Guest post by Chelsea
November 22, 2011

When many people think of visiting a museum with small children, they imagine either dragging reluctant kids through dark, dusty hallways, or chasing after them, desperately trying to keep their hands off of the exhibits. I have been met with more than a few skeptical and surprised looks when I have told people that one of my favourite places in Calgary to go with young children is the Glenbow Museum.

The Glenbow Museum is anything but a musty room of exhibits mounted behind glass cases. Our momstown moms and kids have taken two field trips there in the past month, and each time, both the kids and moms have had a wonderful time. Where else can your little ones walk through a replica of a turn of the century railway car, complete with train noises and changing views of the Rocky Mountains on television screen “windows”, then sit at the counter of a 1950’s diner and pretend to order a $0.25 grilled cheese sandwich? We loved climbing up and down and “walking along the balance beam” on sets of risers set up by an indoor oil dereck, while walking past a gallery of glowing mid-century modern neon signs.

Crawling inside a full sized indoor tee-pee build under a night sky filled with stars was pretty special too,

Glenbow Museum-tips for visiting museums with kids

and how often do you get the chance to see a life-sized antique airplane hanging from the ceiling?

Glenbow Museum tips for visiting museums with kids

There is space to run in the galleries, and hundreds of little things to explore at a toddler’s level, from boxes with lids that you can lift off to discover different specimens in plants inside, to sensory areas where you can choose different scents to smell, to “telephones” to call mom or dad on:

Glenbow Museum tips for visiting museums with kids

It is incredible to discover the museum through the eyes of child. Nothing compares to hearing the “oh wows”, or seeing the look of wonder in their eyes as the site of something they have never been exposed to before, and the incredible part is that it is equally educational and interesting for adults.

Here are my top seven tips for visiting a museum with children:

  1. Choose a museum that has at least some interactive exhibits.
  2. Don’t try to see the whole museum on one trip. Expect to just visit a few galleries each time.
  3. Find out about the exhibits in advance (the museum’s website is usually a great source of information, or you can even call), so that you are aware of any areas or displays that may be disturbing or inappropriate for small children.
  4. Select a museum that features at least one area or exhibit that is of special interest to your children (e.g. a train). If your children are old enough, prepare for the visit by reading books or doing crafts based on that subject.
  5. Bring a variety of snacks, and prepare to take breaks to eat them. Many museums do not allow food in the galleries, but have wonderful lobbies or cafeterias that you can quickly visit when your little ones are hungry.
  6. Abandon your expectations about what you plan to get from the visit. Rather than expecting to have a lot of time to read each of the exhibit cards, enjoy the experience of learning through the eyes of your child.
  7. If something sparks your child’s imagination at the museum (for example, at teepee), then follow up with that activity at home. Build a blanket teepee with your toddler, take out picture books on aboriginal culture to engage your preschooler, or construct popsicle stick teepees with your school aged child.

I have been pleasantly surprised by how child friendly many museums are today. If you are hesitating, take the risk and go. You just may find a favourite new field trip location too.