A lot of people comment on the fact that we take our daughter everywhere we go. She quickly turned into a mini-me-globetrotter, since we always felt there is just no truth in the idea that children don’t enjoy travelling.
The thing is, we never took it for granted that she was with us. We knew (and are still frequently reminded) that a child is not going to spend 4 hours in a museum unless it has something to do there as well. And then again, sometimes, despite all your preparations, things can still go terribly wrong. Right in front of Michelangelo’s David, your child might decide it’s had enough.
And that’s OK. “Never expect too much” has more or less become my motto over the years. Because every time I really did cherish unrealistic expectations, a museum visit quickly turned into a hellish nonsensical discussion with hysterical offspring.
Still, there are a few things I believe you can do to make the experience easier, more fun, and especially more relaxing.
1. Always think about their basic needs: food, drink, toilet and play
OK, so this is a give-away. Truth is almost no parent I know ever leaves the house without a banana stashed away in an oversized handbag. Also, I don’t know any parent who actually believes a child that claims it doesn’t need to pee. The few times I actually let myself be persuaded, I came to regret it when the exact second I stepped into that one room in that one museum I had always wanted to see, she suddenly decided it was now time to go… You know what I’m talking about.
On a related note, I have to admit some museums are better at catering for the needs of their younger visitors than others. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more child-friendly than the British Museum in London.
2. Plan your visit: choose what you really want to see before you leave
Again, for most people probably a give-away. This is actually a lot more difficult than you might think. If you believe this is the only chance you will get in your life to visit the Louvre, The National Gallery or the Prado, you might be tempted to see as much as you can. My advice? Don’t.
Talk to your children to find out what they might want to see. Focus on one exhibition, one time period, one art style, whichever you prefer, but make clear and simple choices.
Two years ago we visited the Hermitage in Saint-Petersburg. My daughter was 5 years old. It was a guided tour, so we didn’t have a real choice in the halls we visited. Actually, we hardly saw more than a few of their top pieces and the ‘Belgian’ and ‘Dutch’ halls. But the Hermitage is fantastically huge, it’s overwhelming, even for an adult it is almost too much to grasp. So it turned out my daughter couldn’t take much more than what was offered anyway.
3. Always put yourself in your child’s position
I mean this quite literally. Does your child see what you see? This might be strange advice, but it is often taken for granted that children experience museums in the same way adults do. But the adults writing museum guides – even special guides for children – tend to forget children are smaller.
Try getting on your knees before a painting and check if your child actually sees the whole image. Chances are it doesn’t. In fact, the lighting in museums is such, that it offers visitors the best experience, but children can be really bothered by it.
When we visited the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, we noticed that the kids could only see the bottom half of the paintings. No wonder we saw a lot of disinterested children. They literally don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. So get on your knees, check, explain the painting/artwork to them and pick them up to show them.
4. Check out the special programmes for children
I’ll be brief about this point. Most museums have a special tour for children, often with a special museum guide or plan. These programmes help to make a museum visit more pleasant and easier to process. Children can go on a ‘treasure hunt’ throughout the museum, look for clues with which to solve some mystery, the options are endless. You can find an example of these children-friendly activities on the website of the Bozar in Brussels.
To be quite honest, we rarely use them. Not because I don’t think they are a good idea! It’s just that we’ve become so used to explaining things ourselves, that we don’t really have to rely on them.
5. Take a break!
Most museums will understand that the average human might not be capable of expertly judging thousands of artworks without the occasional pause. That’s why they have restaurants, or tearooms, or something else to cater to your culinary wishes of the moment. So give your kids a break. Who says you have to see everything in an hour and then leave for the next museum? Take your time. See a few halls, take a break, let your child play, run around if possible, and make sure you eat on time.
To be honest, I never quite understood the urge to visit as much as possible in a single day. I have a confession to make. I’ve been to Venice only once. We stayed there for 5 wonderfully long days, and no, I did not see the Academia. Shocked? Don’t be. I enjoyed every second in Venice, but instead of checking off a list of museums to see, I walked around the city in the evening, went to see a concert at night, took the time so savour the local cuisine and yes, I even fed the birds.
In my humble opinion, one museum is more than enough for one day. Make sure you take a break during your visit. My daughter survived a 4-hour visit to Castle Kronborg in Denmark just a few months ago. Yes, 4 hours. In which we took our time to see the rooms, play around, invent games, eat a wonderful soup and took plenty of silly pictures of it all.
I hope you found these helpfull. These are just the first 5 tips, expect the following 5 in my next post!