5 kid-tested ways to explore a museum exhibition (without touching)

Museum educator Sarah Erdman makes your next museum visit with the family just a little more fun with tips on how to boost interactivity when a "no touching" policy is in effect.

I've blogged before about strategies I use to make hands-off museum exhibitions more engaging for my students and my own toddler. I wrote about making observation active, asking your kid "visual thinking" questions, "theme-ing" your visit around a fun topic, and letting your kid be the tour guide. The response from readers? "Be more specific!"

Here are five kid-approved ways you can interact with different objects… without touching them!

A 1965 Ford Mustang on display in the museum lobby
A 1965 Ford Mustang on display in the museum lobby

Car

  • Find all of the shapes and colors on the car. Hubcaps alone make this a fun challenge.
  • Compare and contrast this car to other cars (or even different types of vehicles). What is the same? What is different?
  • Make up a story about who owned the car. Can you find any information about who REALLY owned the car in the text panels?
  • Plan a trip! Where would you take this car? Does it have special features for certain terrain? What would you need? Maybe your kids can sketch out a road map.
  • Pretend to drive the car through the museums (beeping noises are a-OK). Can you find any other cars in the museum?
Food on display in "FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000"
Food on display in "FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000"

Food

  • Go on a letter hunt! Can you find the whole alphabet? Can you find the letters to spell your name?
  • Is there anything you recognize? Can you describe how it tastes?
  • Is there anything you DON'T recognize? How do you find out about it?
  • Imagine eating a bite. Which food looks like it would be sweetest or the most salty? Which might be crunchy and which might be more smooth?
  • What is your favorite recipe? Does it use any of the food or tools you see in the exhibition? How do you make it? You can even pretend to make it together in the exhibition.
  • Bring a favorite book about food to share together near the display.
Carol Channing's dress from "Hello Dolly!"
Carol Channing's dress from "Hello Dolly!"

Clothing

  • Describe the clothes. What colors are there? What do you think it would feel like if you could touch it?
  • Who did it belong to? How do we know? When did they wear it?
  • How would YOU act if you were wearing it? Which outfit might be best for dancing, working, or going on an adventure?
  • If you are looking at more then one outfit, which one do you like and why?
  • What clothes that YOU own do you think should be in a museum? Why?
  • What type of shoes might you wear with this outfit? What type of hat?
Dentures from the mid-1800s in the museum's collection
Dentures from the mid-1800s in the museum's collection

All-purpose strategies for a variety of objects

  • Scavenger Hunt: You can look for colors, shapes, letters, numbers, animals, faces... anything you can think of!
  • What is your favorite/least favorite thing you've seen? Why?
  • Pretend you were creating a new museum. What five objects would YOU put in it?
  • Can you make up a story about an object?
  • Can you move or pose like that object?
  • If the object could talk, what would its voice sound like?
  • What do you think these objects might smell like? 

Sarah Erdman is the Goldman Sachs Fellow for Early Learning at the museum and the founder of Cabinet of Curiosities. She has also blogged about the best things to pack for a museum trip with kids and how to handle tough topics in museum exhibitions with kids. She also recommends the museum's Our Story activities, including the newest one on money matters

Note: Wegmans Wonderplace opened December 9, 2015. It's the first exhibition on the National Mall designed for children 0 to 6. This 1,700-square-foot experience provides the youngest historians with age-appropriate activities and experiences.