So this isn't a post about parsha cakes. But it is a post about education. The best learning takes place when kids are interested and when they can touch, feel and experience what they learn. Why waste valuable time describing something if you can see it and clear up any misconceptions?
For this reason, my husband and I like to shlep our kids to museums. There is so much you can learn in a short jaunt through a museum that they might not learn until 6th or 7th grade.
My friend wrote a post about the Corning Museum of Glass and her reservations about taking a rambunctious, high-spirited, freedom loving toddler to visit and walk around there. After all, it is a glass museum, and toddlers and museums don't mix - especially not those of the glass variety. That post got me thinking. My husband and I love museums. We have taken our boys to museums of all sorts since they were born. This past summer, we took all four boys on a four day adventure to Boston, Massachusetts. I have many gray hairs from these excursions as we herded my rowdy lot through cultural experiences encouraging them to be polite and mindful of others. Yet, somehow, these trips have turned my little daredevils into museum goers. There was a school fair and my 3 & 5 year old were going around looking at the exhibits like pros. What has worked for us that keeps us going back? So in no particular order, my thoughts on how to make the experience memorable and positive.
- Preparation - Sedatives and/or a gin tonic. If it is a hands-on museum take two. Definitely bring two adults. Explain to the kids what they might see and why it will be cool. Bring some snacks. Bring a stroller so you can move very, very quickly. (for the need for speed, see number 4).
- Minimize hands on museums (just kidding - well only a little) Hands on museums are harder than other kinds of museums. Kids get highly stimulated and want to touch everything. You need eyes in the back of your head, as invariably, all the kids will run in opposite directions. To prevent losing kids -which you will do - try to station each adult at one of the entrances to the exhibit. If you are lucky, the place will only have one entrance/exit so you can talk. If you are less lucky, it will have two, and each exit will have a bored adult stationed there. If there are more than two exits, don't stop or see number 1.
- Running areas The best museums have large areas in which to run around. Forts are great as there are the marching grounds and cannons to climb on at regular intervals. The walls of the fort are generally angled so for every 2 steps the adult takes, the child will take 15.The Museum of Natural History in NYC is also fantastic. They have a Blue Whale suspended from the ceiling there. That is the largest mammal on earth. That's a lot of room to run around underneath. A Boat Tour hasn't worked. Boats are small and children like to go next to the edge. It gets boring quickly and there is no place to go but into the water.
- Speed - Get on your sneakers - It's a museum marathon. Don't try to do more than one thing in a room. Keep moving quickly to the next thing. Do not read the signs posted next to the exhibits. Do not join a tour group. Do not stay in any one museum for too long.
- Plan Breaks - Stop for food, bathroom, and fun before being asked. Have a contest who can jump over the lines or find three green things in a minute. On long trips note the nearest playground on the map. Park half a mile from your destination so kids will be a little worn out by the time you get to where you are going.
- Floor Plan Every child must have his own copy. This keeps them entertained. If they are bored, they can crumble the map and throw it. It also trains them that museums are laid out in a logical manner, and you can choose where you want to go based on a map. You can share your goals because the floor plans will have pictures. "We will be stopping at each of these bathrooms" Also, this gives them a sense of ownership because they can participate in choosing what they want to see. A great place to get the kids used to using maps is at zoos, because they recognize the animal by picture and will choose the must sees. you build up from there. After the day is over, they also have a cheap souvenier that reminds them of what they have accomplished.
- Small rooms Look for contained areas that you can get in and out quickly. For example, the side rooms in the forts are small so they can only have one or two display cases. Nothing will be hands-on because the display cases hold guns, bullets, old uniforms and journals. We go into the room, tell them one interesting fact about what we see and leave. With a two year old, after they finish running around in circles, we may say - look that is the notebook they wrote in. Who writes in notebooks? You do? Hurray for notebooks!" With a 7 year old, we may discuss journals and how they are used in their classroom.
- Goals - Make up a goal,so there is a purpose to the trip.The Corning Museum was great because it had a scavenger hunt for the kids. We found 8 items in a display of thousands and then left.
- Special - Sometimes we buy a bottle of soda to share. Sometimes we make something together. Doing something that is a treat makes the trip seem more magical.
- Interesting - What interests your child? Talk to them on their level about those things. This trip is not for the adult. It is for the adult and child to share an experience together. Good bets are things to do with death, violence, competition, mechanics, or things they may have learned in nursery school - like shape, color or opposites. Not sure what girls would like. For example, we went to see the Mummies in Boston. The kids loved the Mummies because they were - well - mummies and the hyreoglyphics because we asked them to try to decipher them. They thought Egyptians liked to eat chicken nuggets because there were a lot of chickens on the mummies. When looking at Impressionist paintings we looked at the pictures from close and far, a concept they have honed in nursery. And that was all we saw. in a half hour. Then we left.
- Share - Share those things you find interesting on their level. Say it briefly, but this conversation gives them a sense of what they should be doing. For example, "wow, I think that is interesting. Did you know that the Colonists had to pay a lot of money for tea?" Or "I like that sculpture. It has curvy lines. It looks like it is moving." Soon enough, your kids will be offering "Look Mommy a big glass apple!" and then "I like that piece, it has my favorite colors." And then "Mommy, why are there two different kinds of uniforms next to each other?"
- Check for handicap accessibility - Our one nightmare museum experience was in a place that was built last century and retrofitted to be a museum. There were steps and Million Dollar 18th century Venetian chairs strewn about so also look for
- Valuable in display cases - Most modern museums are concerned about crime and protecting their valuables. Avoid gift shops and places that don't have cordoned off areas. Last but not least.
- Taxidermy is great - Kids love animals, and stuffed animals don't move. You can see a lot in a short amount of time. The animals are generally organized by geographic region and will have beautiful painted backdrops. You can let your imagination run wild or just talk about what you see. It is a great way to get kids to start to talk about what they see and are learning. The taxidermy is often behind glass, you don't need to whisper and your kids can run around in front of the exhibits.
Do you have any tips about museum going? I would love to hear.