As a SmartMom to a toddler, you learn two things very quickly – the importance of being prepared and the importance of being flexible. When you’ve got a toddler who is smack dab in the midst of the explosive season of mayhem that we moms call the “terrible twos” (or ones…or threes), just the thought of going to a quiet, respectable establishment like a museum might induce a full-blown panic attack. You can picture it so clearly – entering the museum, walking your toddler to the end of the hall and then trying to figure out an escape route when the inevitable screaming meltdown occurs. For this reason, many moms don’t take their toddlers to museums at all. But museums for toddlers can be both fun and educational!
If you swear off museums at this stage in your child’s life, your little one is really missing out on what could be a great experience. There is no reason why even the strongest willed of toddlers shouldn’t be able to handle an educational day (or hour) at a fun museum. You just need to make sure you are prepared and flexible.
Here are some tips to consider before planning your trip…
Research the museum you want to visit before going. Check out the website. You might not want to bring your screaming-prone monster-child (whom you love so dearly) to a ritzy art museum, full of not-so-tasteful nudes, with a strict no-photos, no-talking, no-strollers policy. So, look into your options. Visit websites, make phone calls, ask questions and make sure the museum you’ll be visiting is kid friendly.
Consider the cost of admission. There are many museums out there that allow kids to visit for free, or they might have certain days or the week where kids can get in at a cheaper rate. This is something to look into, especially if your toddler is the type who might require you to make a quick getaway.
Make a list, with your child, of things to find. Toddlers are much more manageable when they are given structure. To make the trip more enjoyable (for everyone involved), visit the museum’s website and make a list, with your toddler, of things they can look for and pick out. Like I said before, preparation is key. Keep those little minds busy. Another great idea for this is to visit the gift shop first – have your little one pick out a few postcards with specific exhibits or art pieces on them. Then, search the museum for them!
Consider a children’s museum. There’s no reason your toddler can’t enjoy an art or history museum with you, but if this is your first time taking them to a museum setting, you might want to shoot for a museum tailored toward their age and interests.
Have a purse full of distractions on hand. If you want your toddler to act like the mature and perfectly behaved child he or she isn’t, have some distractions ready. Toddlers are no fun when they’re hungry, so pack some snacks in your purse. Have your child’s favorite toy ready too. Little back up tools like that can make all the difference.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. You’ve probably heard jokes about tourists trying to do the Louvre in an hour (think National Lampoon’s European Vacation). There is no reason to rush through a museum when you’ve got a toddler in tow. There’s really no reason to get through it in a day, even. Go slow. Let your kid enjoy all the new sights and learn everything they can.
Know when to call it a day. If you opt for a children’s museum, fussing and fidgeting is expected there. You’ll get more sympathetic smiles than you will sneers and pointing fingers. Plus, children’s museums are full of distractions and fun that can probably help you get your little handful calmed down. But, if you’re at an adult museum, and your kid starts screaming and tearing the place apart, there is no shame in calling it a day. Letting your kid “cry it out” in art gallery isn’t the most considerate strategy. Lay down the law when you’re outside or at home, but if you’re not in a setting that is conducive to the screams and punches all that goes along with toddler insanity, leaving the premises does not make you a bad parent and it doesn’t mean that you’re caving.
All the “terrible twos” talk aside, toddlers are so much fun. They are old enough to enjoy and appreciate new experiences in a way that will make you excited about life all over again. They really are the perfect age to enjoy the splendor and newness that a museum has to offer. So, just get your strategy together. It doesn’t have to be a daunting, scary experiment if you’ve got a plan. And, if the worst happens and they have a museum-induced melt-down, you can let your flexibility kick in and opt to try again another day.