Visiting Museums with Children

Museum visit with kids

My husband and I love culture and history, and one of our favourite (weekend) activities is to go to museums. When traveling to new places, but also when we’re at home here in Amsterdam, we love to discover the information and inspiration that museums can offer us. Our love for museums has certainly rubbed off on our children — when on a Saturday morning we sit at the breakfast table and we’re making plans for the weekend, the first thing that all of our children will want to do is to visit a museum!

I think the reason that they have grown to love going to museums as much (or maybe even more) than we do, is that during a museum visit both my husband and I really engage 100% with our kids. We take the time to explain the artefacts, art and content. We read the titles and descriptions of the artwork together, talk about it, look at colours, shapes and subjects, discover the meaning, find the connection between one piece and another, or link them with travels we’ve made, books we’ve read, things we’ve seen, etcetera. I think that our own enthusiasm, passion and eagerness to learn makes our children as enthusiastic, passionate and eager to learn as we are!

kids at the museum

Sometimes, I hear from other parents that they are unsure to visit museums with their children, that they’re afraid they will misbehave, will be bored or uninterested. And yes, sometimes it is definitely not a good museum day. But in my experience, most of the time they love it! Be it a museum of history, art, nature, objects or culture — there is always something to discover in a museum.

I have tried to write down some tips that I think are relevant when taking your children to a museum. Of course these tips stem from my own experience, and some museums are certainly easier to visit with kids than others…

  •  We like to visit museums early in the day if possible. When you have children, chances are big that you’re up before other people, and you can make it to the museums when it’s still reasonably quiet.
  • Don’t overstay — make the visit long enough to enjoy it, but not too long as to bore your children. We have a yearly national museum membership, so we don’t have to pay the entrance fee for individual visits. This way, we can visit a part of a museum, without having the urge to see everything as to make worth for our money. I’d rather only visit one room of a museum and really take the time to discover a few pieces well, than to end up tired and annoyed, with tired and annoyed children.
  • Make sure the children are well fed before your museum visit! Unless, of course, you would like to start your visit in the museum restaurant.
  • Make use of the toilet when entering the museum. I also prefer to hang our coats and put bags away in the cloakroom, so I don’t have to schlep them around, making it easier to bend or kneel down next to my children.
  • I think no props, books or tools are specifically needed for a museum visit — we love the time we spend with our children and the interaction we have with them. Also, when you discover the museum together, you know what the other one has seen and learned, and can refer to the experience at other times and locations. I’m not always crazy about specific children’s museum tours — we recently went to a museum where the kids were given a ‘find the artwork’ children’s tour, which had our children running through the museum, looking for a few specific pieces to cross of their list, and not even properly looking at those paintings, let alone the rest of the art! Having said that, some museum books or tours are great, and can also be a good tool to prepare your visit at home. (I find that audio tours can be fun and informative for older children, but I don’t think they work well for younger ones. Plus — you will miss out on the special interaction you will have with your children when discovering the museum together.)
  • Although it’s definitely easier to visit the more child-friendly sort of museums, we try to to visit the more ‘serious’ museums as well. Museums are for everyone! Also, I feel that it’s fine to repeat the museum visit. Museums are like books — our children don’t mind reading them over and over again. : )
  • Adjust your visit to your children’s speed and needs. If you would like to see a specific exhibition and for instance have the time to spend 20 minutes in front of a Rothko, then it’s best to come back another time without kids. Having said that, I did take all four of my kids to a Rothko exhibition a few weeks ago, and found that they all had an interest in the pieces (well, except Casper, who preferred to run around, despairing the guards and his mama! Hurray to my Iphone apps to keep him entertained for long enough!). Pim especially reacted remarkably to Rothko: he felt the paintings were really embracing him, and drawing him in. I’m sure he understood the art better than me.
  • Let the children be your guide — you will find they will indicate what pieces they find specifically interesting and start to direct your tour. For instance, my mother-in-law told me that she visited the Rijksmuseum here in Amsterdam recently with Casper and Ava, and that Ava was enthralled by a 17th century painting depicting cows on a ship. She thought that was amazing — cows on a ship! The rest of the visit they spent searching for paintings with cows. : )

museums with kids

What do you think about visiting museums? Do your kids love it? Do you have any tips to share? And, what are your children’s favourite museums? I asked my children, and Sara’s favourite is the Open Air Museum (one of my favourite too!), Pim likes the National Maritime Museum here in Amsterdam, and Ava said she simply loves all the museums in the world.

xxx Esther

PS First two photos were taken in the Egyptian gallery in the British Museum in London, the third foto shows my children in front of Rembrandt’s famous painting the Nachtwacht, here in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, together with Claire of Thinkingmuseum.com.


Comments (16)

March 10, 2015

Thank you for sharing such great tips. It definitely makes me feel braver about future museum trips. I can’t wait to try them out in a few years!

March 10, 2015

We love museum outings, too! Our other favorite is state parks. We have so many wonderful ones in Florida, and getting the children outside, beyond their own backyard, is always such a great adventure in nature and history. xx

March 10, 2015

When we were young my parents would ask each of us to pick a piece of art to “steal” from each room and then ask us why we chose that piece, we thought we were playing a fun game of cops and robbers when really we were learning to form and express opinions on art.

Esther in Amsterdam
March 11, 2015

Funny, my husband always asks me at the end of a museum visit which piece he should buy for our home :). It really makes you look at the art in a different way! x

March 10, 2015

I’ve loved reading this piece Esther, thanks for sharing such great tips too. I never thought about putting coats etc away, I’m always the one carrying the lot! My favourite museum in London is the Tate Modern. It’s so child friendly and always has such fun expos on. The Royal Academy is a favourite too. The building itself is so beautiful, I always come away from it inspired. If you ever get to Barcelona the Picasso museum is brilliant. The colours and patterns are so vivid. The Rijks Museum is on our list for the easter holidays which we look forward to seeing. x

March 10, 2015

I love these tips. Such great ones! We are a museum family too, and as an art history major, I’m particularly keen on art museums. My husband isn’t able to come often, so over the years I have braved them alone, and typically they do so well! More often than not, I find that adults love seeing children looking at art, and they always seem to linger while my child makes an observation. A friend of mine starting taking older kids to museums, and had them wear their Sunday best to help them remember what behaviour was expected. I thought that was a great tip! I think the younger you start, the better, and kids adjust to expectations quickly. I love what you said about engaging, and I love to do the same. I find that with three kids, I can engage each on their own level in the following ways: For my 2 year old, I will have her in a front carrier, carry her, or require that she holds my hand (yea right) then we walk through the gallery and I ask questions like “what colors do you see?” “How many horses are in this picture” and then we name/count the objects. For my son (4.5), I will ask him to tell me when he spots a painting with __________ in it (a boat, a cloud, a flower, etc.) or I’ll have him figure out what medium the artist used for that work. For my eldest daughter (7) I tell her to walk through the gallery and find the one she loves the most/the one she thinks I’ll like the most/the one that makes her feel the happiest, etc. Its fun how the older two gather close when we enter a new gallery so they can get their assignments. I love empowering my children to discover on their own, and whether or not they realize it, we are teaching them a methodology to approach new art when they see it. What is it made of? What colors are visible? What is the work portraying? How does the work make you feel?

Esther in Amsterdam
March 11, 2015

Thank you Lesley, for this great comment. xxx

March 10, 2015

I loved this post, thank you, Esther, for so much inspiration. I’ll try some of your tips, especially the one concerning the time you choose when visiting with kids (we are not early risers :().
I think that if you start going to museums when they are little, and keep doing it, kids will enjoy the experience every time and for good. Personally, when I go to a museum I always bring a moleskine and a pen to draw or write whatever my thoughts and feelings. When my son was 5 he asked to do the same – until today, he’s almost 12. It’s fun and a bit of a treasure to keep.

March 10, 2015

Wonderful tips, thank you! LOVE Pim’s reaction to the Rothko.

March 10, 2015

Hi Esther,
Lovely to read your museum visiting tips! Do I see myself in the photo in front of the Nightwatch?

Esther in Amsterdam
March 11, 2015

Yes!!! I love that photo! See you soon : ) xxx

March 10, 2015

Thank you for this post, it resonates a lot with me because going to the museum with our 4 kids feels very natural, we have done it as long as I can remember. I must say that we also have the annual subscription which makes it so easy to go to a museum but also to leave it after 20 minutes if a child is not feeling well or you see that maybe today was not a good choice to go to the museum after all, and it makes it more likely to go to a museum because you know it will not cost you anything extra: you have already payed your fee. So I really recommend getting an annual pass!
I just love exposing my children to all kinds of arts, one recommendation that comes to my mind is the Amsterdam Museum with the exhibition of the orphanage http://www.amsterdammuseum.nl/en/little-orphanage-0.
I could go on with recommendations….
Nina x

Courtney in London
March 12, 2015

I love these tips! I also agree that it’s kind of nice to go back to the same museums over and over again because they feel comfortable in a place they know and then start to really engage with the things they see (and often notice new things each time). x

March 12, 2015

Dear Esther!

My boys, I which includes of course your god son Jeffrey love museums! They absolutely loves the guided torus and question sheets some museums provide for children and learn so much from the information fed to them by headphones! It also keeps them (as boys are) from running around and annoying other visitors. We loved the rembrandhuis and the maritime museum and palace on the dam in Amsterdam. Here at home in London, the boys love the Tate modern, British museum, museum of London, science museum and Victoria and Albert museum.
I totally agree with all your great advice and time of the day, loo visits, food and not out staying your visit are all advice we always live by visiting museums.

March 13, 2015

[…] Great tips for exploring museums with children. […]

March 18, 2015

[…] Also, introducing your child to art and culture from a young age can help to foster an interest – or at least an awareness – that stays with them for a lifetime. Babyccino Kids share some helpful tips on visiting museums with kids here.  […]

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