I’m going to dive right into this, and continue with the next 5 tips!
- Take some toys with you
I’m probably stating the obvious when I say: never leave the house without a toy, a book or whatever else that makes your child happy. I could personally live in a museum, but every now and then everyone just needs to play.
If your child has a favourite doll or teddy bear, why not play a new game: “toy museum guide” 😉 Ask your son or daughter what Teddy, Barbie (or whatever) would like to see and suggest it explains things for it. It’s basically role playing, and I don’t know a lot of kids that don’t like role playing!
When you’ve finished visiting the museum, you can ask your child how Teddy felt about the visit. It’s an indirect, and probably easier, way for your offspring to communicate if it actually appreciated the visit. I’m not saying you will necessarily appreciate the answer 😉
- Don’t underestimate walking distances
Museums might not always be very large buildings, they will still mostly consist of several halls, which you will explore from every angle. Whichever way you look at it, in the end you will cover a much larger distance than you would expect.
Unfortunately, in many museums places to sit and rest are scarce. I sometimes wonder if the idea is to chase visitors through the building as quickly as possible. More people = more money. So if you get the chance to let your child have a rest, don’t hesitate.
- Museum visits are as great a challenge to your brain as a marathon is to your body
Yes, I do mean this. The amount of information you have to process in most museums is huge. Now as an adult, you are probably used to ‘information overloads’. From Facebook or Twitter, to Pinterest and TV and even the background noise at our jobs, we’ve learned to cope with too much impressions by ignoring half of what we hear or see.
But I don’t think children are capable of processing all these new experiences all at once. At least with our daughter M. we notice that too many people in a museum or too much information at once makes her nervous.
Two years ago we visited the old part of the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria. M. absolutely refused to listen to anything I said, and instead walked up to the (by the way excellent) guide, instantly promoting her to surrogate mother and best friend of the moment.
We had the impression she couldn’t care less about the old fort and everything around it. That is until we boarded our bus again and she started drawing a chapel that we had visited, with a particular architectural feature. It had a horizontal red brick line in the middle of it which indicated from what level the chapel had been rebuilt. And so my daughter starts explaining her drawing to us, complete with details on the red line. We were baffled. She hardly spoke for two hours and mostly smiled to her newfound guide-friend, but she had grasped more than we’d thought anyway.
- Prolong the experience: make a travel diary or buy books
Point 8 actually brings me to this: try to have your children ‘translate’ their experiences. When M. was younger and she couldn’t write yet, she drew a lot. But now that she can write, we try to stimulate her to keep a record of what we do when we travel. This works just as well with museum visits. You can keep a special diary in which your children make a short summary of every museum they’ve visited or the things they’ve learned there.
What we’ve also started doing a while ago, is allowing M. to take her own camera with her. Her grandmother gave her a VTech camera some years ago (no, this is not a sponsored post ;-)) and we take it with us almost everywhere we go now. If your child is not such a ‘writer’, this might be a good alternative.
A lot of museums have excellent storybooks or colouring books for children. When the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam reopened, they published “Het grote Rijksmuseum voorleesboek”, for which several writers wrote a story focussing on the top pieces in the Rijksmuseum. It’s a wonderful storybook which brings to life many of their best-known paintings.
Usborne, the well-known publisher of children’s books, also has a great “Art sticker book”. We bought it in Dutch (the original is in English), but Usborne books are published in several languages and this sticker book for instance also exists in a French version.
- Remember: art = experience, not knowledge
I guess this is a tricky one. What I mean to say is this: if you want your child to appreciate art, teach it to look at a painting or sculpture, not to memorise who actually made it.
If you do insist on telling your child more about the artist, at least mention why that is important. Because honestly, for me personally art is more about feelings and impressions and historical context, than about the who, the when and the what.
The same thing could be said about architectural styles of churches or palaces. Although that does hit a bit closer to home – I am after all specialising in religious history and the nobility – I don’t think I ever insisted on teaching M. the finer points of gothic architecture or renaissance gardens. I have on the other hand tried to teach her how she could ‘experience’ these buildings, for instance the need for certain architectural features in forts. In my previous post I mentioned we went to Kronborg Castle, and just walking through the casemates and looking at the impressive walls was enough to explain to her that Kronborg had an important military function as well.
I hope these 10 tips are helpful when you plan your next family trip to a museum. I’d love to hear your tips for travelling with kids!