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Museum Visits With Grandchildren

Fourteen Hints for a Better Museum Experience


Bay Area Children's Museum Grandparents Day

Children's Museums offer lots of hands-on activities.

Photo © Bay Area Children's Museum
Photo © Stockfoundry / Dreamstime

Paleontology exhibits are popular with many children.

Photo © Stockfoundry / Dreamstime
Allow grandchildren to make their own artistic creations out of assorted craft items.

Museums cater to children's creativity.

Photo © S. Adcox

Ancient artifacts, priceless treasures, animal exhibits — what’s not to love about a museum? Sometimes there are crowds, and visits can also be budget-busters. Also, becoming overtired can be a problem for grandchildren and for grandparents as well. Here are some hints to get the most out of museum visits with grandchildren.

Choose your museum.
A children's museum is an obvious choice, but most museums have something to interest children. Choose a location that matches your grandchildren's ages and interests. Toddlers and preschoolers as well as older children will enjoy a good children's museum. School-age children should be ready to short visits to art museums and museums of natural science or natural history. If you like offbeat destinations, look for smaller, more unusual museums.

Choose a day less crowded.
You might think that a school day is your best bet for beating the crowds, but it’s not necessarily so. You may have to contend with large groups of children on school field trips. Because school groups have to stay together, they can clog up exhibits more than family groups. Early in the school year, there will be fewer school visitors. Weekends, holidays and spring break are usually busy. Weekdays during the summer can be a good bet.

Go early or late.
Find out the museum hours, and be there when the doors open. Even though everyone knows that the crowds get worse as the day goes on, most people don’t manage to show up early. Be there, and you’ll have a couple of peaceful hours. Evenings can work as well.

Don’t take too many grandchildren.
One child per adult is optimal. Two small children per adult is the upper limit if you want to enjoy the trip, unless you are especially talented at handling your grandchildren. If there are exhibits that you are interested in experiencing fully, it may be wise to schedule a separate trip.

Visit the museum website to plan your trip.
Although there is something to be said for serendipity, generally you’ll be better off with a plan. You won’t be able to see everything, so prioritize what you think the grandchildren will be most interested in.

Analyze admission prices.
Many of the tried-and-true methods for saving money on admissions work for museums, too. For example, check out membership deals. If you live nearby and will be making multiple visits, joining can save you money. Many museums have free or reduced admission days or evenings. Check the Internet for discounted tickets and other money-saving offers. One big way to save money is to opt for the regular exhibits and omit the special exhibits and the IMAX.

Plan ahead and save on food and drinks.
Use the water fountains when you get thirsty. Collapsible cups can be tucked in a bag if the grandkids have trouble with water fountains. Packing a picnic lunch can save on food. Many museums are located in parks or park-like settings, and a picnic can be a pleasant addition to the visit as well as a cost-cutting measure.

Decide whether you want to be a shutterbug.
Museums have differing policies about photography. Check the policy before you go. Even if the one you are visiting allows photography, museums present difficult photography venues, with many spots of low lighting and lots of glass to reflect flashes. Sometimes it’s wiser just to enjoy the trip instead of worrying about photo ops. Think about buying a souvenir book in the gift shop instead.

Reduce baggage.
Besides deciding whether you want to carry a camera, reduce other baggage as well. Strollers are nice for infants and toddlers. If you bring strollers for older preschoolers, you’ll probably end up pushing an empty stroller while the children ambulate on their own. Also, strollers can be a hindrance because you can’t take them up stairs or escalators, and they can’t be taken into all exhibits.

Underschedule rather than overschedule.
Many museums require that you buy separate tickets for different attractions. It’s tempting when buying tickets to opt for several exhibits or activities. It’s wiser to buy tickets for a couple of things and go back for more tickets if you have the time and energy. It’s better than dragging tired grandchildren through one more exhibit because you already bought the tickets.

Schedule breaks.
Spend an hour on your feet, then plan to sit down for lunch or a movie. Lots of museums have IMAX movies that will give you almost an hour of rest, although they will also lighten your pocketbook.

Have a gift shop strategy.
If you can’t afford a trip to the gift shop, tell the grandchildren ahead of time. If you do plan a trip to the gift shop, let the kids know what your price limit is, and stick to it. About the timing of the gift shop visit, there are two schools of thought. One says to schedule the gift shop last so that you don’t have to carry the goodies with you. One says to do it first so that the grandkids aren’t focused on that during their visit. Another benefit to doing it first is that later the grandkids may be tired and less capable of listening to reason where expenditures are concerned.

Cultivate the proper attitude.
You’ll have a better time with your grandchildren if you hang a bit loose. If the grandkids want to take off on a tangent or spend fifteen minutes in one spot, let them. If they focus on the gift shop or the concessions, they’re just being kids. Don’t let them be bratty or spoil the experience for others, but be prepared to be flexible.

Start leaving before everyone is exhausted.
If you wait until you are tired to leave, you still have to get to the car and drive home. It’s wise to start while you and the grandkids still have a little energy in reserve. Overstaying leads to temper tantrums and crankiness that can cast a pall on an otherwise good trip. Leave a bit early, and tell yourself that you are just saving something for next time. Then be sure there is a next time, because grandchildren shouldn't miss out on the magic of museums.

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