A couple of weeks ago, I took my three children (ages 7, 5, and 3) to an art museum. It was my first time taking them to an art museum and it was _______. The word that goes in that blank is good. We had a good time. And, I know it could have been horrible, terrible, painful or some other negative adjective had I not done a few things in advance of our trip to ensure success.
1. Have shared and personal purposes–a purpose with your children and for your children.
For example, my children and I were visiting my sister in Brooklyn, and wanted to check out the cool spots near her place. The art museum was one of a list of “adventures” we wanted to have in the city. This shared purpose was different from my purposes, which were: 1. That my children feel comfortable in an art museum, 2. That they see interesting things, and 3. That we have a fun time/make a memory together.
Based on our purposes, I knew that I didn’t need to stay long (they just wanted to go to check the museum off a list), and that I wanted it to be an enjoyable and memorable trip (so I needed to make things as positive as possible).
2. Check out the collections online before visiting.
This will build up anticipation and you’ll get a chance to see what they are most interested in. At first, my kids were not super interested in seeing anything in particular. However, when I read to them the names of the collections, the Egyptian collection stood out (because of a show, Monster High, but whatever), and then they got excited about seeing things related to a TV show they like. Win! And this relates to my next point…
3. Have everyone choose one artifact from the collection to be on the lookout for.
After we determined which collection we’d visit, we scrolled through the pictures of the artifacts and everyone chose one thing to be on the lookout for. For example, Josh (my three-year old) was on the lookout for a blue monkey. The act of choosing something to look for, and then searching for it, held their attention by giving them a task, something to do with their time.
Now make sure to read the fine print. While a museum has a lot of artifacts, not all of them will necessarily be on display. My daughters both picked artifacts that weren’t on display. However, they recognized a lot from the scrolling we did at home.
And everyone was happy for Josh when he spotted his artifact.
4. Choose one collection to tour.
If you visit more than one collection, cool. But if you’re new to the child-in-a-grown-up-museum scene, remember exposure to the arts and culture through museums is a marathon not a race. Do one thing well and everything else is extra.
How long you spend in the museum, will depend on a lot of factors: the time since the children’s last meal (this is not an activity for the hangry), how busy it is, if your children are riding in a stroller for some of the visit or exclusively walking, how many steps you’re trying to get in, etc. But, for a first visit plan I’d plan a visit that lasts about 30 min to an hour. The most important thing to me was to leave before I needed to. End on a high note and leave about 10 minutes before your children show signs of restlessness.
5. Be on the lookout for opportunities to give compliments.
Just like your kids are looking for works of art and various objects, you are on the lookout for thoughtfulness- both them thinking about the art and thinking about others in the shared space. Compliment them on how they are interacting in the space, how they are being respectful of other people there, how they are staying close to you/can see you when they walk away, how they are asking questions, how they are keeping their hands to themselves, etc.
You can talk to them before and after entering the museum about priceless and invaluable things. There is usually tape on the group, so that visitors don’t get too close to the art and artifacts. And if this is your child’s first, second, third or tenth time visiting a museum, expect to have to remind them.
When their voice is too loud, you can say, "Please make your voice match mine…," and have them try to match your quiet or whisper voice. And when they try to touch artifacts (which they will), co-teacher Anne Treeger suggests using the phrase, “touch with your eyeballs.” As an artist and former teacher and museum educator, Anne explains that "touching with your eyeballs" means using your sense of sight to explore an artwork.
All in all though, they are children. They are learning how to share the museum space and deserve to be reminded.
With these few tips–which took about 15 min. to put into place–we were able to spend a pleasant hour in the museum with everyone pretty attentive and enjoying themselves. I hope these tips help you to enjoy your time too.