By Janice O’Donnell, Executive Director, Providence Children’s Museum
Do you like kids’ movies – the ones with great animation, a good story and a little adult-level humor mixed in? How about really well-written children’s books with beautiful illustrations? Me too. How much do you like them when you’re watching them for a fourth time or reading them for the tenth – this month?
Just as with a movie or book, we adults can get bored visiting the children’s museum or zoo long before kids do. A recent national study surveyed over 8,400 adults who visit children’s museums frequently. The typical respondent was a 30-something, college-educated mother of a child or children under 6. Why does this mom go to the museum so often? She does it for the kids. She knows the kids love it and it’s good for them. But she’s not having much fun herself. Oh dear. Children’s museums are meant to be fun and engaging for the whole family. We know it’s our job to come up with better ways – activities, signage, staffing, seating – to engage adults so they’re having fun too, but visitors can make some changes themselves.
Here are some tips for those conscientious but bored parents taking their kids to children’s museums – and also to the zoo or the playground or even on a walk or bike ride.
Look through your child’s eyes. It’s fascinating to find out what she’s drawn to, what she’s learning, how she feels about the experience. You can learn a lot about your child by carefully observing and listening to her. Does she do the same activity over and over until she has it mastered? What perseverance! Does he charm adults and connect with other kids? Great social skills! Does she silently watch what other kids do and then try it herself? Good learning strategy! Even if the museum or playground isn’t that interesting, your kid sure is.
Follow your child’s lead. The best times I’ve shared with my kids and grandkids are when I let go of any agenda and followed their whims, whether on a ramble through woodland paths or a visit to a museum or zoo. It’s less important to see or do everything on offer than to share a good experience. Enjoy some leisurely time with the giraffes. Or if your kid is the type who needs to quickly dart through everything before settling into a particular activity, that’s fine too. Go with the flow – it’s so much easier not to be tour director.
Join in the fun. I think sometimes grown-ups forget that it’s okay for us to play. It’s not just okay, it’s good for you and an important way to interact with your children. So play! Take a role in her pretend scenario. If she’s a unicorn galloping along, become a horse and challenge the unicorn to a race. If he’s intent on engineering a series of dams and streams in the water, roll up your sleeves and get involved (just don’t take over).
Have a little fun of your own. Parallel play is not just for toddlers. Your child is building an elaborate block structure or fairy house. Sit down nearby and build one of your own. Share building strategies and stories about what you’re making. Or go ahead and get engrossed in something you like to do while your child is busy doing her own thing somewhere nearby. At our museum, we love to see adults happily constructing polyhedra at the shape table while the kids are off playing with the blocks or trucks.
If you approach your outing with the kids with the idea that it will be a fun shared experience instead of something you’re doing for them, you will probably enjoy yourself. A lot of families, maybe even most, visit Providence Children’s Museum with just that approach and it’s easy to see how much fun they’re having. That makes us happy, but more significantly, they are doing something really important for their families. Parents are learning about their kids and the kids are feeling paid attention to and cared for. Together, they’re creating happy family memories. The American Academy of Pediatrics says play strengthens parent-child relationships, offering “opportunities for parents to fully engage with their children.” On your next visit to the museum or the zoo or the playground – have some fun!
Providence Children’s Museum is the best place for summer fun, inside AND out! Get Out! for hands-on activities in the Children’s Garden on Tuesday afternoons, and climb aboard a different vehicle during Wheels at Work each Wednesday morning. Click here for program details.