Meeting Your Own Museum Needs

AAM2013 039Since my kids came along, I have grown accustomed to the different pace they set for our day. Places for lunch are analyzed for quick food delivery, activities are weighed against nap and bedtime schedules and time for “grown up” interests are planned for when family is visiting or a babysitter can come.

I’m ok with this, usually. Today I realized though that almost all of my museum visits in the last three years have been for the benefit of my son. I pick the place, but it is with the idea of joint enjoyment in mind and his needs set our schedule. Letting him help set the pace and keeping up with food/rest needs makes sure that we don’t end up carrying him out of there in tears.  However, it leaves little time for me to enjoy seeing anything.

I hadn’t noticed it before today. We went to the National Aquarium, a place I haven’t been to in years, and he was racing down the ramps flashing past every tank. The farther we got the more frustrated I was getting. “You were talking so much about seeing the sharks, if you want to see them you actually have to stop and look!” and, in my head, “Why did we pay money to come here, we should have just gone to a mall with a ton of escalators.” Add to that a baby who was overstimulated and crying in the front carrier and I didn’t peek into a single viewing window.

When we got to the dolphin area they were out and very playful, but he was hungry and wanted to GO. On the outside I was responsible Mom “OK, let’s bathroom and get some lunch.” but on the inside I was stamping my feet and shrieking “But, I WANNA SEE THE DOLPHINS!”

That was the truth of it. It wasn’t the money we’d paid, or the fact that he wasn’t spending time looking, it was the fact that MY museum needs weren’t being met. I think of museums as a family adventure, something we do together. But, as a museum-loving person, it makes sense that I want to experience it my way occasionally too.When the kids are with me, operating at their pace is better for everyone. But why couldn’t a museum be the plan when I get “me time?” Some people want to read a book or get their nails done, I want to wander an exhibit at my own pace. Something to remember the next time I have a kid free afternoon


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5 Minute Object Lessons

Galimoto“Object based learning” sounds like such a buzzword. Maybe it brings to mind a really complicated lesson with a lot of moving parts, or a super unique object that the child has never seen before.

Sure, you could do it like that, but you don’t have to.  Really, all it means is that you put an object at the center of what you are learning about.  Any object, no matter how seemingly mundane, as long as it helps illustrate your point.

This method works because kids are such concrete learners and having a “thing” that they can center their exploration around helps them to tie it all together. It can also be a springboard for more abstract ideas as they build (or scaffold- another great education term) new learning off of it.

In grad school one of our first assignments was a “5 Minute Object Lesson” (5MOL for short).  You had to pick an object and get up in the front of  the class and teach about it for five minutes. There were some pretty memorable ones, like the classmate who taught us the PROPER way to peel a banana!

I hadn’t thought about that 5MOL in years, until I noticed that my son and I were doing our own version. He will bring me something, or ask a question, and we delve into it briefly but thoroughly so he feels like he “gets” it, then he is off on something else.

These 5MOLs are perfect object-based learning experiences on a small scale. Not only does it keep it from being this overwhelming task for you to create, it also lets you follow the child’s lead and jump on little learning opportunities that come up.

For example……

We were watching Sesame Street and the “Global Grover” segment was about his visit to South Africa and learning about galimotos (the video segment can be found here) My son was fascinated so I checked out the book “Galimoto” by Karen Lynn Williams. After reading it he wanted to see pictures of all different kinds of galimotos and try to make his own (we used pipe cleaner since that was what I had on hand).

Not a complicated set-up, but he gained an appreciation for what a galimoto was, and how hard it is to make one, through exposure to an object, a book and some media (video/pictures). If I wanted to extend it even farther, we could go visit that Natural History Museum and see the galimotos they have on display.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the idea of incorporating objects into your child’s learning, think about how it could happen on a more concentrated, specific level. You’ll be surprised all the places it will take you!

Keep checking back for more sample 5MOLs!





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Collecting is Child’s Play

Collecting is Child PlayWent for a rainy, fall wander with my three year old and quickly realized…anyone who says that museums aren’t for kids has never been on a walk with a young child.

“Oh Collecting is Child Play2Mama, look at that one! Oh Mama! I need that one for my collection.” Each soggy leaf was inspected, and lovingly tucked into the pail. Once we got home they were spread out to be admired, rearranged and discussed.

At their core, museums are buildings full of stuff that someone thought was important. What is more natural to a young child?

They gravitate toward collecting and see connections and importance in objects that others miss.  They love to sort, classify and learn by doing. They want to know WHAT, WHY and HOW and see it for themselves.


Museum folks and young children have more in common then either might realize.

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Nursing and Changing and Strollers…Oh My

Hannahs1stMuseum 019Taking advantage of the tables at the National Museum of American History

When my son was little and I started taking him to museums, I quickly realized that I was spending most of my mental energy on logistics.  What door could I get the stroller in? Where could I change him? Where could I nurse comfortably? Each new museum meant that half my time was spent hunting around for these amenities, just so we could both enjoy the trip.

So, I started writing down where I found the accessible entrance and the comfortable places to nurse in the DC area museums I visited. Now that my daughter has joined the family, I am continuing to add to the list, with the added bonus of trying to find places where my now 3 year old can’t get into too much trouble!

This list is not meant to tell you where you HAVE to nurse.  49 states now have laws that allow women to breastfeed in any public or private place (sorry Idaho, maybe you’ll join soon?- source).  This is just meant to give you a guide to finding a comfortable spot or some privacy if you are looking for it. Also, don’t hesitate to ask the front line staff at the museum. They can tell you if there is a dedicated baby care area or even a gallery with less traffic so you can get a little quiet.

I don’t have as good a read on how museums feel about bottles. Most people I’ve talked to haven’t had a problem giving their child a bottle in the museum, but I can’t guarantee it. I can tell you to please keep snacks/drinks for older children out of the museum, it is for the protection of the objects!

This list was originally on Your Family Adventures in Washington, D.C., which is another site that I run. I am woefully behind on updates but I haven’t given up on it yet! Let me know if there is something you want me to review.

National Gallery of Art- West Building:

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: Constitution Avenue. Throughout the building there are lots of elevators to bypass small stairwells. Prepare yourself for a roundabout trip!
  • Changing Table: After entering at Constitution Avenue, take the elevator directly to your right up one floor. To the left is a sign for the women’s restroom. There is a…lobby of sorts…outside of the women’s room with a changing table. Since it is really separate room it would be possible for men to use this table as well.
  • Nursing: In the same room as the changing table there is a bench along one wall. It isn’t the most private (since it is leads to the bathroom) or the most comfortable (a chair rail hits just across your back) but it will do. There are also benches throughout the museum that you could use.

National Gallery of Art- East Building:


  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: If you are coming from the East building you will need to take the elevator in the large auditorium (follow the signs). From outside the main entrance is accessible.
  • Changing Table: When you come through the walkway from the East building the bathrooms are just to your right. There is a counter through the door to the women’s room that you can use.
  • Nursing: There is no dedicated spot but there are benches throughout the building. The gentlemen at the information desk was very friendly and told me to go wherever I wanted and make myself comfortable.

National Gallery of Art- Sculpture Garden

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: All entrances are accessible
  • Changing Table: None available…this one is alfresco!
  • Nursing: No dedicated spot. There are benches throughout the space and also in the cafe, but like changing you will most likely be outside.

Natural History

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: Constitution Avenue side of the building. There are elevators throughout, but the biggest one is the glass elevator near the IMAX and Cafeteria.
  • Changing Table: The bathrooms just after the accessible entrance have a counter for changing
  • Nursing: The same bathroom that has the changing table also has a bench that could be used for nursing. Not real comfortable or too private but it is there!

American History

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: Both sides of the building are accessible.
  • Changing Table: Each level has a family restroom that has a changing area in it
  • Nursing: There are benches in the family restroom that you could use for nursing. There are also benches throughout the museum, but they are in the main path. Another good spot would be the “Object Project” exhibit. There are a number of tables and chairs, it is a little out of the way and if you have older kids there is stuff for them to explore

Air and Space: Udvar-Hazy Center

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: The entrance is accessible and there are ramps to get down to the main floor.  Elevators are also available if you aren’t comfortable with the ramp or if you want to go up to the second level “catwalk.”
  • Changing Table: At every set of restrooms (of which there are many!) there is a “baby care” room.  It is large enough to pull a stroller into, has a door that locks, includes a large counter, sink, soap and even paper towels!  All the ones I peeked into (or used) were very clean.
  • Nursing: In the “baby care” rooms there is a small padded bench.  It isn’t hugely comfortable, but it worked quite well and it was nice to be able to be alone and behind a locked door.  There are also benches all over the museum that you could use, although there aren’t very many spaces that are not overrun by crowds.

Ripley Center

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: The main entrance is accessible and you take an elevator down to the bottom level.  There is only one elevator, and it is not huge, so if there are lots of school groups there for Discovery Theater it might take a while.
  • Changing Table: So, in the hallway that leads to the African Art museum there are a number of tables that are the perfect height for changing on!  I didn’t see an “official” changing table in the one bathroom I went into, but there are plenty of benches to use.
  • Nursing: There are lots of benches, not incredibly comfortable but they work fine.  Unless there is Discovery Theater going on the area is pretty quiet, a particularly good spot is the hallway leading down towards the  African Art Museum

American Indian

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: All entrances are accessible and there are ramps and large elevators to get you where you need to go.
  • Changing Table: There are “Companion Care” restrooms that have a changing table and are big enough to pull a stroller into.
  • Nursing: The curvy design of the building means there are lots of great nooks and cut-outs on the different levels.  They have helpfully filled these with comfy chairs that have nice wide arms and are perfect for nursing!  Of course, it is only sort of private but you can find an out-of-the-way bench somewhere if that works better for you.

Mt. Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: If you have a hearty stroller that can do a little off-roading, you will be able to take it almost anywhere on the property.  The museums, shops and food court are all stroller friendly.  The paths and gardens are dirt but well graded so you can get around fairly easily.  The only time you can’t have it with you is to tour the house itself.  However, they have a “stroller parking” area where you can stash it until you are done.
  • Changing Table: The bathrooms in the museum/orientation/shop and food area have changing tables in the women’s bathrooms.  The one near the entrance to the museum and education center is right by the door so it is a little tight and there isn’t really room for a stroller.  Out in the grounds there are plenty of benches that you can use in a pinch.
  • Nursing: If you are comfortable nursing “al fresco” then there are plenty of benches throughout the property that you can use.  Inside there are a few benches, but nothing really private that I could find.  Near the museum and education center there was one bench just outside the bathroom and at the base of the stairs…not the best set-up.  Honestly, when it gets really crowded your best bet would be somewhere outside.

National Building Museum

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: The entrance on G Street and the side entrance on 5th street are both accessible.  The Great Hall is wide open with plenty of spaces for strollers and most of the exhibits can be comfortably navigated with even a double-wide.  For the “hands on” exhibits there is plenty of space to stash your stroller off to the side while the kids investigate.
  • Changing Table: I wasn’t able to check the men’s rooms but changing tables are available.  There is also plenty of “out of the way” floor space if you prefer to use that.
  • Nursing: Private space is a little hard to find in the museum.  There are plenty of tables and benches, both in and out of the exhibits, that you could use.  On the 2nd floor there is the “Pension Commissioner’s Suite,” which generally is empty, out of the way and has a few chairs stashed in it.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: The entrance on G street has a ramp.   There is plenty of space to navigate inside and elevators sprinkled throughout the building. There are also lockers you can use near the entrances.
  • Changing Table/Nursing: There are family restrooms throughout the museum. The one I used near the Luce Center had a chair in it for easy nursing, which was nice.  There are a lot of quiet galleries with chairs/benches if you need a place to nurse.
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Milestones Should Be Celebrated

Occasionally the things I write on here wander away from strictly museums-and-young children. Today is one of those days. This is something that has been on my mind for a few days now and I’m a little nervous about sharing it…but here goes.


It seemed like from the moment I found out I was pregnant, every media outlet was reminding me to CHERISH EVERY MOMENT and that THEY GROW UP SO FAST and IF YOU HAVE ANY NEGATIVE FEELINGS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD AT ALL YOU AREN’T WORTHY OF THOSE PRECIOUS GIFTS (ok, so maybe the last one wasn’t so much explicitly stated as implied…)

I always chafed slightly against the digital cross-stitch pillows, but I wasn’t sure why. Recently though, a new one has popped up on my Facebook feeds. The message on this one is “you never know when it will be the last time…” and goes on to list things like holding hands and bedtime stories.

That one made me mad. Not only does it (perhaps not on purpose) prey on the fear every parent has of losing their child, but it also makes you feel guilty for any negative feeling you have about parenthood. Oh be careful, don’t resent having to do X because it might be the LAST TIME. I love my children to pieces…but that doesn’t mean I always like what they are doing very much. All of those quotes, with the accompanying pictures of parents and children walking hand and hand across a beach, completely invalidate the very real feelings you may have the parenting is hard, that you might dislike some parts of it or just be plain tired.

That feeling is not new, I’ve seen other people write about the need to remember that you DON’T have to adore every moment of parenting (and ps, sometimes the dishes CAN’T wait…thank you anyway lady at the grocery store). However, the picture reminding me it might be “the last time” also brought up something else.

Why is it that all of those pictures and quotes treat those milestones as a loss? Each time a child STOPS doing something it is because they have STARTED doing something else. I feel like that is something to be celebrated, not mourned. When my son started preschool it seemed like I was supposed to be sad for the loss of my baby, but I was so excited for the adventures he was going to have. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that he no longer does that I miss so much, and I furtively look at the videos I took, but mostly I’m so excited by the person he is becoming.

Yes, when my children no longer hold my hand to cross the street, I will miss the feeling of their hand tucked in mine. When he pushes me away to “do it myself” it hurts a little. But, think what it means. It means that they have reached a level of independence that is exciting and new and they are ready for it.

So, whether you want to completely ignore those sweet images and flowery phrases, or use them to help you remember the positives when everything is going haywire, is totally up to you. Just try to also remember that you don’t have to mourn the next milestone as a loss, it is just the start of a brand new adventure.



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Looking for Books? A few suggestions for the preschooler in your life

I spent all of this summer either being (super) pregnant and running after a 3 year old, or trying to take care of a newborn and running after a 3 year old. Neither situation left me with a lot of mobility and I was so grateful when my son wanted to sit and read books. We went through a lot of books and raided the library for new and different titles. I know my friends-with-preschoolers are always looking for new things to read and I wanted to share some of our favorites.

These are in no particular order, I’m not a paid spokesperson for anyone (although if you’re offering….) and they aren’t specifically “new releases”, it is just things we liked! I’m adding to this list as I clean-up the book area and will try to get authors on there as well. Sorry it is mostly titles at the moment!

If you are on Twitter I highly recommend you follow @MrSchuReads and @colbysharp. They have a LOT of great book suggestions and insights from authors. I wish I could give them proper credit for how many of these books they introduced us to, but I’ve lost track!

Salina Yoons

  • We have read ALL of her books about Penguin and also love “Lost and Found.”

Oliver Jeffers

  • The Great Paper Chase, Up and Down, The Way Back Home

Drew Daywalt

  • The Day the Crayons Quit..need I say more? Still waiting on our turn at the library for The Day the Crayons Came Home

Kate DiCamillo

  • The Mercy Watson series

Mo Willems

  • Elephant and Piggie (any of them!), Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, Pigeon books (any of them!)

Herve Tullet

  • Mix it Up and Press here

David Weisner

  • Tuesday, Sector 7, Art and Max

Dragons Love Tacos

Louise Loves Art

Not a Box (also Not a Stick)

Rude Cakes

What Do You Do With an Idea?


Nana in the City

The Dot

Pete the Cat Series (we like “I Love My White Shoes” “Four Groovy Buttons” and “Wheels on the Bus”)

Perfect Square

Beautiful Oops

One Fine Day (this is a very sweet book about becoming a big brother)




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Museums and Kids…what is the point?

What is the point of using museums in your lessons or visiting them with young children?

Museums can add an element you can’t get anywhere else. Whether that is because of a unique object, physical location or something else. You don’t have to change your intent or the ultimate goal of what you are trying to share…but you can add a layer of something special.

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