Top tips for exploring museums with children
Thinking of adding Plus Kids to a National Art Pass membership? Here, author and museum enthusiast Mary Richards shares her top tips for visiting museums with children, from studying striking works of art to making memories you won’t forget.
Museums have so much on offer for children, and memories made in museums can last a lifetime. In every collection there are intriguing objects and dramatic works of art, and lots of venues offer inspiring spaces to ignite young minds.
If you're planning a trip with little art lovers, why not add Plus Kids to a National Art Pass for just £15, so children in your family can enjoy the same entry benefits as you.
Not sure where to visit first? Below Mary Richards, author of the book Take Me to Museums: The Young Explorer's Guide to Every Museum in the World (2019), shares some top tips on visiting museums with children.
Mary’s guide to visiting museums with children
Even today, I remember visiting my local museum as a child – The Wilson in Cheltenham – and can still picture many of the objects I saw there, from the rather terrifying statue of a chimney sweep that towered over a gallery door, to the thick fur suit and snow boots of polar explorer Edward Wilson.
I’ve continued visiting museums and galleries all my life; I’ve worked at two (the Hayward Gallery and Tate); and as well as writing books about art and creativity, I’ve given workshops and gallery tours. Here are a few thoughts on how to make visiting museums a great experience for kids!
What’s inside a museum?
It’s not one-size-fits-all when it comes to museums. They can be bright, white spaces displaying paintings and sculpture like Hastings Contemporary, or rooms bursting with intriguing objects from science and nature like the Science Museum or Nature in Art.
Their collections may focus on a particular subject or theme, like the Postal Museum; the history of a place, like the Brickworks in Hampshire, or the story of someone’s life, like the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
Some museums have exciting temporary installations, outdoor works and interactive displays that children can touch or handle. It’s great to introduce kids to different types of museums and think about: what are they for? How do images, objects or other artefacts end up in museums? What are your favourite museums to visit?
It’s often useful to find out a little about the museum you’re visiting in advance of your visit. On the website, explore the museum’s history, its building or collection. Are there particular works you’d like to see? There may also be special events on that day, or activities to book ahead of time.
Ask the children what they’re learning about at school – you might find pictures or objects that coincide with school topics, like the Victorians or the Romans. For some excellent period museums give Newport Roman Villa and Time and Tide Museum a try, while the V&A offers a unique insight into the Victorian era.
Focus on individual works
When you arrive at the museum, if you don’t already have a plan, follow your instincts and focus on the first object or display that catches your eye. You don’t have to give children too much direction – let them explore for themselves.
If you stop in front of an object or work of art, you can encourage them to consider who created it and when. What does it look like – and how does it make them feel? Talk about its colour, texture and shape. Perhaps they can try drawing it.
In a room full of many works, why not try asking someone in your group to describe one of them, while everyone else tries to guess which piece they’re talking about.
It’s not just the collection you’ve come to see. Encourage children to think about the building, too. Is it brand new, like V&A Dundee, or centuries old, like Cardiff Castle? How can they tell the difference?
Are there any gardens or outdoor spaces? What else can you observe together? You might want to think about the colour of the walls, particular pieces of furniture or elaborate staircases – a great staircase to discover is the Tulip Staircase at the Queen’s House, Greenwich.
Remember to explore the places right under your nose, such as the floor below your feet or the ceiling above your head – the glass roof that covers the British Museum is a spectacular example.
Record your museum adventure by taking pictures of your favourite works of art, or get creative and draw them yourselves! Kids can draw what they see and make notes to help you remember the trip. You might even want to record how you travelled to the museum, what you ate for lunch and what you talked about on the way home.
Don’t worry about seeing everything at once
Just because the museum has many rooms and separate spaces, you don’t have to visit them all in one trip. Sometimes, spending time in front of just two or three works of art is enough. Everyone on the trip can enjoy looking really carefully.
Do it again!
It’s great to visit the same museum twice. Children enjoy seeing familiar spaces and places. You can talk together about what’s changed (or not) since the last visit, and make sure to seek out something new each time.
The more you see, the more we do.
The National Art Pass lets you enjoy free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, while raising money to support them.