they’ll be thrilled to discover the real thing. Are the colors the same? the details? the textures? the size? Later at home, the cards can be arranged for a home exhibition.
• I Spy. Have youngsters find an object in an exhibit and describe it to other family members so that each one can take a turn guessing what the object is: “I spy something red and brown with sharp edges” or “I spy something that inches its way along the ground.”
• Seek and Find. Ask your child to find paintings that have his or her favorite colors, shapes, or objects in them. This game is not only fun but teaches children to look very closely at each object. Games like this give children a sense of accomplishment when they successfully find or identify everything asked of them.
• Where Is It? Ask your child to find something in the exhibit that is very old; soft; hard; strong; shiny. Or something that feels rough; smooth; hot; slippery; bumpy; itchy. Or something that smells yummy; burnt; sweet. You get the idea!
Don’t try to see everything in one visit. Young children, especially preschoolers and those in early grades, usually learn best in 10- to 15-minute sessions and can be overwhelmed by seeing too many things at one time. Thirty minutes to one hour may be the limit. If your children say things like “I’m bored,” “It’s so hot in here,” “When are we going home?”—you know that they’ve seen enough and it’s time to take a break or leave. Plan another visit to see the exhibits you missed.
Continue Exploring What You’ve Learned
Look for Opportunities to Continue Learning After the Visit
• Relate what your children have seen to things they already know. For example,
if your children enjoyed an exhibit on astronauts, then you might talk with them about the first man on the moon or what we know about the possibility of life on other planets.
• Suggest that your children start a collection of their favorite objects and build their own home museum. A good way to add to the collection is to look for yard sales or flea markets in your neighborhood. Or create a Wonder Bowl at home containing shells, rocks, feathers, and pine cones your child finds on a walk.
• Go online. Most museums maintain websites that feature information about their exhibits and interactive activities for children. See the resources section for some sites to visit.
Encourage your children’s creativity by suggesting they make a sculpture or mobile of something they saw in the museum from things found at home—newspapers, broken toys, building blocks, or clay. Display it in your home.
If you visited a science museum, try some experiments at home with weights and measures, lights and shadows, or mixing acids and bases (soda and vinegar, lemon and milk). Check your library for books of activities and experiments.
Plan a visit to one of our fine area museums soon. You and your child will be enriched by it!
(Source U.S. Dept. of Education)