Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tips for Successful Museum Visits

Homeschoolers spend lots of time in museums, experiencing the artefacts, artwork, and hands-on exhibits that enrich learning. But, not all museums are appropriate for all children. The San Jose Museum Examiner, Sharon Cathcart, has some wonderful ideas on preparing families for a visit to a museum.

Sharon recommends that you consider the following:

1) Your child's activity level: The more active your child naturally is, the more interactive the museum should be. Running, jumping, and loud noise can harm delicate artefacts. Try museums similar to the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, the Children's Discovery Museum, San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation, the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo, Austin Children's Museum, and The Children's Museum of Denver.

2) Physical limitations: Older museums may not have the most up-to-date accessibility. This may be an issue if your child is still in a stroller or a group member has mobility issues. Check online or call the museum you are considering visiting ahead of time to be sure.

3) Your child's natural rhythms: While this may seem obvious, it still needs stating: if your child naps everyday at 11:00 a.m., do not plan on going to a museum at 11:00 a.m. Also consider meal and snack times. Many museums do not allow food or beverages (including water) inside. Many do allow you to leave and return the same day, so you can exit the building to eat or rest. A hungry, tired child will not enjoy being dragged around a museum any more than a hungry, tired adult would. Be considerate of your child and other patrons.

4) The attention-span of the youngest family member: This can be difficult when you have older children ready to experience more "adult" museums where your younger ones may be bored to tears. Several options exist: get a sitter for the younger ones, trade off with another family (you take one age group somewhere, while the other family takes the other age group to a more appropriate venue), visit the museum for a short time after preparing the older children for this.

5) Your child's ability to remember and follow rules: Regardless of the museum, rules will need to be followed. Even the most interactive museums require a child to be polite, to share, and to be considerate of others. Discuss this beforehand with your child, and be sure to model the behavior (everyday, if possible). If your child simply cannot handle the chaos and noise of the age-appropriate museums, leave, if only for a little while. You are not doing your child any favors by forcing them to stay in an environment which is upsetting to them. And it does not reflect badly on you if your child gets overstimulated and you need to take a break. Remember, you want your child to enjoy museums, not fear or dread them.

6) Learn about what you're going to see: Take a little time beforehand to find out just what is showing at your museum of choice. Read up on the exhibits. Check the website for a map, and plan your day, but be prepared to throw your plan out the window once you arrive). Talk about the exciting, cool, and interesting things you will see and do.
For more field trip ideas,
check out GHF's Virtual Field Trips page.

7) Get to know the staff: Upon arriving at the museum, point out the staff to your child. Tell your child that if they get separated from you, to find someone wearing (describe and point out the uniform or name tags) and this person will help them. Say to your child, "If we get separated, we'll all meet at the front desk (or wherever the museum staff take lost children). I will come get you there." Make sure your child understands, then go have fun exploring together!

Remember, museums needn't be tedious or overwhelming. With thoughtful planning and a flexible mindset, museums of all ilks can add depth to your learning lifestyle.

Article by Sarah J. Wilson

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