Family Trip to Europe

How to “Do” the Museums : Tips for Grandparents and Parents on Making Museums Fun for Kids

written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH, Oct 24, 2009

London: British Museum Treasure Hunt is Family Fun, Image by Jon Wisbey

The museums in Paris, London and Rome are fabulous. So are the cathedrals. But kids often get bored. Here are some strategies for making museums fun on family vacations.

“Museum-itis”— feeling sick and tired of being in a museum— may be an occupational hazard of traveling to any European city with children and teenagers. The churches and cathedrals are breathtaking. And there’s so much to see in, say, the Louvre in Paris, London’s British Museum, and Rome’s Vatican Museum. For the sake of family peace and a great vacation, it’s helpful to have a museum strategy for family trips abroad. (The tips below are meant for children and grandchildren, but can be adapted for a spouse or traveling companion.)

  • Let the Kids Take ChargeToby Tannenbaum, Assistant Director for Education at Los Angeles’ Getty Museum of Art, has good advice for parents and grandparents. She says, “You can pique children’s curiosity about their museum visit by doing a little research online before the visit. Plan out logistics for the day, but let kids take the lead in the galleries and see where it takes you!” For instance, see the British Museum online children’s site, or learn about how the Louvre was once a palace.
  • Set a Time Limit for Art Museum Visits — Museums can wear parents and grandparents out, too. Limit the time allotted for a family trip to a museum. Give it 90 minutes to two hours. Stick to the limit.
  • Don’t Be Greedy Relax and concentrate on a few pieces of interest. Don’t feel pressured to see all the famous works of art in Paris. Children’s visual literary will improve just by looking at the images and sequences of famous paintings and sculpture.
  • Go to a Children’s Museum, or a “Weird and Whacky” MuseumTo whet a child or grandchild’s appetite for museum-going, think like a child. What would you prefer to do, visit the British Museum or an interactive science museum? Every major city has either a children’s museum, science museum, or doll or sport museum.

Taking Young Children to Museums and Historic Churches Abroad: Take Care of Basic Business

Early-bird travelers know the advantages of getting to a popular museum jut before it opens. For instance, the lines are shorter than at mid-morning (when tour buses arrive) and once inside, visitors can wander in relative peace and quiet. But don’t skimp on basics. Whether in Topeka or Toulouse, breakfast is still the most important meal of the day (and that applies to kids, parents and grandparents, too).

  • Take Care of Basic NeedsMake sure the children have eaten, used the bathroom and had a drink before starting out on a museum tour or visit to a cathedral or historic church. Bring along healthy snacks and bottled water, too.
  • Take a RestSit down and enjoy the museum’s environment, discuss what the family has seen, people-watch, or write post cards.

Whether Rome, Paris or London, Make the Family Museum Trip Abroad Fun and Interactive

  • Make the museum visit as interactive as possible Familiar games such as “I Spy” “encourage closer looking,” says Tannenbaum. “Look for animals, shapes, or tell stories about the works of art or artifacts,” she suggests.
  • Use the Museum’s Resources See what the museum’s information booth has to offer. Ask if age-appropriate children’s guides are available. Inquire about any tours or interactive exhibits. Or, pick up a brochure with pictures of that museum’s most famous objects or artworks and make a game of finding those pieces.
  • Come Equipped with Sketch Pads and PencilsTake some time to sketch a favorite painting.
  • Be Prepared for Conversation with the ChildWhile at the museum or historic church, parents and grandparents can help children relate to the artwork by stimulating conversation and asking questions. For instance: How much do you think this sculpture weighs? Would you like to take this home with you? What’s your favorite color in this painting? Would you have painted this picture differently? If something is of particular interest, pursue it later by further research on the Internet or at the library. For instance, go online for an interactive family tour of the Louvre.

In other words, to bring the museum to life, parents and grandparents have to make it interactive.

Parents and grandparents traveling with children to Europe can have fun going to museums, cathedrals and historic churches. Vacations with family members— parents or grandparents, small children, pre-teens, or teenagers — presents unique challenges. The keys to successful family visits to museums and cathedrals are: come prepared; set limits so people don’t get cranky, and be ready to engage with a limited number of works of art through advance reading and on-the-spot conversation, or even sketching.