How can you make museum-visiting with kids a stress-free experience? Here’s my quick guide to stress-free museum visits with kids – perfect for the school holidays!
Museums can seem quite daunting places for families when you are unfamiliar with them. So, before you visit, do some planning to get the most out of your visit:
1. Do your research.
In order to make your visit as stress-free an experience as possible, do spend a bit of time choosing your museum and doing your research. Ask your children where they want to go. Look online to check transport links, admission prices, layout and facilities. Is it easy to get to or will you be spending time changing trains/stuck in traffic/getting lost?
Find out how large the museum is, how many floors there are and what the lift access is like. Look quickly 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!
Find out what the facilities are like there – can you take refreshments and a sandwich to eat there (the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a picnic room, for example) or is there a museum cafe? If so, are there things on the menu that your children will eat?
2. Time your Visit Well
Plan when you want to go – some of the larger museums can be extremely busy in peak times and stressful 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 on 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 to make the visit more stress-free as you don’t want to be battling the crowds with the kids in tow. Look for the hidden, less well-known galleries, rather than the most popular main galleries. Search for the less popular objects or artworks – there will always be crowds in front of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers but what about his lesser-known works? Read my tips on ‘Learning to Love ‘Boring’ Objects‘! Or avoid the crowds completely and go to a less well-known or niche museum instead.
3. Limit bagage
Take as little as possible with you. You don’t want to be laden down with bags and supplies. 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..
You can still bring things to do (see ‘Bring Your Own Fun’ below) but limit it to one small bag with small notebooks, pencils, magnifying glass, torch or stopwatch. Less is more when you want to make a museum visit with kids truly stress-free.
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. You can also ask at the Information Desk what activities they have for families.
Some museums have a dedicated room where you can go and create artwork or take some time out (e.g. check out the Family Lab at the Stedelijk). These rooms quite often have special activities on during school holidays.
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 family guide, 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 questions do you have? Can we find the answers?’). You don’t need to give them lots of facts and information, concentrate instead on getting them to look and observe and discover for themselves. Don’t teach them to read the label – get them to focus on the objects themselves!
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 with kids is stress-free and focuses on enjoying the art and museum objects rather than finding the toilets and buying the tickets. Happy museum visiting!