Museum Tips (From the Smithsonian)

I have a confession to make. All of us here at Tutor Doctor WNY love museums. You might even go so far as to call us  museum aficionados. Wherever our travels have taken us, we’ve made a pointed effort to enjoy the local museums. From the small local history museums to the large natural history complexes, we’ve seen it all. In the United States, D.C. is a mecca for museum lovers. With seventeen Smithsonians alone, our nation’s capital can be a little overwhelming for even the most dedicated of learners. When you take into consideration that many museum-goers are under the age of seventeen, the prospect becomes even more daunting. So how do you manage a large museum, or multiple large museums, with a child? How can you prevent a well-intended educationally sound and fun experience from becoming something that your child dreads? After casual conversation with Smithsonian museum staff members and my own observations, here are some tips for museum-goers of all ages!

Focus on a Few Key Items

In every museum collection there are the highlights. Whether it’s Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat or the Hope Diamond, these are the crowning glories every museum has. Rather than trying to get your child to focus on every item in every collection, try and zero in on the real treasures. At the Smithsonian, they offer lists of what they consider to be the highlights of their collections. You don’t have to follow museum recommendations, however. If your family is really interested in dinosaurs, spend less time in the gem and minerals exhibit and more time really delving into fossils. By limiting the amount of material you view or narrowing your experience to things your child is already interested in, you may have a better overall experience.

Manage Your Time

Manage your time, or else you might not see everything you want to see! (Image Credit:

While most museums can easily take up much of a day, when in D.C. time may be of the essence as you try to hit many attractions in a short span of time. The once nice thing about the Smithsonians is that they are mostly concentrated around the National Mall, which is close to both a metro station and many of the monuments your family will also want to see. However, if you’re trying to hit more than one museum in a day, you’re going to have to manage your time. While focusing in on a few items helps for some children, many genuinely enjoy seeing all that a museum has to offer, but even the most dedicated museum goer will be burned out before the day is through. Making a basic plan on how to manage your time can be helpful, although you should remain flexible and allow for extra time if interest dictates. Find out what hours the museum/s you’re attending are open, and figure out the order in which you’ll visit both different exhibits and different buildings. Luckily, many museums offer online maps and lists of exhibits, and a basic Mapquest will help you figure out what your best route will be.

Make It Interactive

While you may be content to walk around all day simply looking at objects and reading, for many children this will be impossible and boring. Try to find interactive exhibits to break up reading and looking. Luckily, many museums are in-tune to kids needs, and do offer interactive exhibits. Make sure to scout these out and spend time letting your kids do something. And you never know, you might even learn something as well!

Slow Down

The amount of walking you do in a museum may surprise you, but you’ll definitely be feeling the burn by the end of the day. Although it’s tempting to plow through the pain and see everything there is to be seen, you and your child will enjoy the experience more if you take a few well-timed breaks. Find a bench and sit down. Talk about the different things you’ve already seen. What was your child’s favorite exhibit? What’s a new fact you learned that surprised you? By offering reflective breaks, you’ll be making the experience more enjoyable as well as more educational. Another way to maximize your break time is to bring along a sketchpad and writing implement and start drawing. Whether it’s a koala or an astronaut’s helmet, this exercise is educational and fun. Just make sure you’re allowed to bring these things into the museum first!

Take Pictures (But Don’t Let Pictures Take You!)

Don't let too many pictures ruin your day! (Image Credit:

Photo opportunities abound in museums. It’s tempting to make your child stand next to every cool artifact and snap a picture. But before you become the next Ansel Adams, there are a few things to consider. Make sure the museum allows photography! When in doubt, ask a museum staff member. It’s less of a hassle than being told to stop by a security guard later. Also, gauge your child’s mood. While a grumpy child in a photograph may be cute, it isn’t fun to deal with in real life. Pictures also distract from the overall learning experience of a museum if not rationed out carefully. Too much time spent looking for the perfect shot can ruin an otherwise fun day.

Bring the Lessons Home

Make sure that you provide follow-up to your museum visits. Discussing the things you learned is a great way to do that, but can also be supplemented by other activities. Find a documentary or book that goes more into depth about something your child was interested in, whether it was deep sea life or mummies. Have your child write a review of the museum, ranking it according to different categories. Whatever you do, don’t leave learning at the museum!

Hopefully some of these ideas will make your museum experience more enjoyable and educational. On a rainy day like today, what could be better than learning something new?


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