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Do you dream of family vacations punctuated by visits to the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the American Museum of Natural History? If you want to have a family that knows museums but are worried that some family members won’t be up for “learning experiences” during summer break, winter break, or spring break, you you are in the right place! Whether your goal is to see masterpieces in art museums, learn something new in science museums, or explore famous natural history museums, you can create a museum habit. to help your whole family have a great time at great museums around the world.
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One of the best ways to help your kids love museums is to start at an early age. Make museum visits a regular part of early learning instead of something that happens every year or two on vacation. Put your baby in the ergonomics and your toddler in the stroller and explore an exhibition. Most museum staff recognize the value of welcoming young visitors and are happy to help train the next generation of museum patrons. And remember, tour guides are usually happy to answer questions, even from little guests. That’s why they work in museums in the first place!
When you take young children to a museum for the first time, don’t plan to spend the whole day there. You want your kids to see museums as fun and interesting places they want to visit often, not boring institutions they’ll be stuck in all day. This doubles if you have a younger child under 5. Thirty minutes is the longest tour to try to start with this age group. Over time, you can start staying longer and longer. Summer provides a great opportunity to take the kids on quick family “trips” to museums in your community. Quality time with your kids while keeping them busy? It’s a win-win!
Take the habit
Remember that earlier statement about respecting 30-minute tours? The best way to do this is to find a museum near you and visit often. Become a member of your favorite local museum so you can visit it frequently at no extra cost. This works especially well if the museum has a dedicated area for children. Our local art museum was a wonderful rainy day activity when my kids were little; we’d take a quick look at the art galleries, then move on to the family art center, where kids could experiment with copious amounts of art supplies. Take your museum habit to the next level by enrolling school-aged children in summer camps at local institutions. They will start to feel like owners of the place!
Prepare with snacks
We have discovered that museums make us HANGRY (yes, I include myself in that statement). We are so engrossed in everything we see that we lose track of time and run out of breath. Make sure you have a plan for when this happens. Will the museum you are visiting allow you to bring snacks? Is there a sales room or a takeaway cafe? Make a plan for when and where you’ll have a bite to eat. (I’m always a fan of museums with outdoor space or botanical gardens for tea time. No worries about messes and plenty of square footage to run and wander around!)
Try the child version
Of course, children’s museums are a great place to develop a love of museums in your children. There’s no better way to show that museums are fun and full of life. (And here’s a tip: interactive displays are usually entertaining for adults, too!) Making kids’ museums a regular part of your vacation is the perfect way to practice for future museum-heavy trips, like visiting the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Look for adventure
For older children, there are still plenty of fun ways to play. Find museums that offer interactive exhibits for all ages, like the city museum in Saint-Louis with its giant slide and school bus on the roof. Adventurous teens relish the chance to try out a rock climbing wall or a spinner at US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Some places, like the Chicago Museum of Science and Industryprovide the ability to 3D print your own creations or attempt lab experiments and dissections.
One of the most important ways to help children enjoy museums is to find places that meet your child’s interests. My children enjoyed seeing important works of art at the Chicago Art Institutebut due to their love of history, they were mostly interested in ancient Roman sculptures (thanks, Rick Riordan). Do you have a little league player? Take them to Louisville Slugger Museum. Are any of your children obsessed with spies? So don’t miss it International Spy Museum. And if your child dreams of living on the International Space Station, they won’t want to miss lunch with an astronaut at a space museum like Kennedy Space Center. You might even find museums with temporary special exhibits your kids will love, like Lego displays or Marvel props.
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Discover the fun
No matter which museum you visit, do some research beforehand to find what will make it fun for your family. If you don’t have time to check online, stop by the information desk to inquire about activities for kids of all ages. For example, the National Gallery of Art has treasure hunts to keep young minds busy figuring out details. The British Museum has downloadable Exploration trails which guide children through various exhibits with a series of questions for critical thinking. At the Perot Museum in Dallas, go to children’s museum and its mini-grocery on the first floor with your little ones while your older ones queue upstairs for the earthquake simulator or the speed wall. And I don’t know about your kids, but mine ALWAYS want to visit the gift shop.
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Museums are some of the best places to experience history and science, learn new things, and harness the power of play. With research and practice, you can create an experience the whole family can enjoy and plan days out. memorable family fun for all.
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