In a turn of events that I find mostly surprising although altogether predictable, I’m the mom of two teenage kids. One of them, in fact, is in his last year of adolescence already. I could not be prouder of the people they are becoming—with one small exception. Neither one of our boys really enjoy museums.
I know some people their age like them. If social media can be believed—and that’s a pretty iffy assumption—many families happily tour exhibits and attend lectures and visit galleries.
So here’s where we made our mistake and the caution I have to offer moms of littles as they plan day trips and family vacations.
We planned our travel mostly around our kids. We chose cities based on whether they had an NBA game to attend or a roller coaster to ride. And there are some great cities, both close to Kansas City and across the country, that offer those kinds of experiences for families. I usually tried to squeeze in a visit to a museum, but these suggestions were often met with groans and complaints.
Sometimes, we let those brain- and heart-expanding experiences slide if we ran out of time. Other times, we rushed through an exhibit to minimize the sighing and protesting. And sometimes, we simply made a calculation that the cost of the museum entry and our possible enjoyment could not equal the painful reality of visiting a gallery with two miserable little boys.
The truth is we all missed out. We missed out on what we might have seen or heard or learned. We lost the chance to experience these things together as part of our shared family memories.
My advice? Go to the museums. Choose them carefully and limit your time as appropriate for the ages of your kids. But go to the museums.
If I were going to start this parenting thing over at the beginning, here are some things I would do differently.
- Play “museum” at home. Let your kids curate an exhibit of their favorite things and then take a tour. At my house, we often did this but called it “car show” rather than “car museum.”
- Practice museum-going skills in your own town. Start with a museum that matches their interests like the National Museum of Toys/Miniatures or the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
- Don’t skip the more museum-like parts of parks and attractions. Catch the fish and pet the animals at Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead AND visit the bank to learn about commerce (that is when it reopens next year, fingers crossed).
- Pick smaller museums or ones with a narrow focus. The Money Museum is a local example you might choose.
- Focus on just one part of a larger museum during your visit. Don’t expect to see every painting or artifact in one trip. This is especially appealing at a fabulous, free museum like the Nelson-Atkins so you aren’t worried about getting your money’s worth of culture.
- Encourage your kids to pick museums or exhibits that they would like to visit. Ask them to do some of the planning work for your trips. Check out this link to help you find a children’s museum to fit your family.
- Consider becoming a member of a museum. The cost of the membership will eventually be offset by the number of visits you make, which will also encourage you to visit more frequently.
- Pace your trips. Alternate between museums and galleries and more high-energy activities.
- Seek out the unusual and quirky. We had a great time at the planetarium at the University of Minnesota. Visitors were instructed to lie on the floor in a room the size of my kitchen while pictures of the night sky were projected on to the ceiling. Informational and hilarious!
- Take advantage of kids’ activities the museum might provide. The National Park Service has a super fun Junior Ranger program that helps kids stay interested during your visit.
We visited a living history museum once and the guide in the kitchen explained how people cooked in olden days. They used “big S hooks” and “small S hooks” to suspend pots over the fire. All our boys could hear was a similar-sounding phrase that was far more inappropriate. They kept asking questions so the lady would say it again. A little embarrassing at the time, but so precious and funny when looking back.
Figuring out how to make museums work for your family is absolutely worth it, for the learning and for the memories.