KnowNYC At a Glance

4 Tips for Taking Kids to NYC Museums


For more on NYC museums and city in general see our At a Glance section.

Family Events at the MET MuseumNYC museums are nearly as plentiful as taxis. Visiting at least a few is a must for visitors, but taking kids, especially little ones, into these quiet halls of art and design can seem intimidating.

Here are four tips for how to prepare kids for a museum visit and make the most of it for them and you. Of course, these tips work in other cities, too.

Get Ready

Good: Do research on the museum and choose two to four exhibits to visit.
Better: Find books that speak to these exhibits.
kids book: Linnea in Monet's gardenWhy: You’ve noticed that children find new things fascination…for about 20 minutes. Then they want to go play If you try to see everything in a large museum in one day, everyone will wind up cranky.
How: Once you have a sense of what type of art and which artists you might be seeing, head to the library and look for some books that will give you a preview. For example, try Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Björk and Lena Anderson or the Mini Masters series by by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober. Then check out the impressionists at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Gallery 818) or the Museum of Modern Art.

For slightly older kids try the excellent Exploring the Solar System: A History with 22 Activities by Mary Kay Carson. Then head to the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History.

Note: The Met and Natural History museums are included in the New York City CityPass.

Have Fun

Good: Make a game out of your visit.
Better
: Play games before to prepare kids and after to reinforce what they saw.
The AMNH Explorer GuideWhy: Children love learning if they are having fun and sharing with you at the same time.
How:
The Museum of the City of New York is one of several museums that offer a free scavenger hunt when you arrive. The Museum of Natural History sells an Explorer Guide both online and at the museum. It has a scavenger hunt to do while you’re there as well as puzzles and a board game for before and after.

We also like flashcards that have a work of art on one side and information about the artist on the other, such as Famous Paintings Cards. Making up stories about what is going on the painting or sculpture is another way to engage kids on a trip to the Met or MOMA.

Do Your Own Art

Good: Use arts and crafts at home to let kids explore new concepts.
Better: Look for museums that let kids get hands with classes and tours.
Why: Kids learn by doing. It makes what would otherwise be an abstract learning experience personal and relatable.
How: Build a castle out of Legos, make royal jewelry and crowns out of paper, or design your own felt tapestry after exploring real medieval building, tombs, art, jewelry and unicorn tapestries at The Cloisters.

creating art at the Museum of art and DesignOr peer into an open studio where artists are working at the Museum of Arts and Design. Then go home and see if your kids can make their own colorful collages or Play-Do pots in styles the artists inspire.

For hands-on time at the museums, try MOMA’s family gallery talks and workshops, the Met’s Art Treks, and the Morgan Library’s family activities, which change with the exhibits.

Have Manners

Good: Prepare your kids for a visit by discussing museum behavior: Look but don’t touch, be considerate of others, listen and ask questions, no running or eating.
Better: Give them examples of places where we behave the same way, like the library or school. Practice being loud and quiet on your way to the museum.
Why: It’s not unreasonable for kids to learn that there is a time and a place for everything and some public places, like museums require different behavior than a kids museum or playground. Just make sure that this doesn’t come as a surprise to your kids and that you don’t stay beyond their capacity for this.
NYC museums: Eeyore at NYPLHow: Go early in the day when kids are fresh and crowds are low. Let them know they’ll be running around time after (most NYC museums have a park and playground nearby).The New York Public Library is a great place to practice quiet voices. The building is impressive. Sometimes the exhibits are kid friendly (look for the original Winnie the Puuh and his friends) and the children’s room is fantastic. When they’re tired of all that culture you can let loose in Bryant Park, just behind the building.

Linnea Covington is a writer for New York.com and many other publications.

Fern Michonski has more than 30 years of experience in early childhood education and music. She runs Fern Forest Enterprises, which focuses on developing songs, stories and interactive exercises that teach and entertain children, and she has produced a variety of musical albums and TV shows for kids.

For more ideas on how to visit museums with kids visit New York.com.

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13 Comments

  1. July 8, 2015 at 12:03 am — Reply

    MoMA, American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art were at the top of our list when our family visited NYC last year. My kids loved them!

    There are lots of less famous museums that welcome families too. We recommend the Museum of the Moving Image and the Noguchi Museum in Queens. There are so many good NYC museums to choose from.

    • July 8, 2015 at 2:07 pm — Reply

      Indeed! AMMI and the Queens Museum and the museum of math are all good picks for Families. I don’t actually know Noguchi, but will check it out soon!

  2. July 7, 2015 at 8:28 pm — Reply

    Such great tips. I forgot about bringing art books out in advance or seeing if there’s an interactive activity we should sign up for. Now I’ll be over it. Thanks for the reminder!

    • July 8, 2015 at 2:06 pm — Reply

      i used to be skeptical about the scavenger hunts, but then my daughter hit the right age and she loves them!

  3. July 6, 2015 at 3:40 pm — Reply

    It’s a great idea to take kid to museums early. My three year old daughter usually does pretty good but I do need to be choosy and morning is a must. 🙂

  4. July 6, 2015 at 1:26 pm — Reply

    I love the idea of introducing books related to a museum exhibit. I’d never thought of this but will definitely remember it for future. I love taking my kids to museums; we definitely get round quickly (thanks to my eldest!) but they do enjoy them.

    • July 8, 2015 at 2:05 pm — Reply

      That’s why free days are great. if the kids are done in an hour, you don’t mind.

  5. July 6, 2015 at 10:07 am — Reply

    Great tips! My kids have stopped doing the eye-roll now that they can appreciate museums.

    • July 6, 2015 at 10:44 am — Reply

      I think it’s all about moderation, and what you try to show them, and how “educational” you try to make it.

  6. June 24, 2015 at 4:32 am — Reply

    Eileen, What a great way to expand the learning and really keep the interest up when visiting museums! Great ideas!

    Yay! #wkendtravelinspiration

  7. June 21, 2015 at 1:14 am — Reply

    These are cool ideas. I always like to see kids at museums. I once read a good idea to keep kids interested. If you are visiting an art museum, stop first at the gift shop (or museum store) and buy some post cards featuring the works of art. Then, try to find them all with the kids (similar to the flashcard idea you mentioned).

  8. June 20, 2015 at 10:04 pm — Reply

    Taking kids to the museum doesn’t have to be all boring and just looking at stuff – find the right museum and time and it becomes a great adventure.

  9. June 20, 2015 at 3:26 am — Reply

    Such a good idea to take kids to museums early but to be balanced in organisation as you have. Totally agree about the morning when they are most receptive and awake

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