Link copied to clipboard

Doing Children’s Museums The Right Way

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

The next time you take your child to a hands-on children’s museum – you know, one with exhibits kids are supposed to play with – notice what the grownups who follow the children around are doing. There’s a right way – and a wrong way – to enjoy a children’s museum with your kid.

Here’s what the wrong way looks like:

  • A parent demonstrates the correct method of manipulating a piece of equipment. He shows the child “how to do it” as if there were only one way.
  • A parent launches in long, boring explanations of the scientific principles behind the exhibit. If the child is fidgeting, not listening, and obviously wants to escape and play, then this parent is just showing off.
  • A parent makes playing with the exhibits some sort of test, so that the child is peppered with questions and corrected if her answers aren’t right.
  • A parent hurries a child along, as if trying to see the entire museum and get his money’s worth. The parent may do this even though the child is apparently fascinated by one thing and wants to play with it longer.
  • A parent is bored and wants to go home. Nothing in this museum is interesting to her. She really would like her child to leave but he’s totally focused on playing.
  • A parent is so glued to her cell phone that she completely forgets about her child. A staff member finds him sitting in the water table, totally soaked.

You don’t make any of these mistakes, do you?

Of course not! You know that the whole idea of hands-on children’s museums is to let kids mess around with stuff they can’t fiddle with at home. The whole idea of these places is to stimulate children’s thinking and help them solve problems suggested by the equipment. The role of the smart parent is to watch over her child, guide him in finding things to explore, and then pretty much just enjoy what he figures out.

Your child may spend an hour in just one area of the museum, playing with just one thing. That’s okay. This is what children do. They work and work and work on something until they master it. Only then can they move on to something else.

Your child may flit from one area to another. This is okay too. Your child is looking for something that clicks for him, something that captures his attention and intrigues him. You may need to do a little demonstrating, playing with something yourself to help your child see the possibilities. And then you need to follow him around until he settles in.

Children’s museum admission fees can be expensive. It’s natural to want to “get your money’s worth” and see it all. But that just doesn’t fit with the preschool thought process. If you have a children’s museum in your area, buy a year-long membership so you can drop in frequently, stay only as long as your child is having fun, and come back again soon. Frequent, short visits are less frustrating for parents and more educational for kids.

If you are visiting with a couple children of different ages, it helps to go with a second adult, so the kids can split up and play with what interests them, instead of trying to keep everyone engaged in the same exhibit. This is especially important if the children are of different ages and abilities.

The fun for parents is to watch the wheels turn in a child’s brain as he realizes how something works. Just watching is the right way for grownups to behave when they “do” a children’s museum.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

share this
Follow Us

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.