6 Steps to Make the Most of Your Museum Visit
By Amanda Miller
Allowing your kiddos to explore a museum filled with priceless art and artifacts may not seem like a relaxing family day to you. You may feel anxiety about them touching things they shouldn’t or you’re worried about them standing too closely to the art. Luckily, those feelings can be put to rest with how hands-on, interactive, and family-friendly museums have become. In fact, museum staff members even encourage you to bring your little ones to the museum from birth, citing the endless amount of benefits they can receive from the experience.
Nicole Cromartie, Director of Learning and Engagement of the Clyfford Still Museum, shares, “Museums are great spaces to extend learning. Being out in the community is an important part of growing up as well, and going to the museum provides a sense of awe for young children. They become more culturally aware. It’s not about creating the next generation of art historians, it’s about creating engaged citizens of the world.”
Bringing children to the museum at a young age can also help them grow in their development and relationships through play. Sarah Christie, Director of Education of the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus, says, “We believe in kid-powered learning, and our exhibits and experiences are designed to promote the power of play. Play is essential for a child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development, and boosts executive function, strengthens a sense of agency, and fosters resistance to stress. We are also a place where families can share moments of wonder, joy, and connection, allowing caregivers and children to build safe and nurturing relationships.”
These kid-friendly museum experiences are all around us. However, knowing how to make the most of your time at the museum is important. With help from those experiencing the museums everyday, we have six steps for you to take to make your next museum visit a success.
Check the museum’s website
Before you begin your journey to the museum, hop online to visit the museum’s website to get a feel for what the museum has to offer. Cromartie explains, “The museum visit starts before you walk in the front door of the space. Checking their website and getting a good sense of what they offer families gives you a sense of if the museum is prepared for a family visit. Seeing if they have programs for families, free days, or discounts for children or families will give you a sense of what to expect.”
As you browse through the website, take note of the museum’s hours of operation, exhibits available, and which programs would be a good fit for your family to explore for a visit that starts on the right foot.
Phil Steffes, Public Programs Manager at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, notes, “Planning accordingly is important. Find out the hours so you can plan out your day. If you have younger children, visit when it first opens because they are often less busy and you can take your time going through the exhibits.”
The Children’s Museum also provides a Museum for All guide, which helps families get the most out of their experiences. It includes what families can expect in each exhibit and on-site resource information.
Purchase tickets online
After a car ride and all of the built-up excitement, having to wait in line to purchase tickets to explore the museum isn’t fun for anyone. Before you head out to the museum, purchase your family’s tickets online to avoid the waiting and the lines.
Build anticipation and set expectations
To help get your children prepared for the visit, start building up the anticipation for the visit as well as setting expectations for what they will be experiencing.
Cromartie adds, “Talk about what a museum is, why they are special, and how they have these one-of-a-kind objects. There are more and more books about museum visits and the experience of being in a museum, which is a great way to build anticipation and set expectations.”
Preparing them for the experience is important, especially when it comes to potentially interacting with other families and sharing the experience with others. Christie adds, “Talk with your child about sharing spaces and materials and how they will navigate playing with new friends. Setting these expectations ahead of time will set your family up for success.”
The museums are also prepared to accommodate you and your family, and they are well aware that children will be children. Steffes explains, “Museums understand that children are one of our most important groups of guests. There are expectations that children are going to be children. Find out the rules of the museum so you can set those expectations before you arrive.”
Let your children lead you
During your visit, give your children say in where their journey begins. This can help with keeping the calm amongst your little ones and experiencing the exhibits they are most interested in exploring.
Christie adds, “We believe in constructivist learning where children are the heroes of their own learning adventures. There will be activities you and your child may not have encountered before, so being prepared to talk about which adventures your child wants to take that day is a great way to support their journey. For example, our Altitude Climber! Is your child ready to climb to the top? Or would climbing up part way with your support be the perfect adventure?”
Allowing them this freedom could make for an excellent adventure at the museum.
Interactive exhibits are must-dos
What makes the museums so great for families are the wide-range of hands-on activities and exhibits that are now available. Museums are working hard to provide experiences where children can get involved and continue their education in a fun way.
JC Futrell, Associate Director of Youth and Community Engagement at the Denver Art Museum, explains, “We’re trying to create an environment where young people see themselves as lifelong learners based on the experiences they will have here at the museum. We have intentionally built spaces that will demystify the museum. When you think of museums, traditionally we have thought they are places that don’t support interactive play. We have built a space specifically that is inspired by interconnectivity, fun, play, and creation.”
Ask open-ended questions
While visiting the museum and exploring the exhibits, it’s important to communicate with your kiddos regarding what they are seeing and feeling. By doing so, you’re opening the floor for deep conversations you may never have expected to have.
Cromartie agrees, adding, “One of the simplest, most effective ways to engage children in a museum is to ask open-ended questions. What’s going on in this picture? What do you think this is about? What is this story that the artist is telling? It’s a helpful way to engage and get a sense of their interests and perspectives. Those works can be a platform for children to open up about other issues and things going on in their lives that they haven’t found an outlet or an entry point to.”
With these tips in mind, you and your family can have a joyous and full-filling experience at the museum.