An interview with an expert on the joys and benefits of sharing a museum experience with your child or grandchild.
Exploring museums locally, or as part of a vacation itinerary? The following interview with Andrew Ackerman, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (212/721-1223) provides information for parents and grandparents to enhance the experience for everyone. And when you’re in New York, stop by CMOM at 212 West 83rd Street, New York, NY 10023; it’s open daily except Monday from 10am to 5pm.
Q: Why take kids to museums?
A: Museums offer an absolutely unique learning experience for families. For children, it’s a context in which they can learn alongside parents and siblings — at their own pace. Today’s kids experience more academic pressure than ever before, so it’s important to provide a non-pressured learning experience for them. And interacting with original art and artifacts in a social environment is beneficial to kids who are becoming accustomed to more and more isolated experiences through the computer.
Q: How is museum-going different for a child than for an adult?
A: Children are not miniature adults. They learn in a different way than adults do and each age is different, too. Unlike many adults, who feel the need to see a whole museum in one visit, for a child it’s perfectly fine to remain in one space, become comfortable, and master it.
Q: How many museums can a family with small children realistically expect to see — and enjoy — in one day?
A: Less than one! For adults, museum fatigue sets in after about 90 minutes; for kids, it takes even less time. For a family visiting a museum together, the success of the visit will be directly proportional to the enjoyment of the youngest member. If your 3-year-old is cranky, the whole family will be cranky. Don’t keep young kids going longer than their endurance allows.
Q: What should parents keep in mind when planning a family museum day?
A: 1) Take a pencil and paper along. When children are really turned on by what they see in a museum, it’s frustrating for them not to be able to do something. Let them draw what they’re seeing. Some kids might even want to write in a journal. 2) Kids do not do well on an empty stomach. 3) Buy a souvenir. Embedded in these souvenirs are memories. Six months later, you can pick them up and say, “Remember when we visited the museum?” 4) Keep the learning informal. The number one comment I hear kids making to their parents is: “This is not school!” 5) Have modest expectations, and when a child reaches capacity, that’s it. Less is more.
Q: What’s the single most important piece of advice you can offer parents introducing their children to museum-going?
A: Enthusiasm and interest are the most important things you bring to the table. The enthusiasm of a parent or caregiver is contagious for kids.
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