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Taking children to museums and gallerys


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The idea of visiting a museum with small children might seem like a bad idea on the face of it. The thought of being shushed at, disapproved of and generally made to feel like interlopers can be too much to bear. But why should art lovers and museophiles, who are also parents, have to give up their cultural fix? Especially when regular gallery visits at a young age might encourage a lifelong love of all things arts and heritage in your offspring.

So how best to manage it without getting thrown out, or causing irreparable damage either to an exhibit or your sanity?

Choose carefully

Some institutions are far more welcoming of the younger generation than others. A bastion of old-school reverence for objets d’art to be appreciated only in silence, is probably not your best bet with breast-feeding babe-in-arms or rowdy toddler in tow. So do your research – ask other parents for recommendations and check out the museum’s website for their child-friendliness. Some, like Eureka!, are designed especially with children in mind; but even if your chosen gallery is adult-focused, if it has special trails and activities for kids, and a children’s menu in the cafe, then you stand a better chance of a friendly welcome and a fun visit.

It helps to have an idea of the layout and exhibits on offer, so you know before you arrive which bits you most want to share with your children. That way you’ll keep their interest, and won’t exhaust yourself or them. And make sure you book ahead for activities where needed, to avoid a wasted trip.

Know the rules

children at galleriesChildren’s behaviour in museums gets a bad press – climbing on exhibits, eating in galleries, nappy changing on display cases, you get the idea. But children won’t know the boundaries unless you tell them. Be sure you know the rules before you visit (and trust that they exist for good reason, not just to inconvenience you), and you’ll know which are bona-fide hands-on experiences and which exhibits are absolutely not for touching!

Think about time of day

Think about your child’s patterns of energy and activity during the day. If you’re travelling to a gallery, then choose one that has some outside space so they can run around before you go inside. If they’re likely to have a sleep while you’re out and about, then make the most of their naptime by seeing the exhibits you’re most interested in (or a quiet sit down with a cup of tea).

Be realistic

It pays to be realistic about what your child (and you) will get out of a museum visit. Faced with a roomful of Classical nude statuary, they’re not going to appreciate its historical importance or the sculptors’ artistry – they’re much more likely to run around shouting ‘look, I can see his willy!’ (True story, sigh!) It’s up to you to gauge how appropriate this is in the venue (and how amused or po-faced your fellow visitors are), then pick your time to high-tail it to the cafe. Sometimes you just have to bail.

There are plenty of great museums for kids, many free to visit, which can be ideal for a day trip especially on a rainy day. The best ones for culture-vulture-parents, like the current winners of the Telegraph Family Friendly Museum Awards – the Horniman Museum and Gardens in South London, and Brixham Heritage Museum in Devon – are those that recognise why and how families visit, have clearly signposted etiquette, events and facilities, and actually invite us to enter their hallowed halls.






About Alison McKay

About Alison McKay

Alison McKay is a charity PR professional with over 15 years' experience in full-time, part-time and jobshare roles. Since being made redundant while on maternity leave, she has divided her time between working for a local museum, freelance and volunteer writing, and being chief wrangler to a two-year-old mud-magnet and an almost-seven-year-old wannabe dog-care worker with a penchant for hair accessories. Alison's hobbies include yoga, reading cookery books and putting away just enough clean laundry to keep the pile below 3ft tall.

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