I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues about how and when you should introduce your children to museum-going. Museums can seem quite daunting places for families when you are unfamiliar with them. So, before you visit, do some planning and get the most out of your visit:
1. Do your research.
Choose your museum carefully. Ask your children where they want to go. Look online to check transport links, admission prices, layout and facilities. Find out if you can take refreshments and a sandwich to eat there (the Rijksmuseum has a picnic room, for example) or if there is a museum cafe. Find out how large the museum is, how many floors there are and what the lift access is like. Look at the collection and scan to see what parts interest you and what you think would interest your children. Talk to your children about the visit before you go to trigger their interest and curiosity. Tell them the name of the museum and ask them what they think they are likely to see there? Make it a game!
2. Time your Visit Well
Plan when you want to go – some of the larger museums can be extremely busy in peak times and frustrating for families. If you have to spend time queueing for tickets and the cloakroom before you’ve even seen a single object, the kids will start getting restless. If you can buy tickets online, do so!
A visit at opening time or later in the afternoon is the best time of day to go. If you do choose to go in the middle of the day, opt for a less busy part of the museum (the hidden galleries rather than the Gallery of Honour, for example) or go to a less well-known museum instead.
3. Limit bagage
Take as little as possible with you. Backpacks are generally not welcome in museums because they can cause damage to objects, so take a small shoulder bag instead. Anything you don’t need can go into a locker or a cloakroom. Check you have change for the lockers! And remember to use the toilets before you start..
4. Use their educational facilities or book your own..
Check before you go to see if the museum has a family audio tour (the Rijksmuseum has a good one) or a children’s activity trail. Some museums have a dedicated room where you can go and create artwork or take some time out (check out the Family Lab at the Stedelijk). Join a guided tour – most museums have an agenda or calendar on their website with what’s going on. There are usually guided tours that you can sign up for in advance or at the information desk when you get there. Plenty of museums are now doing family tours too. Book a private guide or museum docent, particularly one that is specialised in working with families and children to get even more out of your visit. There are a variety of companies out there specialising in designing private museum programmes especially for families which involve a variety of educational activities and interactive exercises for children of all ages. If you go with one or two other families, this can be a fun and educational option that ensures both children AND parents have an interesting time.
5. Bring your own fun
I started off taking my children to museums with a small notebook each and a pencil. I just told them that whenever they saw something they liked, they should make a note of it either with a drawing or by writing. As they are now older, they get to hold the maps and decide where we are going. When we get to the art work or object, you can ask some very simple questions to get them talking ( ‘What do you see?’ ‘What do you think is going on?”‘What are you still wondering about?’). You don’t need to give them lots of facts and information, concentrate on getting them to look and observe and making up their own minds. You can let them take turns in using a camera and taking selfies with the artworks or objects. You could also bring a pair of binoculars or magnifying glasses to let them explore everything in detail!
6. Set a time limit
With museum cards and free entry in some countries, you really don’t need to see the whole museum in one visit – that just leads to museum fatigue! For the first visit, start with 45 minutes to an hour and see how it goes. You can then increase it from there. Bear in mind that most children will start to lose interest after 90 minutes without a break (or a very interesting activity to keep them amused).
A few simple steps ensure that your museum visit is stress-free and focuses on enjoying the art and museum objects rather than finding the toilets and buying the tickets. Happy museum visiting!