Tips for Visiting Museums with Kids

Visiting museums with kids can be a little daunting. Here’s a list of tips for taking the kids on museum visits.


First stop: the museum’s Web site

Not only will it fill you in on the museum’s hours and current exhibits, many have online guides to visiting the museum.

On New York's Museum of Modern Art’s Web site (, kids are introduced to the museum’s collection by an alien who’s on a mission to Earth to learn about modern art. It’s a useful introduction to any art museum. In addition to information about the works and their artists, there are interactive activities like making an online collage and writing a poem. (They also suggest that children make a sculpture out of aluminum foil, so if you’re going to show your kids the site, get an extra roll.)

The Smithsonian also has a good intro to museums on their Web site, It has a special section written by a family from Kansas City that details the activities of their three children, Sally (13), Clyde (11), and Gloria (5), before, during and after their visit.

Discuss the exhibits with your kids before your visit

See which exhibits seem to interest them most. Before you go, read books or watch movies about the topic. Reading a book on dinosaurs before visiting a natural history museum get kids excited about the visit and makes the actual visit all the more interesting.

Look for exhibits that teach in unexpected and interesting ways

“Global Shoes,” a brilliant exhibit created by the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, is a “hands-on, feet-in” display of 187 shoes from forty countries around the world. Kids can step into a variety of shoes such as reindeer boots from Finland, wooden shoes from Holland, and straw sandals from Korea. The exhibit travels frequently; contact for current locations.

Plan to visit early in the day

Museums are usually the least crowded on weekday mornings, right after they open. (If possible, avoid rainy days, which are often crowded.) 

Ask about special programs or guided tours for kids

If you’re going to an “adult” museum, explain to your children that they mustn’t touch the art because hands can damage it, and you want it to be around for a long time so that other children can see it.

Bring along a notebook and pencil

Pens aren’t welcome in the galleries. Children can make sketches or take notes. This may help to restrain the touching impulse. (Note: Jackson Pollock’s paintings are easier to copy than those of Carvaggio.)

Help your child relate the paintings or sculptures to their own life

This is another way they can “interact” without touching. In their book, “Where’s the ME in Museum?”, Milde Waterfall and Sarah Grusin have some fun questions like “Let’s invite these people to dinner—what do you think they’d like to eat?” (If your kids are prone to nightmares, don’t try this with the paintings by Francis Bacon or Edvard Munch.) The Smithsonian suggests that you “pick a theme—like animals—and have your child find animals in the museum.”

Susan Delson, former editor-in-chief of Museums Magazine, warns parents not to bite off more than their kids can chew. You might want to limit your visit to one gallery and a snack at the café. Even if your child only wants to look at one painting, that’s okay. Talk about what you just saw right after leaving the gallery.  Some museum cafes continue to educate as they satisfy your hunger. The Mitsitam Native Foods Café at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian has five stations, each of which serves indigenous cuisine from a different region of the Americas. 

Visit the museum gift shop

They have many fun items for kids. But some also can be overwhelming, and costly, so establish a spending limit before you go in to avoid tantrums inside.

Postcards are an inexpensive souvenir that Jean Sousa, Director of Interpretive Exhibitions and Family Programs at the Art Institute of Chicago suggests using to set up your own museum at home. (You can also buy postcards before you enter the galleries and have a “treasure hunt” for the paintings.)

Don’t let the experience end when you leave the building

Ask what they enjoyed and why and encourage them to talk about their visit with friends and family. Don’t forget that the best way to instill a love of museums in your children is to have fun together! 

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Museums

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