Taking young children to a museum or historical site can be a wonderful way to combine family time and learning time. Our experts gave us a few strategies that parents and caregivers can use to engage kids during their visit.
Before your visit:
Wendy Petrie, museum experiences supervisor at the WG Harding Presidential Sites, recommends prepping children before your visit. “I always did that with my students when I was in the classroom as well as with my own children,” she says. “They’re able to make connections and show more interest when they’re prepared.” Katie Nowack, manager of Ohio History Center programs, agrees: “It just helps kids when they have context to what they’re doing.”
Depending on their age, this could be as simple as talking about where you’re going and what they’ll be seeing. If your kids are a little older, you could get some books at the library or visit the website of the museum. Kevin Lydy, the education specialist at the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center, recommends calling the museum or historic site to see if they have any kid-friendly programming, like a scavenger hunt or a special kids tour, that you can take advantage of while you’re there. “I don’t think I’ve ever been to a museum that didn’t have something to engage kids with,” he says.
During your visit:
When you get to the site, be sure to be present with your kids. When they see you showing interest in the site, they will too. With young kids, a game of “I Spy” can be a fun way to get them engaged, suggests Nowack. “Once kids guess the correct item, you can talk more about it, what it does and where it came from,” she says.
For older kids, ask them what they think an object might be. “When looking at historical objects, children can brainstorm what the object might be, what it was used for, is it still around today, and if not, what replaced it,” says Petrie. Nowack adds, “Kids are super capable of making connections to past and present, and you might be surprised at the really insightful things they say!”
As Michael Fouts, public programs coordinator at the Ohio History Center, reminds us: “For young kids it’s not about learning the historical facts, but more about imagining and piecing together things that make sense to them.”
Consider letting your kids take photos of what interests them. Or give them a challenge to take pictures of specific items. And if the site has a gift shop, allowing them to buy a postcard or two is an inexpensive and fun way to remember your trip.
After your visit:
Hadley Drodge, a curator at the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center, says, “Don’t let the learning stop once you walk out of the museum. Museums should serve as a launch pad for learning.” She suggests encouraging kids to do some follow up research and keep asking questions. Lydy says he likes to continue the learning with his own family by finding a documentary, movie or TV series that covers the subject matter: “We like to be able to pause the show and comment on it. With so many streaming services, families are bound to come across topics that they’ve seen in the museum they’ve visited.”
Petrie recommends using photos and postcards from your trip for some post-visit activities. “Make a mini scrapbook together and caption the photos,” she suggests. “Send the postcards they picked out to a family member or friend to give your kids an opportunity to do a short retelling and work on writing skills.” As an added bonus, these activities give you a peek into your kiddos’ brains and show you what they found interesting about your visit. And if you keep the scrapbooks, they can be fun to look back on when your kids are older!
With an Ohio History Connection membership, it’s easy to plan family trips to museums and historic sites! Visit ohiohistory.org/join for more details and to join today!