Museums have a reputation of being a place for solitary reflection. It seems like you are supposed to go, wander, read and observe and be hushed by the momentousness of what you are seeing. Sure that can be great, sometimes, but I don’t think I could make a steady diet of it. Some of my best museum visits have been the ones where you have the “Oh WOW!” moment and get to share it with someone.
Now that I’m a Mom it’s a moot point, very few of my museum visits are solitary. That’s ok, I’m finding that I really like it that way! You still are seeing things through your own eyes, but you also get the benefit of someone else’s interpretation…even if (especially if?) that someone is 1 ½ and just says “Wow! Car! Car! Car!” when they walk into the exhibit.
Embracing this idea of strength in numbers can be really satisfying, whether you are gearing up for a first-ever visit or are a veteran museum-goer trying to shake things up a bit. Suddenly a lot of the obstacles to going (getting there, going to the bathroom, herding kids past the gift shop) are spread out among multiple people and don’t all fall to you. If things start to go sour, I’ve written about that before, then you have a sympathetic person who can help you get through it.
Beyond logistics, you and the kids have someone to share the experience with. Maybe they’ve got a favorite artwork that you’ve never visited, or can share a funny story that brings the exhibit to life. Or, your kids have something they can share and get that glow of being the “expert” and helping someone else.
I’ve been lucky enough to have three different ways to have company when I visit the museum. Thankfully, the “categories” are easy enough for you to replicate.
The Like Minded Friend: I have a friend that I got close to when we both worked at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. We were museum people who became preschool teachers and then we both had babies a few months apart. She is the one I can call when I want to drag my son down to the National Mall for a museum visit.
With just the two adults and two babies we are more “agile” and can swoop in and see an exhibit and follow the lead of the kiddos for how long we can stay. She is totally sympathetic to meltdowns and willing to go with the flow. I bet you have that friend. Think of who you would call to go to an indoor playground on a teacher-work day, or to a kid’s concert of the band you can’t stand. That is the person you want with you. Someone who is relaxed and flexible but up for an adventure.
The Playgroup: Since my son was a few months old I have been part of a playgroup. This lovely bunch of women has seen each other through illnesses, food and sleep strikes, birthdays and every milestone in between. Normally, we meet at each other’s houses so the kids can play but now that they are getting older (and we are going nuts being stuck inside in bad weather) we’ve started branching out.
These visits are more like “field trips.” When someone gets an inspiration they set up the details and invite everyone to come along. One woman’s husband is a volunteer fire-fighter, so she got us a “tour” of the firehouse. This meant that for a glorious hour, my son was able to wander the garage of the firehouse and get as close to the trucks as he wanted. We had all brought along a fire truck toy and we just let the kids do their thing. It was little to no pressure for us and flexible for those with nap schedules or second babies in tow. Another woman found a kid’s theater performance (from Art on the Horizon) that she suggested we try out. I am bringing everyone to Air and Space. I’ve got a book about planes to share…and that is it. These are meant to be low key for the planner and the “attendees” and just give the kids a chance to experience something new.
The Museum Centered Playgroup: Through my work at the preschool and in the museums, I met a lot of incredibly talented museum educators. Many of these are women (just the way of the field currently) and many of these women are now proud Moms themselves. One incredible go-getter pulled together all of her museum educator/Mom friends and formed the “Little Muses,” a playgroup dedicated not only to getting the kids out into the museum, but also to letting the Moms exercise their educator brains.
In this group, we only meet once a month and everyone takes turns planning a museum visit. The idea is to have about 30minutes (our kids are young) with a book, an activity and a chance to see the space. The planner sets up everything and whoever is able to make it, goes. Sometimes we meet on weekends (and families are welcome) and other times we meet on the weekdays. Recent visits have included the Little Golden Books exhibit at American History, a nature preserve to learn about owls and visiting the trains at the US Botanic Gardens. The visits themselves are relaxed and flexible, but there is a more structured “lesson” that takes planning, something that is fun for us.
Do any of these “categories” sound familiar? If you can check off even one of them then you are ready to head to a museum together. Just three tips:
- Have one person take charge of planning the where/when. Group consensus can be hard and you won’t be able to meet everyone’s needs time wise
- If you are new to museums, don’t worry about having a plan. Just go to visit something that strikes your kid’s interest or see a particular program/performance
- Treat it like any other travel day and find out in advance any costs, restrictions on bringing food or strollers or other things that make a parent’s life easier or more difficult
Most important, just do it! You will be surprised how much your child AND you benefit from the opportunity to explore and learn with friends. Enjoy!