Museums can be great places for learning about history, art and culture but, unfortunately, they also have a reputation for not being very kid-friendly. It may seem like a daunting proposition to take kids to a museum, however, with the right preparation and the right attitude, it can be a fun experience for everyone in the family.
Sophia at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Montreal
Our family has visited a long list of museums and art galleries including The Hermitage, The Vatican, and The Louvre. Some have been more fun than others but we have survived them all and learned a few things in the process. These are my 9 tips for increasing the chances of having a successful museum visit with kids.
1. Prepare for the Visit
The most important step for a successful museum visit will probably take place before you ever leave home. There are a number of great books and other resources that can be used to introduce kids to art and get them excited about what they are going to see. We have a book called 13 Artists Children Should Know which is a great resource.
Consulting the kids to find out what they are most interested in seeing at a museum will improve your chances of having a successful visit. Prior to our visit to Montreal, Sophia and I browsed various galleries websites to familiarize her with some of the collections housed in the museum.
2. Consider a Tour Guide
Many museums offer guided tours for families (for a fee or sometimes free) or private guides can often be hired as well. It's important to take some time to consider whether your family would benefit from the services of a guide as it may be the most efficient way to see some museums.
3. Set the Ground Rules
If it's the first time visiting a museum then make sure that the kids know what the ground rules are ahead of time - no running, no shouting, no touching the artwork are the basics. It may seem obvious to adults but kids shouldn't be expected to know what's allowed and what's not if it's their first visit to a museum.
4. Wear Comfortable Walking Shoes
Be sure to have your kids in comfortable walking shoes as a lot of ground will be covered over a couple of hours in a large museum. The last thing you want is to have the museum visit derailed because someone's feet are hurting or, worse yet, blistered.
5. Narrow Your Focus
The larger the museum's collection the more important it is going to be to focus on two or three exhibits. Try to do otherwise and the kids are likely to become overwhelmed and either lose interest or have a meltdown. There is no point in trying to see as much as possible until everyone drops - this is supposed to be fun not an endurance contest. Determine which exhibits the kids are most interested in and head there first in order to reduce the risk of disappointment if the visit has to be cut short.
Sophia at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Montreal
6. Limit Time
Don't plan on spending a full day in a museum or the entire family is likely to end up exhausted and grumpy. An hour or too will be more than enough with younger kids and even older kids and many adults start to lose interest beyond half a day. It's a good idea to research whether a museum has any days or times when admission is free so that a short visit doesn't feel like a waste of money.
7. Plan Fun Activities
Planning activities for the museum can increase the fun factor for younger family members. A popular option is to plan a scavenger hunt by either printing out some photos at home prior to the visit or selecting postcards in the gift shop upon arrival and have the kids search for the works of art. Another option is to pick a theme or a common object and count how many times it appears in paintings. Kids who like to draw may also enjoy sitting with paper and crayons/coloured pencils and sketching their favourite works. Some museums now have programs for kids as well but generally require pre-registration so families wishing to attend should plan ahead.
8. Take a Snack Break
If you have kids who need to snack often or just need a few minutes of downtime every so often then plan to have a break or two to keep everyone back on track. Most museums have small cafés where snacks and drinks can be purchased or parents can come prepared with their own. Browsing the gallery's gift shop can also work as a break from viewing the art as most now have sections dedicated to merchandise for kids. We generally use a trip to the gift shop and the purchase of a small souvenir as a reward for good behaviour at the end of the visit though.
I have always enjoyed art museums and wanted Sophia to enjoy them as well, so we started visiting galleries when she was quite young. These tips for a successful outing to an art museum summarize what I have learned through trial and error over the years. The most important thing to remember is that the goal is to leave with kids who are happy and who have had an enjoyable visit so that they will be excited the next time that a trip to the museum is planned.