Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Homeschool Files : Top tips for visiting museums with kids

We've been away for the last ten days, hence the silence on the blog and this week's topic - visiting museums with kids. As home educators, we try to take the children to as many interesting places as time and funds will permit. Sometimes these visits are intended to spark off their interest and sometimes they respond to it. Either way they're a really important part of encouraging their curiosity and opening their minds.

When we lived in Paris we spent a lot of time in museums; we took regular visits to the permanent and free collection of the Museum of Modern Art, went to a different national museum each month on the day they have free entry and took workshops all over the place as a family or with other homeschoolers. And of course there was our annual end of the summer holidays trip up the Eiffel Tower to view the city at our feet as the sun went down.

Living in the country has changed things a little. We do less workshops as they often require a lot of driving to get to. We don't visit art galleries and museums quite so often. Not having a city at your doorstop requires more planning, more time and more motivation. And of course we are spending a lot more time outdoors; gardening, at the beach and enjoying sports. We have visited castles, menhirs and other sites of interest but when we headed up to Paris last week we were keen to make the most of it and give our rusty museum skills a work out by taking on the Louvre's extensive Egyptian collection.
The Louvre is a very big museum and I would recommend to anyone planning a visit there with young children to consider focusing your visit on a particular part of the Louvre. You could also follow one of their children's trails available at the reception or on line. It really is immense. Even though we restricted ourselves to the Egyptian part and had a treasure hunt to follow, we were all, adults included, overwhelmed by the end of our visit. There was just so much to see, so much to take in, not to mention the building itself; its history and ornate decor. 

Having done a lot of this kind of visit with my kids from the birth of my first up to now nearly ten years later, I thought I'd offer my top tips for fun for everyone.
  • Follow their lead. This works with all ages but especially the youngest. Go where they want to go, look at what they find interesting. For us this meant searching out horses for Maya and weapons for Maya in the Louvre.
  • Be realistic about how long you can spend there. Small kids may have had enough after an hour and even older children will be tiring and in need of fresh air after 2-3hrs maximum. Some museums will let you go out and then back in which can stretch this a bit but beware of overkill.
  • Take snacks. I know you're not supposed to eat in museums and art galleries but if you want your little ones to last the times mentioned above you'll need sustenance. Try to pack things that don't make crumbs and our small enough to be discreet - dried fruit for example. 
  • Don't forget water. Many museums are too hot and even if it is for the good of the art it is dehydrating. 
  • Get a plan so you know where the bathrooms are.
  • With small children take a carrier, it's more practical than a pushchair which is heavy up and down stairs.
  • If you have children of differing ages like us, it can be great to time your visit during the youngest ones nap so they sleep during part of the tour or split up so one adult can be available to read and explain things with the older children.
  • Take art materials. Most kids like to draw when they look at art and it can also keep a less interested child entertained while other siblings continue their visit.
So those are my tips. They're the best we've come up with. I wouldn't want you to think that our visits are smooth running all the time though, far from it! At the Louvre, Lotta our youngest moaned the whole way round despite a carrier, art materials, it being her nap time, us having borrowed a pushchair, adequate snacks and all the rest. An earlier night the day before would probably have helped but I think she just really wasn't into it that day. 

In fact our first instinct was probably right - to split up and keep her outside at the park! Sometimes it is wise to admit defeat. Alas we didn't and it was very embarrassing and frustrating as it made it harder for us to be present for the other two who were really enjoying it. Ah well, this is also part of homes educating a family and we can only hope that with more practice the youngest member of the family will get more into museums or we'll get better at handling it. I'd love to hear other people's advice about how they get the most out of museum trips with their kids!


Jennifer Jain said...

Some great tips, thanks for sharing! My oldest (now 7) loves going to museums and will happily spend hours in them, but it's been a struggle with the youngest, 2 years younger, as she gets bored very quickly and will loudly make that known to us. I really like your tip for taking art materials along because one thing that she will sit still and do for ages is colouring, and I think she'd really enjoy having paper and pens along with her to draw what she could see in front of her while her brother has a closer look around the exhibits.

helen said...

Hi Jennifer

thank you, I'm glad you like the tips. I really hope the art materials help. We will keep searching for our headstrong 3 year old who would clearly rather be somewhere else!