Museums expand your children’s horizons in ways you could never accomplish by staying at home, but exploring these expansive facilities can seem like a big task with little ones in tow.
A little advance planning can go a long way, though, and you’ll likely find that your kids love the change of pace as they’re immersed in art, science, history or culture.
“Going to museums and cultural institutions in general is a way to just expand the breadth of knowledge and fun that your kids can have,” says Chris Hemler, the former manager of education and learning programs at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. “It’s an activity that is very different than anything they will encounter in school and in life.”
Sue Troia, manager of gallery teaching at the Detroit Institute of Arts, says museums help kids better understand their world.
“Coming to the DIA, kids can see the entire world,” she says, pointing out that the museum has art from all over the globe. She says families are very welcome to come explore. “We have such great fun when we see families coming into the museum and we will make it a really great experience for them.”
We asked these museum experts to share some tips for parents on how to get the most out of their next museum visit. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Plan in advance
Planning ahead doesn’t have to take a lot of time, Hemler says. Just visit the museum’s website for some things you might want to see, find out if it’s stroller-friendly, check out any tips or planning tools they offer for visitors and take note of the food and transportation options offered so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute.
2. Let the kids lead the way
While mom or dad might want to head straight for that famous Van Gogh, the kids might have other ideas. “What we have found is if (parents) would just relax and let the kids lead, that the kids will find these wonderful treasures that will become parent favorites too because the kids are engaged,” Troia says. “They’re smart, they know what they want. They will find the perfect fit that’s just for them.”
3. Make it an adventure
Enter the museum with no agenda and don’t stress, Troia advises. “Make it an adventure,” she says. “Every parent will leave feeling that they’ve had a wonderful experience and the kids will want to come back.”
4. Take breaks
At the DIA, many parents take breaks from their visit with their kids outside on the lawn or by having a snack in the cafeteria, Troia says.
5. Don’t stay too long
Know when it’s time to just call it a day. “Kids get tired. It’s a very stimulating building,” Troia says. “It’s big, full of people and there’s lots of strange sights and sounds. For little guys it can become very tiring.” Consider a membership so you can come back often.
6. Expect the unexpected
Despite your best planning efforts, there’s sure to be something – a special exhibit or program, for example – that you didn’t plan on but is totally worthwhile. “Leave some flexible time because undoubtedly there’s going to be something you come across that you want to see,” Hemler says. “Make sure you’re opening up for that kind of fun and adventure that museums provide.”
7. Let the learning continue
“Don’t be afraid to continue your visit after you leave,” Hemler says. “A lot of museums will have learning resources on their website that you can use as either a pre-visit or a post-visit activity to continue the learning, continue the fun, and reflect on what you did and what you saw. That’s always fun for families.”
This article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated for 2016.