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How to Navigate Museums with Toddlers

by Susan Finch

Mar 19, 2018

© Aurinko | Dreamstime.com

Age Specific / Toddlers

Museums and toddlers are rarely uttered in the same breath for a reason. Their little bodies and minds just can’t deal with the expectations of enduring adult-sized fun resembling forced quiet and endless tedium. But that doesn’t mean Mom and Dad have to forgo a much-anticipated trip to the museum because their toddler has all the feels of how they want to spend their day. Come equipped with a stroller, plenty of contraband snacks and a plan of action to turn your outing into a successful experience.

Head to the Children’s Area

Even the most glorious museums in the world usually have a children’s area or room to explore. If there’s no kids’ room to be seen, look online or call ahead about family programs and workshops for interactive fun. The Guggenheim offers Open Studio for families to explore art and make projects together.

Do Your Homework

Even toddlers can appreciate how what they’re learning in preschool or home connects with what they see in a museum. Plan ahead and see what the museum offers and then incorporate some of that learning at home. The Art Institute of Chicago offers a Touch Gallery with touchable sculptures from different time periods. Meanwhile, Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta also has kid-friendly fun with a NatureQuest room that turns kids into explorers, scientists and adventurers in an immersive room just for kids and toddlers.

Kids drawing in museum

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Grab a Snack

The same ground rules for dealing with a toddler at home also applies to the museum. Don’t get so distracted by what’s going on with your vacation you fail to recognize their cues. Are they overwhelmed by the people? Get outside for fresh air. Are they cranky and inconsolable? They may need a break or just a snack. This is the time to duck into the museum café for a special treat, fruit or a smoothie to recharge their little bodies and change the channel in their brain to something else. By the time they’re done, they’ll probably forget why they hated Picasso so much and will be up for a stroller ride through the next exhibit.

Divide and Conquer

You’ve exhausted all of your tricks and your toddler still isn’t having it. Remember museums just aren’t terribly interesting for toddlers, and you really can’t blame them when they’re limited on what they can touch and scream at. This is the time to divide and conquer with your spouse or travel partners. Adults can trade off in the children’s room or look outside for some fun. Most museums have lush gardens, trails or even play structures for kids to enjoy when they’re too restless to deal with the art and science inside.

Offer a Bribe

We all want our kids to do the right thing and learn to compromise, but toddlers are still learning how to manage their wants, needs and emotions and it’s just not realistic to expect them to deal with an art museum when they know an amusement park awaits. Tell them you would love to let them pick out a small toy from the gift shop or grab a special ice cream with sprinkles if they can use an indoor voice and give parents some time in the museum. This technique won’t work for everyone, but even toddlers have their form of currency and sometimes they just need an incentive to cope with an otherwise underwhelming museum.


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