Time tested tips to make your trip enjoyable for everyone
I've got over 11 years of experience visiting art museums with my kids, as well as with friends and their kids. Today, I'm sharing everything I've learned!
Don't be intimidated to take your kids to the museum. Yes, it might be a little hard to keep them semi-quiet and calm, but in the end it's so worth it. With a little planning, it can be a fun and memorable day for everyone. Here are my best tips:
Check the museums hours online
I have arrived at a museum only to be informed by the parking attendant that they are closed on Tuesdays. Don't let this happen to you.
Make sure everyone has eaten just before you arrive
Kind of a given, but it's an easy one to forget in the rush of getting everyone ready and out the door.
Reschedule your trip if they seem extra cranky
I've decided last minute to cancel a museum day because someone didn't get enough sleep, or was just extra irritable for whatever reason. It's hard to enjoy art when you're not feeling your best, so why even try? Just reschedule for later that week when everyone is in a more cheerful mood.
Bring small sketchpads and pencils
Some museums even allow small paint sets to be brought in, but at some museums it's against the rules. I like to bring small (5x7 or 8x10) sketch books and pencils for the kids to sit and draw when inspiration strikes. You could also bring watercolor pencils and then add the water later when you get home. This is an especially fun way to appreciate art with kids who are easily overstimulated. Asking them to sit down and sketch forces them to focus in a way that really lets them admire the art and take it in on a deeper level.
Review art museum etiquette a few days before your trip, and then again right before you go in
There's a lot for kids to remember and sometimes even the most rule-abiding kids get all caught up in the moment and forget. They will have a better time and feel more comfortable if they know what's expected of them at the museum. The main rules: talk quietly, walk slowly, don't get too close to the art, and never touch the art. Holding hands with your kids (if they will let you) is a great way to ensure they won't touch any art.
Ask the museum if they have any special accommodations for young children
Some museums have a fun scavenger hunt or other kids friendly activities for young patrons to do at the museum. Many have a children's room where the kids can paint or do other hands on activities. These museums are SOOOOO much more fun to visit with little ones, so make sure to ask about kid areas when you arrive.
Don't try to see everything
It's better to enjoy seeing one small section of the museum in a memorable and enjoyable way than to see everything with miserable kids. This was the hardest one for me to learn, but once I realized the truth of this, going to museums became much less stressful for me. I like to see lots of things when I go to the museum. Before I had kids, I could spend the whole day! I tried everything to extend our time at museums when they were younger and nothing seemed to work. I finally realized that it was more fun to see even 10 paintings with everyone happy than to frantically rush around the place trying to see everything. That's just not a fun way to look at art, and ultimately my goal was for them to want to come back, not dread it because they thought we'd be there all day. I've been taking them to museums since they were babies, and it's only just in the past year or so (they are almost 7 and 9) that we can spend 2-3 hours with everyone engaged and happy. I look forward to when they are teenagers, or young adults and we can spend all day, but for now, 2 hours is just fine.
Take a snack break to extend the trip
If there is still more to explore, but the kids seem a little antsy, try heading to the cafe for a tiny snack. I like to opt for something semi-healthy and small, so they can have a little break from walking and being still, and maybe recharge enough to see a few more galleries before heading home.
Take a break outside if there are sculpture gardens to explore
Sometimes kids can stay an extra half-hour or so in the museum if they just get a little fresh air and a break from being so quiet. I've used this trick successfully many times, but it doesn't always work. You know your kids better than anyone, and if you think they are done, just call it a day before they have a chance to get cranky. Leaving the museum while everyone is in a good mood will make it more likely they'll be excited to go back in a few weeks or months.
Get a postcard from the gift shop on your way out
I think it's the best way to remember your trip! The kids always have fun deciding which one to choose, and it reminds them of their fun day for years to come.
Unless you are museum regulars, skip the audio tour
If you think your kids would love them, try them out. But for us it makes things too complicated. My pro tip... Ask the security guards if you have questions about the art. While some of them may seem grumpy and stand-offish, many museum security guards are super friendly (especially with children) and they are a treasure trove of interesting fun facts. You can't hang out in a museum all day and not learn a few cool things about the paintings, and if the kids even remember one thing about one painting, the day was a compete success.
Download the checklist
I've compiled all this info (and some fun discussion questions for the car ride home) into an easy list for you to print and have handy on the day of your trip. Download yours now!
Seeing art in real life is so much better
It's like going to see a concert live. It's just so much better in person. You can see all the details, you can imagine the artist painting in his or her studio, and you're magically transported back through time and space to see a tiny piece of history that still survives to inform us of what once was.
If you have any trips planned this year, be sure to check out museums in the area you're visiting. Children who are introduced to art at an early age, and surrounded by beautiful things at a young age learn to see and appreciate beauty in the world around them.
Have you taken your kids to the museum? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments below, or find me on social media. I love to hear from you!