Yes, it’s possible to teach preschool and elementary school-age children to enjoy museums. Apply these tips and watch students enjoy art museums, historical museums, historic houses and other historic locations! These tips work well for parents and teachers.
- Connect the past to the present. Ask thought-provoking questions. How do the activities in the painting/exhibit remind you of modern life? How do the artifacts, tools, and daily-life objects compare to now? Compare and contrast. Think about whether the people in the paintings look like someone you know. You might see some familiar faces!
- Start a collection. Give your child a purpose in attending the museum: adding to a collection. The collection could be postcards with pictures or reprints of art, magnets, scrapbook pages, facts, whatever. Kids love to collect, and they love to learn more about their collections.
- Make a museum-movie connection. Watch movies with fun museum scenes or a connection to the historical location. Some of my favorites are Night at the Museum and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off features iconic scenes from The Art Institute of Chicago. Your older kids will love it. Heist movies are fun, too. Edgy parents might let their kids think about how a heist might go down at the museum—or how they could prevent one. Historical fiction movies pair well with historical visits. For example, watch Felicity – An American Girl Adventure if you’re visiting Colonial Williamsburg. Parts of the movie were filmed there, and the plot takes place in Williamsburg.
- Make a museum-book connection. Before or after your visit, hit the library, Internet, bookstore, whatever! Look for books set in museums, like From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or the delightful Katie’s Picture Showand other picture books about Katie, a girl who can step into paintings. Another idea: read books set in the time of paintings or exhibits you saw. Your child might develop an interest in a certain location or time period. Encourage that!
- Build a frame of reference. Many people say, “I know what I like,” but the truth is that we like what we know. Often kids don’t like museums because they don’t have a clue what they’re seeing. No clue, no appreciation. Many museum and historical exhibits go over a child’s head unless you build a frame of reference. Here’s a fun, easy technique that educators call K-W-L. (Knows, Wonders or Wants to know, Learned)
- Find out what your child already knows about the location or topic. You might be surprised at what your child already knows—or you might uncover misconceptions.
- Make a list (or just discuss) what your child wonders about the topic. What does she want to learn? You can offer some knowledge here, but don’t spill everything, because…
- After the visit, you will list (or discuss) what your child learned. Bonus points if you can turn a discussion on what you learned into a discussion about what you now wonder. After all, learning makes us realize how much there is to know, and how much we don’t know. Ideally, you can entice your child (or students) to do some research (or just visit the museum website) after the visit.
Read all four posts about helping kids enjoy museums and historical locations:
Part three: learn all you can