Museums: Hands-on and More!
from Early Years Are Learning Years
Museum tours can involve so much more than standing quietly in front of stuffy, ancient paintings. Communities around the country now feature child-friendly museums that offer a wide variety of exhibits and learning experiences. Museums provide a perfect opportunity to spend time with young children and learn together.
Part of the fun of exploring museums is finding out what excites a child. Whether she is interested in art, music, history, natural history, science, technology, baseball or gems, chances are there's a museum waiting just for her.
Here are a few tips on ways to make museum visits enjoyable learning experiences for you and the children in your program.
- Children's museums encourage hands-on learning and interaction. In these environments, children can touch, feel, and handle materials that might be off-limits in other museums. Many children's museums invite participation in building miniature model cities, conducting scientific experiments, playing musical instruments, or sliding down a firefighter's pole. Storytellers, or "griots" as they are sometimes called, are frequently invited to museums to enchant children with their special skills.
- Zoos and aquariums are great places to encourage a young child's interest in the natural world. They provide a firsthand look at animals and aquatic species, their habitats, and how they live. Botanical gardens and arboretums, with their glass houses and surrounding grounds, introduce children to familiar and exotic plants and flowers.
- Foster an interest in history by visiting restored areas or historic homes. Some restored areas recreate whole villages much as they were centuries ago and historic homes provide a glimpse of how people lived in the past. Cultural heritage museums house collections from specific culture groups and offer insight into cultural traditions and history. To go way back in history, visit a museum that has a dinosaur bone exhibit.
- Think carefully about age-appropriateness when deciding on a museum to visit. For example, a much-anticipated and crowded Van Gogh exhibit may not be the best place for a two-year-old!
- The Information Desk is a good first stop. Here, you can find floor plans with the locations of exhibits, museum gift shops, restrooms, wheelchair ramps, and rest areas. You can also learn about times and locations for hands-on rooms, children's performances, special presentations, musical events, and storytelling sessions.
- Don't feel pressured to see everything in one visit. Young children, especially preschoolers and those in primary grades, usually learn best in 10- to 15-minute sessions and can be overwhelmed by seeing too many things at one time.
- Museums have the ability to inspire and amaze us. Take full advantage of everything the museum offers to motivate young children to use their thinking skills. Although they probably won't need prompting, encourage the children to ask questions about what they see, and if you don't know the answer, ask a docent or tour guide. Use the opportunity to learn together.
National Association for the Education of Young Children
1509 16th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20036-1426