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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:

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.