3 Rules to Break to Make Museums Fun for Kids!

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3 Rules to Break to Make Museums Fun for Kids! Charleston MomsDoes taking your child to a quiet museum filled with breakable, valuable, and inanimate artifacts seem like a bad idea? I get it—as a new mom, I can be hesitant to take my child to the grocery store.

The truth is, there are so many good reasons to visit museums with your children. I was lucky enough to work with museums, theaters, and festivals for over ten years. I saw firsthand how a new experience could spark a child’s creativity and curiosity. So even though it can be scary, visiting museums regularly can help your child become a critical thinker and lifelong learner. 

Lucky for us, Charleston has no shortage of artistic, historical, and cultural institutions! You might already be familiar with the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry or the South Carolina Aquarium, but if you’re looking to explore artwork from the Charleston Renaissance at the Gibbes Museum, or satisfy your inner history buff at The Charleston Museum, you CAN (and should!) take the kids! 

Now I’d be lying if I promised your children would be peacefully and quietly strolling the galleries by your side—your museum trip will be different with children.

In fact, there are a few classic museum rules, you want to break to make the most of your museum experience with kids. And don’t worry, it’s allowed.

Rule #1: No Photos Take Fun Photos and Celebrate #MuseumSelfie Day!

Traditionally, museums don’t allow photography—ironically, all I can recall from a visit to The Uffizi Gallery in Italy in high school was a gallery attendant yelling “No photo, no photo”—but thankfully that’s all changing. Many museums are now allowing photography for personal use in many of their exhibits.

Taking photos is a great way to engage your little ones in the exhibits around them and document the memories you’ll create together during your visit!

In fact, there is a holiday dedicated to just that. #MuseumSelfie Day, which falls on January 15th this year, was created by London mom, Mar Dixon, in 2014 after she visited museums with her daughter. To participate, visit a museum, take an awesome selfie, and post it to Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #MuseumSelfie.

Even if it’s not #MuseumSelfie Day, you can still have fun with photos! Photograph your child copying a pose from an interesting sculpture, painting, or better yet, giving their meanest Megalodon impression next to a giant cast of Megalodon jaws!

3 Rules to Break to Make Museums Fun for Kids! Charleston Moms
Our #MuseumSelfieDay photo next to Hannah’s favorite new friend in the Charleston Museum!

Rule #2: Be Quiet Tell Stories

While you still need to use your “inside voice,” there are so many wonderful stories to be told in any museum. In fact, every object has a story.

You don’t need to have your degree in art history to engage your kids in a story. Before your visit, log on to the museum’s website to find a few highlights that would interest your kids. Use these pieces as jumping-off points to start a conversation.

You can also do a quick Google search to find fun (or juicy) facts about a painting, artist, or historical figure. For example, you might tell a tale about how Francis Marion fought in the American Revolution and was nicknamed the “Swamp Fox,” for eluding British forces along swampy trails.

And sometimes, the best stories will come from your kids. Ask them to tell you about what’s happening in a painting. I laughed out loud when I read a 5-year-old’s interpretation of the Mona Lisa in this article from the BBC: “I know it’s her wedding day, but her best friend just died.”

Rule #3: See It All Let Your Children Lead

Without kids, the first thing you might do when you arrive in a museum is to grab a map of the galleries. You’d slowly peruse the exhibits in a logical order and stopping to silently admire works that interest you. Let this go, my friends.

The key to doing museums with kids is to NOT see everything. Start with your interesting stories, but let your children lead you to what interests them.

If your kids aren’t leading (or are overwhelmed—understandable, there’s a lot to look at!), you can also try these techniques to help get them exploring:

  • Scavenger Hunt: Tell your kids to hunt for something in an exhibit or in the museum. This could be as easy as “Find something blue,” or as elaborate as creating clues hinting at different pieces in different rooms.
  • Pick Out a Postcard: When you arrive, visit the museum gift shop and let your kids pick out their favorite postcard. While you’re in the museum, have them find the piece in real life. Don’t forget to stop for a photo op!
  • Head for the Interactive Exhibits: Museums have more hands-on exhibits than ever before—and kids love to touch stuff, climb things, and press buttons. When in doubt, go straight to the exhibits that will let them do what they do best.

And of course, let your children lead when it’s time to go too. If it’s close to nap time, snack time, or they are just aching to get outside and run around, it’s time to make your exit!

Ways to Save

When you’re visiting museums with kids, your visits may be shorter than you’d like and thus, harder to justify a full-price admission ticket. That’s why (like any mom), I love to look out for opportunities to visit at discounted rates. You’ll want to follow your favorite organizations on social media for information about special promotions, but here are a few other great opportunities to save:

  • Charleston’s Museum Mile Month: January 2020 is Museum Mile Month in Charleston, which means you can buy ONE pass and visit 13 different museums and historical sites throughout the month of January! Adult tickets are $25 and children’s tickets (12 and under) are just $10! Click here for more information about purchasing. 
  • Museums on Us® Program: If you’re a customer of Bank of America, you can enjoy free admission to certain museums the first full weekend of every month with their Museums on Us® Program.
  • Museums for All: Through this program, families receiving food assistance can gain free or discounted admission to museums throughout the country. For more information, click here. 
  • Blue Star Museums: Military families, mark your calendars! During the summer, active duty military families enjoy free admission to participating museums across the country. This year, Blue Star Museums will begin on May 16, 2020. For more information and to view a list of past participating museums, click here. 
  • Museum Membership: If you and your family have a favorite museum, join as a member! Most museums offer free admission to members along with many other perks such as member-only events, guest passes (for when the grandparents come to visit!), and/or discounts on other cultural attractions.

Other Tips for Your Visits

  • Check the website for information about accessibility and to find out if the museum allows photos, strollers, and outside food or drink.
  • Many museums host events and activities specifically for children and families! Look at the Museum’s program calendar to plan ahead. You can also visit Charleston Moms Things to Do page.
  • HAVE FUN! Museums offer a great opportunity to spend quality time exploring and learning with your family. Soak it in and have a great time!

Share Your Tips

Do you have any advice to share on visiting museums with kids? What are your favorite Charleston attractions? Let us know in the comments!