Kids in Museums: Take them early, take them often, take them everywhere

Berlin has several children’s museums, but I have to confess we’ve never been to any of them. I think it’s fantastic that children’s museums exist, and I greatly appreciate their value, but given the option I prefer to take my son to ‘regular’ museums because I want him to learn to love them as much as I do. And I think it’s never too early to start. I’ve been taking my son to museums since he was just a few weeks old. By the time he turned one, he had visited more than 20 different museums in four different countries. Now, at two and a half, he gets excited when I mention we’re going to a museum, and sometimes even asks for it himself when we’re deciding what to do at the weekend (“Museum!”)

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Exploring musical instruments, fascinated by shipwrecked pottery & getting tactile with textiles at the National Museum of Scotland; Fascinated by dolls at the Edinburgh Museum of Childhood (age 9 months)

 

Of course we have our favourites – cars & planes, dinosaurs & animals always go down a treat – and we do tend to gravitate to museums that are family friendly, e.g. the National Museum of Scotland does a wonderful job at catering to the under 3s, something I wish more ‘regular’ museums would embrace, but we’re game for anything. Well, perhaps not anything (so probably the title of this post should have read “take them almost everywhere”). Just as I wouldn’t let me son watch television programmes that weren’t appropriate for his age, I wouldn’t take him to museums that had exhibits inappropriate for his age, e.g. depicting violence or adult rated content, but other than that I’m pretty open. Sometimes people are surprised at the kinds of museums I take my son to, and I will be the first to admit that not all of those visits are a success, but I hold fast in the belief that children can enjoy almost any museum if adults take the time to engage with them.

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Making the Chinese dragon move and designing a mask at the National Museum of Scotland; Figuring out telephones at the Museum für Kommunikation Berlin (age 1)

 

One example I’ve mentioned again and again is from my time as an audience researcher at the National Museum of Scotland, when we were evaluating an exhibition on Pixar’s artworks. Two visitor responses vividly stuck in my mind: one from a parent who felt the exhibition was not appropriate for her 5-year old son because there were no hands-on activities to entertain him, and the other from a parent who said he and his 3-year old daughter had really enjoyed going round the exhibition together, spotting characters from the movies they had watched together at home. Engagement.

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Tactile art at the Berlinische Galerie; Meeting a beaver at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin; Learning how wheels work at the Deutsches Technikmuseum; Tactile exhibits at the Jüdisches Museum Berlin (age 1 1/2)

 

And so it happens that alongside the animals at the Museum für Naturkunde and the cars at the Deutsches Technikmuseum, my son counts the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Berlinische Galerie (a museum of modern art, photography and architecture) among his favourites. Because we live next to them, we visit often, he’s become familiar with them, and he is usually the first these days to instigate a visit. Not the usual suspects on your standard ‘Berlin Museums for Kids’ list, and yet he takes great joy e.g. in walking around the galleries at the Berlinische Galerie, looking for things he recognises in the art works – cars, animals, a man wearing a hat – or puzzling over things that don’t seem right to him, like a man with three legs or a pig suspended from the ceiling. And not only that, but he takes great joy in pointing them out to me, proudly showing off his discoveries, eager for my reactions, my confirmation, my praise. Engagement.

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Interacting with working models at the National Museum of Scotland; Finding out about ships in bottles at the Deutsches Technikmuseum; Exploring shapes at the Deutsches Currywurst Museum (age 2)

 

During our recent visit to Washington, D.C., we took our son to see the animals at the Natural History Museum and the planes at the Air and Space Museum. We took him to play in the children’s galleries at the Building Museum and the Museum of the American Indian. But we also took him to look at contemporary art at the Hirshhorn Museum. It’s great for a little boy just learning his colours. A gallery on Level 3, for example, showed bold, block coloured works by American artist Ellsworth Kelly bearing titles such as ‘Red Yellow Blue V’, ‘Red White’ or ‘Dark Green Curve’. Whilst we were there a group of pre-school children, about 3 or 4 years old, arrived and settled down in a semi-circle in front of some paintings to talk about colours and shapes with their teachers. They were buzzing with excitement.

Fascinated by something at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum (age 2 1/2)

 

If you want your kids to grow up to enjoy and appreciate museums, please, take them early, take them often, and take them (almost) everywhere. We’ve been to see everything from natural history, science and technology, to archaeology, world cultures and social history, to applied art, fine art and modern art. Yes, sometimes it’s difficult when you’re maybe not particularly made to feel welcome, to ignore the museum guard following you around like you’re some of kind of criminal or the feeling everyone around you is thinking “she should have taken her kids to the children’s museum” – but give those museums a reason to want to be family friendly by showing them families want to visit too!

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A group of pre-schoolers leaving the Hirshhorn Museum after their visit to talk about shapes and colours.

 

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12 Responses to “Kids in Museums: Take them early, take them often, take them everywhere”

  1. Mar Says:

    I’ve been the same with C – my theory has always been exposure is key. It’s not about learning or knowledge at a young age but just exposing them to what is out there. C is not 11 and although chooses roller coasters over museums, she still values museums and art galleries and appreciates going to them.

    We also came up with the one rule game – learn something new with every museum, even if it’s where the rest rooms are or a type of work you never heard of or that you didn’t like a type of work. I started that with C as soon as she can talk and she has played the game with all her friends (and apparently on school trips.).

    No kid is ever too young to attend a museum, just as no person should ever feel they aren’t qualify or intelligent enough to attend a museum. Too many elitist attitude still exist that need to be changed. The sooner the better.

    Reply

    • jennifuchs Says:

      Exactly! I’m not expecting any great art appreciation from #MuseumBaby at this point, but his love for the Berlinische Galerie already shows what simple exposure can do. Same with the Jewish Museum. Most of the time we’ve actually just been to the cafe or garden, since we don’t have a garden of our own, but then one day he insisted on going in to the exhibition itself and we spent a good half hour there. Now sometimes he wants to go in and sometimes just run around out the back – I follow his lead. Love the “one rule” game idea!

      Reply

  2. Renata Teixeira Says:

    Lovely post! I talked to some parents recently about taking kids to museum and most of them told me that they were too young to visit. Well… if they are four months old they can stay in the stroller and enjoy the colours, if they are four year they can enjoy even more! ;)

    Reply

    • jennifuchs Says:

      Thanks! I guess it also depends on how adults themselves were exposed to museums as children. My parents also took us from a very young age, so it’s obviously had an effect on me :-)

      Reply

  3. Cynthia Raso Says:

    What a wonderful blog! I am sharing it with followers of the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. I think the group you ran into at the Hirshhorn was quite likely one of our classes. Needless to say, I couldn’t agree with you more: young children belong in all types of museums!

    Reply

    • jennifuchs Says:

      Thank you, I’m glad you like it! And thank you for pointing me to the SEEC. I wish we had something like that here in Berlin.

      Reply

  4. Sandra Says:

    The man and I love to travel. And love museums too. One of the benefits of not having extended family to leave our daughter (now 7) with, is that she has been on many trips and seen many museums.

    Each age and stage has brought different strategies to make museum going as a family a success. She takes photos with a blackberry, draws with pencil and paper and listens to the kid-oriented audio tour. How I love museums like MoMA that have audio tours pitched to kids yet not dumbed down!

    Of course there’s always a snack at some point.

    It won’t be the same experience as if you are on your own but that IS the point – it’s a family visit to a museum.

    Reply

  5. MariaBettina Says:

    Thanks for this post. We are art lovers, so we took our daughters to many art museums and exhibitions from early on.

    What we experienced is not only our kids getting familiar with art of (almost!) any kind and knowing that even if they don’t want to go, in the end there is usually something in it for them to enjoy. We also experienced ourselves developing a new approach to art, having to choose what to show to the children and how to get them interested.

    Looking at art on your own is different from looking at art with your kids, but you should try the latter! As I am deeply fascinated by these experiences, I started a blog on art and culture-focused travel with children a year ago (in German, I’m afraid). Maybe you want to have a look: http://mariabettina.twoday.net
    MariaBettina recently posted..DECK THE HALLS AND FILL THE SHELVESMy Profile

    Reply

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