Tips for visiting a museum with kids: Don't arrive empty-handed
For grown-ups, part of the fear of visiting a museum is what are you going to DO with the kids the whole time. Looking at objects can only engage youngsters for so long. Instead, overcome the intimidation factor of museums and remember they're a space for YOU. That means you can bring things with you to make the experience interesting and comfortable for your family.
Stick a few surprises in your bag for when you get to the museum. Think ahead to what you are going to see and tie in some special things from your kids' lives. It will make what they are looking at in the museum come alive in a big way. Here are a few ideas to help this museum really "speak" to your kids.
A huge favorite for the youngest visitors is America on the Move. What's not to love? There is every type of transportation possible and it is full of things you can climb inside and peer into. Near the front of the exhibit is a recreation of the first cross-country car trip in 1903, and here you get to meet Bud the Dog who was along for the ride. Throughout the exhibit you can see little notes from Bud, just look for the paw prints!
So, what could be more perfect to tie these things together then the book Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman? You can pick it up as a hardcover, paperback, board book, or even on your e-reader. The 1961 classic is a quick, rhyming read with funny illustrations. Early readers would probably be able to tackle some of the pages themselves!
Read through it before you go to the museum to get your family excited about what they are going to see. If you have a bit of a drive/Metro ride to get here, it can help pass some of the time. Then, when you are in the exhibition, find a comfy nook and revisit the book. Note that off-hours and off-seasons can be the best times to find a quiet space. (Tuesdays are the lowest visitation days at many Smithsonian museums, for example.)
After your kids have become experts on the book, they can use it as their "guide" in the exhibit. The dogs use a variety of things to "go" in the book; how many can you find? Are there any that are missing? Do any of the dogs look like Bud?
If you are really feeling crafty you can take pictures of your kids next to their favorite objects in the museum. Putting these in a small photo album when you get home will let them create their own "Go" book, which will be a hit and a great way to remember your trip!
Of course, this is just a starting point. If your kid has a favorite transportation book (my son is currently obsessed with Trucks by Roger Priddy), then you could use that as your jumping off point instead!
You can also print this family guide (PDF) to America on the Move, which includes hands-on activities paired with sections of the exhibition or select a fun, book-related activity from the museum's Our Story resources.
Sarah Erdman is the Goldman Sachs Fellow for Early Learning at the museum and the founder of Cabinet of Curiosities.
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.