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Playing 101: Tips for Taking the Family to Child-Friendly Museums
By Alan Edstrom

As a parent, you might often wish that you could visit a children’s museum as a kid, because frankly, most people forget how to play between the ages of 10 and 18 (well, that’s my theory anyway). Well, your wish is granted! POOF! As soon as you walk through the doors of your local children’s museum or science center, the more you can think and act like a child. Who knows, the kids might have a good time, too.

GET MESSY! There are great opportunities to try out messy, sometimes gooey activities that you may not be able to or may not have the patience for at home. Quite often, children live up to the expectations of the people around them, and although you might cringe at playing with worms or starfish or snakes, you may find that your children open up to art or music or even math in the most unusual situations.

GET DOWN to your child’s height (this is even more important if you have toddlers) and view and try out some of the exhibits or activities! This new point of view may give you a renewed perspective of not only colors and shapes, but how you can approach the activity.

GET TO KNOW THE FLOOR STAFF. The museum staff may have great activities to help play, and sometimes your kids will discover new things with someone who is NOT you. Most children’s museums don’t have “tours” like traditional museums, but find out if they have on-going activities or scheduled story times, shows, or demonstrations. These informal presentations can give you an opportunity to model public behavior in a non-threatening environment.

GET SMALL! Have you ever noticed that adults often expect kids to adapt to grown up size equipment, and they often feel out of place? Well, here’s an opportunity for adaptation for all the big-sized caregivers to be sensitive to the environment around them. (Even at home, this opportunity can give you not only angles for new learning, but views of safety that you may not have seen).

So, the next time you visit a Children’s Museum try a new perspective alongside the kids you bring with you. You may find a new way of fun and learning from a place you never thought you’d find it – from a kid’s eye view. And for gosh sakes, share, behave yourself, and if I have to use your middle name, you know you’re in trouble….

Tips for Toddler Trips


Tip # 1- Visit during slower times in the season, time of day, or day of the week.

·         Just like theme parks and cruise ships there are slower seasons. The “slow season” usually occurs in September and January.

·         Most school groups book visits between 9:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. during the week. These are peak times for large crowds, so try to schedule your visit around these times.


Tip # 2 – Find out if there is a reciprocal membership program.

·         If you are a member of your local science center or children’s museum, you may be able to get into any number of science centers or children’s museums for free or at greatly reduced prices worldwide.


Tip # 3 – Bring extra clothes for kids to get messy.

·         When these places say “hands-on,” they mean “HANDS ON”! For your sake and other visitors’ sake bring extra wet wipes to clean up after your children and things that other visitors might touch. Many places like this have “germ buckets” for toys that kids have drooled on or put in their mouths. It’s a germy world out there, so it’s best to be pro-active.


Tip # 4 – Scope things out for age appropriateness.

·         Sometimes exhibits are put at taller heights for age appropriateness. Don’t be discouraged if an exhibit you like isn’t at your child’s height. It may be designed that way for safety considerations.


Tip #5 – Inquire, Design, Imagine, and Express

·         Children’s museums and science centers are an opportunity to find innovative ways to figure out the impossible and to do it by dancing, singing, painting, writing, and so much more. The more you remember how to play, the more you (and the kids of all ages around you) can get the most out of your visit.


Alan Edstrom is the Director of Interdisciplinary Programs and Exhibits at Exploration Place in Wichita, KS. For more information about Exploration Place, please visitwww.exploration.org or call 877-904-1444. The Association of Youth Museums (www.aym.org) and The Association of Science and Technology Centers (www.astc.org) can provide you information about your local informal learning centers and link you to thousands of great activities for both school and home. Some museums even provide virtual tours on their website to help prepare you for your visit.