Top Tips for Tackling Those Art Museums with a Toddler in Tow
You may be inclined to think museums are for children of a certain age, but even babies who are just developing their sight and senses are stimulated by color, shapes, and moving objects. Toddlers are curious– and yes, energetic– but can also be genuinely entertained at a museum.
Here’s some tips and tricks to build a familiarity and fondness for the museum, and instill an early love for art in your kids:
Before You Go
Visit the museums’ websites in your area. Some may be more suitable for your family than others. For instance, strollers might not be allowed. Trial runs shouldn’t be costly. After all, you may only be able to stay 30 minutes, given the attention span or other mishaps that can happen with young children. Some may offer a free day or low-price days or nights. Often museums will have a very low or totally free admission for children under a certain age.
Peruse the website for permanent exhibits and keep your eyes open for upcoming ones that may be more of interest to you. Sign up for the email newsletter and download the app, if the museums offer one. That way, you can be alerted when events specifically catered to families –like storytime– take place.
Know Your Limits
Don’t lose heart if your first few trips to the museum are short-lived. When the kids are restless or tired, it’s time to pack up. Remember, you’re hoping to foster a love for the museum and make it an excursion kids will look forward to in future visits.
Weekends are popular for museum-goers. Crowds and kids usually aren’t a good combination. It can be harder to keep tabs on your toddler, and you won’t have a leisurely pace to enjoy the exhibits. If you must go on the weekend, plan to do an early morning visit, well before naptime.
Think about what would delight and hold your kids’ attention. What captivates one child may go unnoticed by another.
When babies are just a few months old, they can see various shapes and colors. Their eyes are learning to track certain objects. Babies particularly enjoy faces and high-contrast patterns.
Museums can initiate story time on a larger-than-life scale. Speak to your baby as you introduce them to different works of art. The art will be visually stimulating, and you’ll also cultivate language and listening skills.
Your museum may offer stroller tours, or at the very least, allow you to bring your own strollers. If they do, grab a few other moms for an outing. This could be a good opportunity for some social time and to stave off the isolation moms often feel. A little culture and friendship with other moms will benefit both you and your baby.
Toddlers and museums? Are we crazy? Nope! If you’re fortunate enough to live near a museum that caters to young children or even a museum with a special area for kids, great. But if not, don’t let that deter you from going to a more “grown up” museum. Toddlers are curious about animals, moving objects, and people (think large statues).
Keep in mind that toddler communication skills are developing. They’re not usually able to verbalize if they get bored or tired, so they communicate that with whining or throwing a full blown tantrum. The key is to make it short and sweet.
Look, don’t touch can be difficult for a toddler because of their curious nature. You can start coaching them on appropriate behavior on the way to the museum. Talking about touching; what’s allowed and what isn’t, and how to talk using “inside voices”. Once you’re there, let them know whether touching is allowed for specific exhibits. When you’re in the museum, model a soft voice, walking slowly, and how to be aware of other patrons’ viewing space. Giving your toddler reasonable expectations will ward off scolding and dirty looks from guards and other patrons.
Engagement will help keep a toddler happy. Use games like I Spy to keep them interested. Ask questions like, “How many trees are in that painting?” “Why do you think the woman in the painting is sad?” “Do you see the shape of a circle in the sculpture?” “When you look at this picture, does it make you feel happy, sad, or excited?” Playing these interactive games will inspire them to observe the art in a more meaningful way – even if it’s just to count how many trees are in the painting. They may even start asking you questions.
Bring a playmate and another mom, if possible. Two kids at the same age will have similar language skills and will be able to share what they are seeing and feeling on the same level. You may gain some new insight based on their observations!
Ever visited a museum with a baby or toddler in tow? Tell us all about your experience!
Cover Image by Milan Triennale Boncri/shutterstock