Five ways to keep your kids from suffering museum fatigue

“I want to go to the museum.”

I love it when my son says that. A lot of kids never do. It’s not surprising. Museum fatigue can set in pretty quickly for the little tykes unless you approach them right. Here are five tips for getting your children to actually want to go to museums. These tips may just keep you from strangling them as they whine in front of the Mona Lisa.

Start early
If you suddenly decide that at age twelve your son or daughter needs some culture, they aren’t going to react well. They have to be accustomed to it. We started early with our son, wheeling him around museums and art galleries in his stroller. It helps that we live in a major European capital with lots of culture. This became part of our Sunday routine: lunch at grandma’s, then off to see an exhibition.

Follow their lead
If your kids wants to see something in particular or linger in front of the crocodile god, let them. They’re engaged in the experience and you need to foster that. Following a kid around a museum can be a surreal experience. They don’t go in an orderly, logical way like most adults. They flit around like hummingbirds, making odd connections between objects. “Hey, look, this statue is missing its nose too!”

Find some activities
My son loves the Prehistoric Europe room at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum because there’s a little bow and arrow you can shoot at cardboard deer. Any time we go into the Ashmolean we have to go to that room first. He also likes looking at the coin of the Roman emperor who has the same name he does.
Some museums are more entertaining than others. The St. Petersburg Toy Museum in Russia, pictured here courtesy Wikimedia Commons, is a safe bet. Another good one is the Pitt-Rivers in Oxford, with cases packed with strange statues and shrunken heads, and drawers you can open up. The museum is dimly lit and they give you flashlights so you can wander around like explorers.

Don’t overdo it
Most adults begin to flag after a couple of hours staring at paintings and mummies, so you can’t expect Junior to keep on going. In fact, a study of museum fatigue suggests it starts setting in within the first hour! Get a snack at the museum cafe, find a nearby park so they can run around, or simply cut your visit short and come back later.

Don’t skip the gift shop
My wife objects to this tip. She says children shouldn’t expect to be rewarded just for behaving. She’s half right. While they shouldn’t expect an overt reward like a present, some sort of award is in order. A trip to the gift shop can be fun and release some pent-up energy. The lights are brighter, you can talk at normal volume, and there are lots of cool widgets to play with. Have them pick out a postcard for grandma or their friends. A little gift for them is OK every now and then too. Getting some ice cream after the museum is another good call. Mix up the rewards so that they don’t get the mentality “museum=ice cream or museum=new toy.”

What do you do to get your kid to enjoy museums? Share your parenting tips in the comments section!