Right now when I got to the museum, I’ve still got a one-to-one ratio. One son + one parent = odds pretty well in my favor. If it is a weekend and my husband is with me, that is a luxurious two adults to one child!
I’m not saying this to gloat (or “humblebrag” as I’ve seen it put). I’m acknowledging how lucky I am in my current museum wanderings. At a recent presentation a Mom asked me how many kids I had. When I said one she sighed and said “Oh, only one, well that’s why you can go to a museum.” I realized that, for some people, they felt like what I was saying was less valid because I didn’t have a more kids then hands to hold them with.
So, let me give you a little background. Before my son was born I was a preschool teacher at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. In my last year teaching, my co-teacher and I would take 13 three year olds into the museum on an almost daily basis. Essentially, it was like I was a parent to…well…the internet only goes up to 9 (nonuplets)but a lot!
I promise, I get it, when you add in extra kids (and especially kids of different ages) everything gets a lot harder. I really hope that it won’t stop you from visiting museums. It just means that your planning has to be a little different. Here are three “survival tips” that I honed during my years teaching.
1. Have an Escape Hatch
When we would go into a museum for a circle time, I would always have a few layers of my lesson plan. Layer A was the baseline concept I wanted the kids to grasp. If that went well, I had layers B and C that I could expand on. The key though, was making A something approachable, short, and easy to accomplish. That way, if we needed to bail it was alright.
Going with your own kids is similar. Plan the ONE thing you want to see that day. Make sure you are at peace with the idea that you might go all the way there, see that one thing, and then have to leave. But, have items B and C on your list in case things are going great! I guess you could call this “plan for the worst, hope for the best”
2. Cater to the Common Interest
It makes sense to find things that all of your kids (and the adults) will like. I would bet that is part of the reason why Natural History and Air and Space are so popular! But, we all know that it isn’t always possible. After all, Natural History is great….the first dozen times…but then you might want to branch out.
So, if you can’t find an exhibit that meets everyone’s needs, you have to look for other ways to find common interest. If the exhibit speaks to your younger child, get the older one to become an exhibit critic, or give them the camera and put them in charge of documenting the visit. Ask them to read up on what you are looking at so they can teach the rest of you something.
When it is your older child who is engaged, get the younger one to do an “I Spy” through the space looking for shapes, letters or colors. You can also sketch, use your body to act out what you see or bring a book and read off to one side. If you are my son, all you’ll need is a matchbox car and a flat surface to stay occupied!
3. Meet the Basic Needs First
One Mom I talked to said she always gets to a museum early so her kids can burn off energy running around outside. That is an awesome idea. We are all tuned in to how our kids react when they are hungry or tired, but think about the other basic needs your kids might have. Maybe they need to have a break away from crowds, or to give out a yell and run around. You can accommodate those things in the museum, it just may take a little looking. There are often outside spaces where they can run and staff can point you to less used galleries. Don’t hesitate to ask the museum staff to help you find what you need, they want you to enjoy your visit.
Another part of this is a child’s basic need to understand what is happening and have some boundaries. It might be really rough the first few times you go, maybe even the first dozen times you go. But, as you reinforce the rules and they can practice how to behave it will get easier. Think of it like the library, if you feel comfortable there you can feel comfortable in a museum!
I understand if you don’t feel like going to the museum too often. With more kids then adults it can be tiring.. I hope though that you will still try it. Just every once in a while.