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Old 05-17-2005, 07:13 AM   #1
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Okay, I just moved these posts to this new forum to try to make the info a little more specific and accessible. Taking kids to museums can be an interesting challenge - getting them interested, keeping them focused and preventing embarrassing outbursts all take a little more effort, but with the right preparation and attitude, museums, art galleries and other "serious" cultural establishments can be a great experience with your kids along.

I hope everyone who has had experiences with their kids (or memorable experiences AS kids) in museums and what not will contribute to this thread - I'm always looking for more ideas, and I can't be the only one!

My husband's in Italy for a couple of days, lucky soul, so my "travels with children" currently consist of dragging them back and forth to school every day! But I had a chat with a friend here today, and we talked about a great survival technique to get kids through museums/art galleries.

We pick up the museum floor plan, (especially if it has pictures of the exhibits) and head to the gift shop first. There we choose a couple of post cards of the museum's treasures and then we set off on a treasure hunt through the building. We find this helps keep the kids from being totally bored and they actually pay attention to the pieces in search of their particular treasures. At the end of the visit, I write down the details of the visit (location, date, whether or not we found it, and any particular details) and each child has their own cheap little photo album to keep their "treasures" in. Makes a satisfying little souvenir for them and it's interesting to see their developing interests and taste. I try to encourage them to pick different kinds of art (sculpture, metal, jewelry, paintings, ceramics, etc.) so that we get a good cross section of the museum before everyone finds their piece, and everyone is encouraged to help find all the pictures, so it's a team sport.

A lot of major museums have some kind of kids' pack available at the desk, too, so we always check first. And the gift shops sometimes have kids books that also have a lot of the museum's works (for example, the British Museum has an excellent kid's guide).

It works from about age 3/4 up, little wee ones couldn't care less, and from about 18 months to 2 1/2 or so, museums can be pretty painful. But once they hit the age where they can match pairs it works pretty well.

When we go to small out of the way museums that don't have post cards or catalogues, we play a little game, picking a theme (food, animals, etc) or colour, and play a game of trying to find a certain number of those (or count how many we find). I like to point out things I know my kids are interested in (for example, my son loves cannons, so we always count the guns on the decks of the model ships in maritime museums) or details I really like (like the shepherds' dirty feet in a painting of the Nativity at the Prado) that I think the kids' can relate to. But it is more fun to listen to what they say about the different paintings, inevitably they think of things that never would occur to me.

Aside: that reminds me of something my daughter asked on the way home from school this afternoon. We were talking about Romanesque/early Gothic architecture and the development from the Dark to the Middle Ages. All of a sudden she said, "Mummy, do you think Soviet times were like a second Dark Ages?" Well, that stopped me short...

Another museum possibility is to check out their site and look for images online. You can either print those out or (an idea I've borrowed from the Smithsonian) print a picture of a piece, but leave out a bit (the handle off an ewer, the central picture off a distinctive plate etc) and have your child fill in the missing bit of decoration on site. Usually online they have lots of info about the individual pieces that you might not have the time or concentration to absorb on the spot, so if you can memorize some info, you look like superparent when you can answer all your kid's questions.
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Old 05-17-2005, 07:25 AM   #2
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Thought about starting a list of great kid-friendly museums/galleries, please add your favourites (Canada, Canada, we need Canada!)

Some of our favourites:

Smithsonian complex, Washington DC. Awesome kids' packs, children's programmes and c'mon, Air and Space Museum & Natural History Museum. Oh, and free...

British Museum, London. Kids' packs, great books, awesome website and the most amazing collection. Oh, and free...

Every museum in Stockholm, Sweden. These people know kids. Stand outs are the Medieval Museum, the Vasa Museum (ship), Maritime Museum (great play area and kids' programme looks awesome, though we missed the time), Natural History Museum (whales, seals and even penguins bigger than me. Gave my husband the shivers, the kids and I loved it!)

Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC. I have always loved the walk through dioramas.

KunstHausWien, Vienna, Austria. More a gallery, but totally wacky Hundertwasser building and gallery. Amazing.

Add your own, please!
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Old 09-11-2006, 07:29 AM   #3
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Couple more kid-friendly places we've picked up on recent trips:

Paris: The Louvre sells a hardcover book called "My Little Louvre" for about 10 Euro, with glossy colour pages and lots of details about selected works throughout the museum. It's kind of like the post card treasure hunt idea, but with a lot more info (and more expensive). No kid's pack, though. Kids are free, and if you have a stroller, you get to take a cool elevator into the museum from the glass pyramid.

(Incidentally, the British Museum also sells a great kids guide in their bookshop, but they have free kid's packs as well - the Louvre doesn't.)

Musee d'Orsay also has a "My Little Orsay" book, but they also have a kid's pack - currently it features the relationship between the museum and trains, highlighting architectural details of the building, paintings of trains, etc. There's a kid's guide and a separate parent's guide with lots more info (and the answers), but it is only available in French. They do have other museum info in English, just not the kids' stuff.

Musee des Arts et Metiers is an interesting technology museum - not a science centre - with lots of old scientific instruments, mechanical things and some hands on exhibits. The staff were not overly friendly, but there's some fun stuff there. Lots of interactive computer exhibits as well, with comfy chairs. Again, not all the information is available in English. This is the home of Foucault's Pendulum (it's in the church) and an early scale model of the Statue of Liberty. The cars and motorcycles are rather tempting to climb on, but don't. Blissfully, this place was virtually deserted when we were there.

Cite des Industries is the science centre. Lots of fun, some of the info is in English, but not much. Doesn't matter, though. The place is huge. Great choice for a wet day.

Musee Marine is apparently the oldest maritime museum in the world. I don't know. Anyway, it's not very big, but has some fascinating exhibits if you're into things nautical. They have displays about scientific vessels (including subs) as well as the more usual war and merchant ships. Currently two great exhibits - one about polar explorations (both Poles = bi-polar?) another about a guy who lived and sailed the Red Sea from Somalia up, at the turn of the century. He was a gun runner, spy, diplomat, explorer, spent time in jail...and his kids traveled with him on these adventures! The museum is just a hop skip and a jump from the Eiffel Tower, and is a great break from the crowds. Also, the bathroom downstairs is gorgeous, and one of the few with a place to change a diaper.

Paris City Museum of Modern Art. This is not the Pompidou Centre, which is also fun, though most of the exhibits were closed for renovation when we were there, so I can't say much about that. Located across from the Fashion Museum, which we didn't visit, though we picnicked in the back yard, it has a few Picassos and Matisses and some interesting video and other exhibits - we liked it better than what we saw at the Pompidou, but that was probably just bad timing. This is also the home of what may be the world's largest painting, at 10x60 m, if it isn't the largest it's still mighty impressive. It also happens to be by my favourite dead painter, Raoul Dufy, so I'm not a hard sell. Anyhow, the painting is called "La Fee d'Electricite" and is sort of a history/hommage/critique of electricity and industrialization. There are portraits of famous names in electricity, and we had our kids do a treasure hunt within the painting for gods, goats, ships, bicycles, and all sorts of things. You can also try identifying the world capitals depicted.


Giesthoorn This is not a museum, but it is a fun place to spend the day with kids, in the eastern Netherlands. A little village, full of traditional thatched houses, all laid out along canals. There are no roads in the town, just canals, bike paths and bridges. You can bike/stroll or rent a boat and punt, row, canoe, kayak, motor or take a guided tour, and if you're on the water you can explore the canals that go out into the surrounding fields, as well. It was fairly crowded when we were there last weekend, but mostly with Dutch visitors, it's not high on the foreign tourist radar. We drove and parked a few hundred metres from the path to town, 3 Euro for the day. Boat rentals seemed pretty reasonable, too - I think about 10 Euro for a small motor boat for the day. Canoes and kayaks were less, but might be dodgier with little kids.
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Old 09-18-2006, 09:10 AM   #4
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Though my son has a notoriously short attention span, I've been blessed with kids that are very museum friendly. They have no problem finding stuff in the exhibits/art/history/natural history/aquariums etc. that they either already know something about (and sometimes teach me stuff) or they already have some interest in.

For them, though, the re-entry stamp/pass etc. is a godsend... they have about a 2 hour limit before they need to go outside and burn off some of that energy that kids all have in mass quantities! Then we're fine for another round.

My recommendation for kids is the Exploratorium in San Francisco. If you go, plan on making a full day of it, cause you're not likely to get them out of there until they shut the lights off! I'd been there a few times as a kid, and returning as an adult with my own kids, I realize that it's just as much fun now as it was then!

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Old 05-08-2007, 12:40 PM   #5
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Couple more to add, from recent trips.

The Diamond Museum in Antwerp. Right next door to the Zoo, and open Mondays (not much is), there's quite an extensive exhibit. Not much talk about the politics of conflict diamonds, unsurprisingly, but lots of technical/scientific info, history and a diamond cutter, as well as a display of diamond jewelry arranged chronologically to show how the settings and cuts have changed through history.

There are several excellent and kid-friendly museums along the D-Day beaches in Normandy. The Juno Beach Centre (the Canadian landing site) was particularly well done. But be sure to check out the Grand Bunker at Gold Beach. The Memorial in Caen had some terrific exhibits, but they lost me with their selective reinterpretation of history at the end.

The Bayeux Tapestry museum has a superb exhibit - upstairs there is a highly annotated copy of the tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings, while the tapestry itself is on display downstairs. If you're pressed for time you can skip the upstairs. The audio tour downstairs is very well done, and there's a G-rated children's version. The adult version isn't that racy, but, well, you know your kids.

The Theatre, Cinema and Music Museum, in Vilnius. At the moment they have a small but intriguing exhibit of musical instruments - the bells were particularly interesting, but if my four are any indication, kids will also get a kick out of the music box and player pianos. There are a couple of films, one of which features puppets you'll see later in the museum, but that one's in Lithuanian and the other one, which I found utterly fascinating, was in German, with Lithuanian subtitles.

Since my daughter is fluent in German and I can read Lithuanian, I could follow the general gist, but otherwise, it's helpful to know that the film was made in 1936 by Germans visiting the city. The treatment of the ghetto was telling, considering subsequent events, and I did have a sense throughout that it was more like a reconnaissance film, than just a tourist home video. It is also amazing to see how little has changed, in some ways. There were shots of deserted little sidestreets that my husband and I immediately identified from our experience of the city.
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Old 05-10-2007, 04:20 AM   #6
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"The Rooms" here in St. John's is pretty kid friendly. They always have a new program, class, or workshop for kids.

My kiddo is 20 months and his favorite part is going to the animal exibits. We play the "what's that animal" game, then he tells me what each animal says.
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Old 05-16-2007, 08:30 AM   #7
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Awesome, that's a tough age to engage.

I'm not familiar though - what is "The Rooms"?

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Old 05-16-2007, 08:46 AM   #8
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It's our provincial museum/public cultural space. really awesome building.

http://www.therooms.ca/
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Old 05-17-2007, 03:42 AM   #9
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Excellent. It goes on our list for our Maritime trip.
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Old 05-17-2007, 10:24 AM   #10
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if you're looking for cool places to go on the avalon penninsula, let me know.
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Old 05-18-2007, 12:14 AM   #11
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Will do, though this trip is at least a year away - if we get an assignment on the US east coast, we're heading north. But won't know that til this winter, at the earliest. Meanwhile, plenty to see around here.

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Old 05-18-2007, 01:59 AM   #12
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Thanks for keeping us in the mix with another hearty play-by-play, Superwoman.....errr, uh....Tamara !
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Old 01-20-2008, 01:11 PM   #13
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A couple more kid-friendly locations to note gleaned from recent travels.

The Workhouse, Dunfaghney, Ireland. This is okay for older kids, pretty freaky and depressing for the younger ones, what with the emaciated life sized models. Very interesting stories about work house life in Ireland during the potato famine, however. After the workhouse exhibit there is an utterly fascinating exhibit about the surrounding sand dunes, very useful to visit before actually striking off for a trek across the dunes themselves. The dunes and beaches are way more fun for the kids than the museum, but it's helpful to have the background info in advance.

Glenveigh National Park, Ireland. What a fantastic day trip this made. There is a visitor's centre which talks about the history of the estate, and covers the flora and fauna found within the park. The building itself is great fun, and it'll take a while to drag the kids away from the various displays of assorted animals, and interactive exhibits. The tour of the house is worthwhile - not too long (but try to get there early, as they sell out by mid-afternoon in summer), and a fascinating glimpse into life as it once was lived. Even for seven year old boys, there's enough of interest to keep them going. The gardens and grounds are beautiful, even on drizzly, grey August afternoons, and fun for kids because they can run ahead a bit and play hide-and-seek. The tower is tremendous, but be a bit careful with little ones down by the pool/dock.

In Dublin, the Dublinia exhibit is full of terrific interactive fun for kids of all ages - a medieval marketplace on the ground floor, and the Viking exhibit upstairs will keep them engaged as long as you can stay. Not everything is interactive, so watch for "no climbing" signs, but still, really fun. I think this was the same place we saw the "bog people" which were actually kind of creepy, but fascinating mummies preserved in the peat bogs.

It can be hard to find traditional music venues to which you can take kids, so in Dublin we asked the guest house clerk for a suggestion and he booked us in to that evening's performance at one of the local hotels. Kids are only allowed if food is being served, which pretty much rules out a lot of the usual pub venues. We went to a dinner-and-show, including music and dance, and for all that we booked at the last minute on a packed holiday weekend (hurling, Irish football AND football matches all on the weekend we arrived - and I think a horse race also), we ended up getting seats within 10 feet of the stage. The dinner menu also offered an inexpensive kid's meal - chicken nuggets, apparently the only option available in Ireland - in lieu of the delicious but far more costly adult version. So don't flip out when they quote the adult price, there is a cheaper kid's rate!

I also took our older kids (then 9 and 11) to a performance of "The Mikado" which was just terrific, but it wouldn't have entertained the younger ones.

That was August. In October the kids and I trekked to Vancouver for 10 days, and got to check out some of the spots we missed on our previous visit two years' back. At the time there was a Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The building itself, and the permanent exhibits are somewhat fun in and of themselves, but at the end of the O'Keeffe exhibit there was a table of pencils, paper, shells, rocks, a cow skull and some sort of bone for people to attempt their own versions of O'Keeffe style sketches. The kids (even the 4 year old) had a ball colouring, though their enthusiasm drew a few frowns from some of the stodgier museum visitors.

We next invested in the three-museum pass to the Vancouver Museum, Planetarium and Maritime Museum. This includes one day's entrance to each of the museums, which can be used on different days. We did the Vancouver Museum and Planetarium on the first day, and returned a couple of days later to visit the Maritime Museum. You'd be pushing it to do all three in one day, I'd say.

First, the Planetarium. Well, how fun can playing with moon rocks, planning missions to outerspace, an optional (and very brief) simulator ride to Mars and the sun, and a star show be? Quite a bit, judging from the reaction of my brood.

Dragging them from there to the Vancouver Museum in the same building. At the time of our visit, there was a very interesting exhibit about the Japanese baseball leagues in Vancouver prior to WWII. There were some colouring stations and a few interactive things, but that particular exhibit appealed more to the older (reading) members of our family. The walk through dioramas of early Chinatown, typical houses, a beauty parlour (complete with push button gossip), and the exhibits featuring Vancouver life during various decades were a LOT of fun. There were Victorian era and 1960's hippy and psychadelic dress-ups which would have happily filled most of the day.

Word of warning about the museum gift shop, though. It's full of fascinating toys, and staff members who frown and fret over children playing with eye-level, easily accessible, fascinating toys.

The Maritime Museum was another big hit - from the exhibit of arctic animals and explorer's paraphenalia (try on the old sun glasses, handle all sorts of artifacts) while you wait for the tour of St. Roch - to the pirate ship (complete with dress-ups), and the helm of a tug boat, you really can't go wrong taking the kids here. Some areas don't have quite so much to entertain the kids, so you may not have the opportunity to read all the information in those areas, but you'll probably have plenty of time to read the pirate and tug boat information. Twice. There's a great room dedicated to kids, with a game (identify ships out at anchor in the Outer Harbour, and win a prize when you go), puzzles, dress ups, paper dolls, colouring, stuffed animals, a cargo crane to play with, and exhibits about kids at sea. The younger kids were happy to play, while my older daughters were interested to learn about the children whose home is aboard ship. Well worth a whole day, particularly if you get decent weather and can get outside and see some of the outdoor exhibits and enjoy the beaches and parks surrounding these museums. Naturally if was pelting down the day we chose to go.

You can get to all three of the above museums by bus, just contact the Transit Info number to figure out the best route for you. The nearest bus stop is about a five block walk from the museums, and there is a conveniently located White Spot and bagel place right at the corner when you get off, in case you happen to need a little refreshment on route. There aren't any restaurant facilities in either museum, although the Vancouver Museum/Planetarium has snack machines and I believe an area where you can eat a pre-packed lunch if you actually plan ahead in that department. Personally, I'd rather go to White Spot.

Happy kid-trekking.
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Old 01-25-2008, 08:26 PM   #14
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This is a great thread!

I have five year old twins, and we are able to take them to most places, but I think parents need to try to keep a pulse on what their kids are going to be able to appreciate. I know that my own kids are going to get antsy if we're at, say, a museum about food processing--as opposed to something like natural history or trains, which they would be completely in to.

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Old 04-01-2008, 05:56 AM   #15
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That is a great point, obviously different kids have different tolerance for certain venues! But I think there can be a tendency to underestimate what children can appreciate, which is why it's so great to hear a broad range of suggestions. If you have any particular favourites, please add them to this category!

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