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Getting the Most Out of Your Trip to Child-Friendly Museums
By Alan Edstrom

As a teacher, you want children to express their creativity, learn through play, and practice their problem-solving skills. While you can achieve most of these goals in the classroom, you may have a desire to take your children into the 'real world' to experience learning in a hands-on way. That's right, we're talking about field trips. If the very idea of taking a field trip causes your blood pressure to skyrocket, or if you think going on a field trip with 20 three- to five-year-olds is a logistical nightmare this side of potty training, read on!

The following tips are meant to make field trips relatively pain free and to provide you with suggestions for connecting your visit to a museum to your school activities and curriculum. There is nothing wrong with using ideas that work in a place that gets thousands of visitors a year. They might have it down to a science!

  • Make a pre-visit. Know what you are going to visit and how you are going to connect what the children see and do on their trip to your class activities.

  • During your visit, ask for handouts from the museum staff and preview any activities the children might engage in while at the museum. Note the times of scheduled shows, demonstrations, and story times.

  • 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 a child's height. It may be designed that way for safety considerations. By visiting the exhibits before hand, you can decide which ones are appropriate for your children.

  • Get to know the museum staff. It can be difficult and frustrating to hand over your class to a person you haven't worked alongside an outsider doesn't know your children or what you want to accomplish with your visit. To make the most of your field trip, identify your goals and share them with the museum staff. It's easy for a field trip to turn into a free-for-all, but you can get content out of chaos, especially when everyone knows the end goal.

  • Find out if there are any other groups booked in the same venue at the same time as your group. Toddler groups can get overwhelmed if rambunctious school-age children and high school students are in the same space. Conversely, older children don't want to be around 'babies.' When you are booking your visit, ask if there are 'Preschool Days' or ways to book your trip without competing for attention with other schools.

  • Ask if a student or family membership at the museum can cover the cost of admission. 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.

  • Prep your parents. Make sure your chaperones know which children they are responsible for as well as what to do if a child strays away from the group. The most frustrating battle cry of a field trip can be "but that kid wasn't my responsibility!" Wearing matching shirts or identification badges with the school logo can help parents know who is part of the group.

  • Pack extra clothes and wet wipes. When these places say 'hands-on' they mean 'HANDS-ON'! For your sake and other visitors' sake bring extra clothes for the children to change into and wet wipes to clean up your children, chaperones, and things that other visitors might touch. Many places have 'germ buckets' (if they don't maybe you can make a suggestion) for toys that kids have drooled on or put in their mouths. In some cases, the museum staff can spray the toys with cavicide. (Many public spaces sanitize with cavicide, which is often used by dentists, rather than using the traditional bleach solution.) It's a germy world out there, so it's best to be proactive.

  • Remember to play. 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.orgor 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.