5 Tips for Taking Toddlers to Museums

I know what you’re thinking. Toddler + Museum = Potential Disaster. Oh the things that could go wrong – a temper tantrum on the floor of a crowded gallery, sticky fingerprints left on a delicate piece of art, any number of bodily fluids leaking onto the floor… the possibilities are endless.

Yes, taking a toddler to a museum can feel like risky business, but there are quite a few things you can do to minimize disaster, and more importantly, make the trip fun for your little one.

1. Know the Rules Before You Go!

Addie at the Louvre in Paris, France.

Addie at the Louvre in Paris, France.

There are a few basic rules that apply to almost any  museum – don’t touch anything, no food or drink, and no roughhousing; but there are way more rules when you bring a toddler with you. We’ve learned the hard way that if you’re bringing a kid, you should research museum rules and regulations before your visit.

Had we done our homework prior to our Louvre visit, would have left our Dueter child carrier at the hotel, and brought the Ergo instead. We had planned on Addie napping in her carrier while we meandered through the Renaissance wing. Instead, we were forced to hand over the Deuter and my passport in exchange for the most uncomfortable stroller every made. Needless to say, she barely napped, and we regretted not having our Ergo, which the museum would have allowed. Getting the stroller was a 30 minute process, and we easily lost another hour of browsing time to Addie’s abbreviated nap. Lesson learned: know before you go! Here are a few things you might want to check on before you visit a particular museum:

  • Are strollers allowed and/or baby carriers allowed?
  • Can diaper bags be carried throughout the museum?
  • Are bottles/sippy cups allowed? Can they contain milk? Or only water?
  • Are there bathrooms with changing tables?
  • Does the museum have an area for nursing mothers?

2. Make a Game Plan

Museums are generally open every day of the week except Monday. Before Addie, that’s about all we every worried about prior to arriving at a museum. Once there, we had plenty of leisure time to figure out which exhibits to visit, have a snack in the cafe, and pick up a postcard or two in the gift shop.

We quickly discovered this laid-back approach does not work with a toddler. While your’re researching museum rules, make sure to spend some time learning about the museum’s exhibits, toddler friendly areas, food/snack availability, and the layout. Make note of the things you do not want to miss because chances are, you will not see the vast majority of the exhibits. Unless she is napping for some of our visit, we have found that Addie’s attention maxes out after about two hours.

Addie having fun in the toddler zone of the Tate Modern in London, England.

Addie having fun in the toddler zone of the Tate Modern in London, England.

3. Let Them Lead the Way

Once you get to the museum, let your toddler take the lead. On a recent trip to the Museum of Science in Boston, we spent a good 20 minutes watching two Tamarins climb along tree branches and clean their bits and pieces. Not my idea of a fun time, but Addie was entranced, so we went with it. Taking a toddler to a museum is about them – not you. No one wants to be dragged around for two hours, looking at things that don’t interest them. By encouraging your little one to explore what catches their eye, you are instilling positive feelings about museums. They become a place of fun and curiosity, rather than boring and stifling.

Addie leading the way through the Sol LeWitt exhibit at Mass MOCA.

Addie leading the way through the Sol LeWitt exhibit at Mass MOCA.

4. Take Advantage of Children’s Programming

A lot of museums have activities or tours geared toward kids. When you’re researching a particular museum’s rules and exhibits, check out what kind of programming is available for children. There are often exhibits made just for kids, or activity areas for little ones to explore.

When Addie’s attention seems to be waning, we make a pit-stop in the children’s zone. We want her to enjoy the museum experience as much as us, so it’s important to make sure she’s a happy camper!

Addie checking out the kid's Art & Nature Pop-Up Center at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Addie checking out the kid’s Art & Nature Pop-Up Center at the Peabody Essex Museum.

5. Visit a Museum Made for Kids

Addie learning how to use a screwdriver at the Children's Museum in Boston, MA.

Addie learning how to use a screwdriver at the Children’s Museum in Boston, MA.

If you’re still nervous about taking your little one to a museum, start out with one geared toward children. The exhibits will be pint-sized, and made to interest kids, while the facilities will have the needs of parents and children in mind. You don’t have to worry about perfect, quiet behavior from your toddler, which, let’s face it, can be unpredictable at this age!

We love taking Addie to children’s museums – there’s always plenty for her to explore, and the exhibits are made to stimulate her senses.

Though it may seem daunting, taking your toddler to a museum can be a great adventure for everyone. Unlike the formal learning they will experience in school, museums provide kids with invaluable informal learning experiences in which they can discover and pursue their interests, stretch their brains, and be exposed to great art, music, science, history, and more. Furthermore, it can be a great bonding experience as you share the joy of learning with your little one. So put aside your fears, do some research, and take your toddler to a museum!

Addie exploring at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA.

Addie exploring at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA.

About Jen

Outdoor adventurer and traveler. Writer, Photographer & Communications Professor. Wife. Mom of twins plus one. Tubbs Snowshoes Ambassador. Blogger at gayfamilytrips.com.

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3 Responses to 5 Tips for Taking Toddlers to Museums

  1. Rebecca Stacy Veilleux September 14, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    Great article Jen! So very true :)

  2. Janeiack September 15, 2012 at 5:47 am #

    Jen, what great ideas that sound simple, but take a little thought and planning… child-centered activities. I know they work, as we had the pleasure of seeing Addie love her museum experiences.

  3. bethandannie September 15, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Thanks Jen, with Hunter and Bri visiting next weekend this was very helpful!

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