Museums are awesome places to visit in general, but children’s museums come with the added bonus of actually inviting children to touch and feel, interact and make noise as they do. Children’s museums are heaven to children, who are naturally curious, learn by touching and are excited about new and interesting things.
Children’s museums invite children to enter into creative play—the work of childhood. Kenneth Ginsburg wrote in Pediatrics, the Journal of the American Pediatrics Association, “Play is so important to child development that it has been recognized as a right of every child.” He was referring to a decision reached by the United States Commission on Human Rights. He goes on to say, “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strength.” And because we live in the D.C. metro area, we have several local options.
Here are seven reasons to take the entire family to a children’s museum:
1. They welcome people of all ages. Many have exhibits and spaces especially for babies and toddlers. They also plan experiences for older children and the grown-ups who accompany them. No one leaves without having fun.
2. Children’s museums are designed for all manner of learning styles and encourage the kinesthetic learner who needs to touch and feel. Visuals abound providing information or directions for trying a certain experiment. There are ample opportunities to listen to stories, poems or to watch and listen to dramatic presentations.
3. Children’s museums are not prone to rigid rules. Basic safety guidelines are set in place and then children are free to “have a go.” Noise levels may climb, but smiles and laughter abound.
4. The exhibits, experiments and activities designed for children’s museums are reflective of diverse cultures. You and your children may engage in authentic festivals from around the world or create a piece of folk art. Museums are places to encounter things never before seen or experienced.
5. Open-ended experiments allow children to grasp basic principles using unique interactive methods. The hands-on activities prompt questions and answers leading to a free and natural style of learning.
6. Activities invite parents and other adults to engage with their children during the playtimes. Adults are free to ask leading questions that engage children in learning in many areas of study—math, science, art, literature and more.
7. The interactive style of a hands-on museum encourages creative play. Whether the child is pretend shopping in a grocery store, visiting a play dentist’s office or building a tower with blocks, he is imagining as he goes and she is acting out a storyline. This dramatic play is essential to social, emotional and cognitive growth and can be lacking today in our increasingly technological world.
Just as your children never tire of playing outdoors, they won’t be satisfied with just one trip to the magic that is a children’s museum. Why not plan a visit soon?
When You Plan a Trip to a Children’s Museum:
Do your research. Hop onto the website for your local children’s museum. Check out the exhibits that are permanent, those that change from time to time and what the upcoming highlights might be. Note the times for presentations such as story times, dramatic presentations, art projects, music-making experiences and the like.
It’s child-directed. In general, allow your children to play where they’re having a great time. Take them to the story hour, but allow free-range play in the other exhibits. They may choose quality over quantity. It’s not about seeing everything.
It’s open-ended. Remember that play in a children’s museum is open-ended. You might ask questions as your child plays, such as “What do you expect to see when…?” or “Why do you think…?”
After the visit. Take time for reflection on your experiences after visiting the museum. “What was your favorite exhibit?” or “I wonder if we could do that marble experiment at home?” Extend the learning where possible.
Extensions. Take their cues for future play experiences and even the gifts you might purchase for your child based on their favorite experiences at the museum. What captured their imagination and how could you encourage further learning in that area? Did they love the interactive rhythm instruments? Why not purchase a set, or work as a family to make some rhythm instruments for use at home?
Children’s Museums in the DMV
- Explore! Children’s Museum of Washington, D.C.
- Chesapeake Children’s Museum, Annapolis, MD
- KID Museum, Bethesda, MD
- Port Discovery Children’s Museum, Baltimore, MD
- Children’s Science Center Lab, Fairfax, VA
- Discovery Junction Children’s Museum, Bristow, VA
Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find Jan at janpierce.net.