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Do you dream of family vacations filled with visits to the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the American Museum of Natural History? If you want to have a museum-savvy family but worry certain family members won’t be up for “learning experiences” while on summer vacation, winter holiday, or spring break, you’ve come to the right place! Whether your goal is seeing masterpieces in art museums, learning something new in science museums, or exploring famous natural history museums, you can build a museum habit to help your whole family have a good time at great museums across the world.
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One of the best ways to help your kids love museums is to start when they’re at a young 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 Ergo and your toddler in the stroller and head out to explore an exhibit. Most museum staff members recognize the value of welcoming young visitors, and they are happy to help build the next generation of museum patrons. And remember, tour guides generally are delighted to answer questions, even from tiny guests. That’s why they work at museums in the first place!
Keep It Short
When taking young children to a museum for a first visit, don’t plan on spending all day there. You want your kids to think of museums as fun, interesting places that they want to visit often, not boring institutions where they’ll be stuck all day. This goes double if you have a younger child under 5. Thirty minutes is about the longest visit to try when starting out with this age group. Over time, you can begin to stay longer and longer. Summer offers a good chance to take kids on quick family “field trips” to museums in your community. Quality time with your kiddos while keeping them busy? It’s a win-win!
Make a Habit
Remember that earlier statement about sticking with 30-minute visits? The best way to do that is to find a museum close to home and go there often. Become a member of your favorite local museum so you can visit frequently with no extra cost. This works especially well if the museum has a dedicated children’s area. Our local art museum was a wonderful rainy day activity when my kids were small; we would take a quick peek at the art galleries and then move on to the family art center, where the kids could experiment with copious amounts of art supplies. Take your museum habit to the next level by signing school-age kids up for summer camps at local institutions. They’ll start to feel like they own the place!
Prepare with Snacks
We’ve discovered that museums make us HANGRY (yes, I’m including myself in that statement). We get so caught up in seeing everything that we lose track of time and run out of steam. Be sure to have a plan for when that happens. Will the museum you’re visiting allow you to bring snacks? Is there a vending room or a grab-and-go cafe? Make a plan for when and where you’ll get a bite to eat. (I’m always a fan of museums with outdoor space or botanical gardens for snack time. No worries about messes, and plenty of square feet to run and roam!)
Try the Kid Version
Of course, children’s museums are a great place to foster a love of museums in your kiddos. There’s no better way to show that museums are fun and full of life. (And here’s a tip – the interactive displays are usually entertaining for adults, too!) Making children’s museums a regular part of your vacations is the perfect way to practice for future museum-heavy trips, like visiting the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
For older kids, there are still plenty of fun ways to play. Find museums that offer interactive exhibits for all ages, like the City Museum in St. Louis with its giant slide and rooftop school bus. Adventure-loving teens will savor the chance to try a rock climbing wall or a centrifuge at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Some places, like the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, offer opportunities to 3D print your own creations or to try lab experiments and dissections.
Track Down Favorites
One of the most important ways to help kids enjoy museums is to find places that cater to your child’s interests. My kids liked seeing important works of art at the Art Institute of Chicago, but due to their love of history, they were mostly interested in the ancient Roman sculptures (thanks, Rick Riordan). Got a little league player? Take them to the Louisville Slugger Museum. Is one of your kids obsessed with spies? Then don’t miss the International Spy Museum. And if your kiddo 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 that your kids will love, like Lego displays or Marvel props.
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If you dream of visiting the Louvre or MoMA but worry certain family members won’t be up for “learning experiences” while on vacation, use these tips to build a museum habit for the whole family.
No matter what museum you visit, do a little research ahead of time 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 ask about activities for children of all ages. For instance, the National Gallery of Art has scavenger hunts to keep young minds busy finding details. The British Museum has downloadable Explorer Trails that guide kids through various exhibits with a set of questions for critical thinking. At the Perot Museum in Dallas, head to the children’s museum and its mini-grocery store on the first floor with your littles while your older children wait in line upstairs for the earthquake simulator or the speed wall. And I don’t know about your kids, but mine always, ALWAYS want to visit the gift shop.
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Museums are some of the best places to discover hands-on history and science, learn about new things, and harness the power of play. With research and practice, you can build an experience the entire family can enjoy and plan family days that are memorable and fun for all.
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