A Day at the Museum


Summer is a great time to take your grandchildren to a museum or two. School is out, but that's no reason not to keep learning. And what better way than an excursion to see dinosaurs and fossils, gaze at the solar system, or be captivated by art!

Museums are no longer just a brick-and-mortar edifices that house exhibits roped off merely to look at. They strive today to interact with visitors, engaging our thoughts and emotions in ways that link the past to the present and point us toward the future.

There are children's hands-on museums, science and technology museums, art museums, living history museums, etc., etc., etc. You name it, there's a museum somewhere for it. The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., is probably the most well-known and most visited of all museums in the country. We love it because there is so much choice, and we've been to the ones showcasing the American Indian, aerospace, natural history, and Asian art. Nearby, but not part of the Smithsonian, are two we have yet to explore that we really, really want to get to some day: the Newseum (all about the press) and the International Spy Museum (all about espionage).

My husband and I grew up visiting museums, often as part of school field trips. I can't remember my parents taking me to one, but we have surely introduced our granddaughters to them over the summers they've spent with us! At earlier ages, Jain and Sofia enjoyed the hands-on children's museums the most, where their visits were sensory-laden experiences. Children should be encouraged to see, touch, feel, and listen to everything in those environments. These are places where they are allowed to be noisy and excited. The best children's museums will have many, many stations for exploration and pretend play: be a cook, tell stories, race cars, play with bubbles, perform on stage, create art, splash in water, build with blocks, run a grocery store, serve food in a restaurant, look through a telescope, examine wee things under a microscope, and experience scientific phenomena first hand. These experiences broaden their horizons and might even give them an inkling of what they'd like to do for a career.

Once they are older and can appreciate fine art, take them to as many art museums as you can. Some art museums allow hands-on exploration. But for those exhibits that are hands-off, let your grandchildren know the reasons certain items cannot be touched. You might want to ask the museum staff which items, if any, are OK to handle. That way, permission is granted and no one gets in trouble.

Antique stores, as I mentioned in a previous post, are also museums. It is here that grandparents come in quite handy to explain what certain items are and how they were used. And just about everything in an antique store is hands-on! Hats can be modeled and clothing tried on. Jain and Sofia love to go "picking" with me and we've found some fantastic deals!

Recently, Tom and I came across an excellent website from Great Britain with a manifesto titled "Kids and Museums." Twenty bullet points highlight what a museum — and a museum visit — should be. Among these ideals are:

  • every staff person welcoming every visitor in every part of the museum, including the cafe
  • posting a list of what visitors CAN do and not a list of what they CAN'T
  • grandparents sharing their insights with grandchildren to make history come alive (I did this with Sofia when she didn't understand how a rotary phone worked)
  • encouraging and inviting teenagers to hang out in the museum, getting them involved and valuing their opinions
  • using social media and websites to be more family friendly and up to date
  • providing guides, trails and activities for all ages so everyone feels included
  • making the most of every interior and exterior part of the museum to enhance visitors' experience
  • building relationships with visitors so they will feel valued and involved in the museum's future

If you would like to read the manifesto in its entirety, it can be found at kidsinmuseums.org.uk. This organization works with museums to help them welcome and include families, teenagers and children. They encourage your input in making the museum experience a better one.

Now comes the question we want to ask everyone reading this post. What makes the museums you've visited so much fun, so wonderful that you want to return? Have you referred them to friends, family or co-workers? Said things like, "Oh, you MUST go to the XXXX Museum. It is fantastic! You and your kids/grandkids will just adore it. It is sooooo much fun! We just love that place!" We know you've been to some! What thoughts and emotions did these museums bring out in you? Let us know and I will share your suggestions in a future post!

As for us, we're off to New England this summer, with a day trip to the Big Apple, which is one gigantic, sprawling museum all on its own! Jain and Sofia want to see at least one museum there and we will most certainly be sharing their experiences with all of you, dear readers. We'd also like to take the girls to the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta before taking them to the airport for their flight home.

And, remember, as Grampy says,