He was trying so hard to be good in the Missouri History Museum.  Photo Credit:  Becky Davenport

He was trying so hard to be good in the Missouri History Museum.
Photo Credit: Becky Davenport / Missouri TravelingMom

“Oh, no! Mom, I think I broke this.” “Mom, was I suppose to touch that?” “Mom, why is that lady giving me dirty looks?”

Those, my friend, are things you do not want to hear your child say while in a museum or art gallery. I know, because I have been there.

Museums and art galleries, contrary to many people’s beliefs, are not just for adults, kids also can enjoy them. In fact, I use museums and art galleries as learning tools for my kids, I want them to have broad interest and so far this has paid off.

However, over the past 10 years I have failed, failed again, wanted to pull my hair out, and finally learned a few things about enjoying a museum or art gallery with kids.

1. Set reasonable expectations

Expecting your 15 year old to be quiet for an hour is understandable, but expecting your 6 year old to be quiet for 10 minutes is out of the question.  The way I conquer the obstacle of being quiet with my 6 year is to spend a short amount of time in each area.  He gets bored easily, he has a short attention span, and he is a boy – that alone explains a lot – when he is done looking, so am I.

2. Pick places that interest them

There are museums and art galleries aimed towards anything you can think of.  My 10 year old daughter could spend the entire day at the Harry S Truman Library and Museum.  My son?  Not so much – once we passed the area that doors he could open and close, he was done, it was time to go.  Now take him to a museum that has pre-historic animals or tractors and we will be there for hours.

3. Explain the rules on their level

My 10 year old can read and has a great vocabulary, so she gets the words “do not touch,” but my 6 year old thinks they are an invitation to grab, shake, and roll on the ground.  He has no clue why that sign does not want him to touch the 100 year old lampshade with dangly things hanging from it, so I have to explain it to him — very plainly, or bribe him with ice cream.

4. Ask where the kid friendly area is first

Many museums now encourage kids to visit by having an area for kids to explore.  The children’s area is often my first and last stop in the museum, first we run out our energy in the kid’s area, then I later use that area to bribe them to be good. “If you are good for 10 more minutes, we can return to the play area” – works every time.

5. Split them up

Every child is unique; I have a boy and a girl, and used to spend hours trying to make one enjoy something just so the other could have fun.  Forget that, it is not worth the headache.  Now if I see something my 10 year old daughter would love, but know my 6 year old could not sit still long enough for it, I just take her.

6. Take Grandma and Grandpa along

Extra hands mean extra sanity.  My mom rarely travels with us, but sometimes I invite her along as an extra distraction.  While the kids get bored exploring things with me; exploring with Grandma is something new.  They like to play tour guide, or show Grandma things that interest them, and grandma has a funny way of making it more special.

Start them at an early age

If a child grows up with an appreciation for museums and galleries they will not only love them, but they will also respect them.  My children have been going since they were newborns and they are still love to go, but most of all they know how to “mostly” behave in a museum.  I have seen first hand children that have never been to a museum before and suddenly at the age of 8 they are drug to one; this could lead to a nightmare in the making.