In Italy, nearly 40% of museums curate special initiatives and programs for young visitors. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, more than half of the country’s minors had been to a museum. These visits saw a significant decline over the next two years due to Covid-19, but recent trends indicate a rebound (Istat data processed by openpolis – Con i bambini).
So, the situation is improving, but there’s room for better engagement, particularly given the array of benefits that museum visits offer young people.
Here, we’ll explore the key advantages and offer some advice to make your trip to the museum even more rewarding for both you and the younger attendees.
7 good reasons for bringing kids to museums
The Tebaide by Beato Angelico, housed at the Uffizi since September 2019, has been displayed at a child-friendly height of 65 centimeters within an anti-reflective and shatterproof glass case. This may seem like an unusual choice given that the panel measures just 75 cm in height and spans 207 cm in width. However, it becomes clear why when you learn that this piece is the favorite among young visitors to the Galleria degli Uffizi each year. Captivated by its almost storybook quality, children stand mesmerized before it. To enhance the viewing experience for their younger audience, the museum lowered the Tebaide to their eye level.
This thoughtful decision underscores the value that children hold for the museum. The Uffiziregularly hosts a variety of events specifically for children, reinforcing the notion that bringing children and adolescents to museums isn’t just good – it’s exceptional, for at least 7 good reasons.
1. Museums amplify learning with tangible experiences
Museums represent a world of wonder for children, a stark contrast to familiar settings like home or school.
Within their walls, young visitors encounter a trove of artifacts and objects, often unfamiliar, set against the backdrop of a culture or historical period. This tangible environment, often enriched by interactive exhibits and educational workshops, encourages learning through direct engagement with physical objects.
As we acknowledge that today’s youth are growing ever more entrenched in a digital, hyperconnected world, where swiping through information on a screen has become second nature, the value of hands-on, sensory experiences cannot be overstated. While digital advancements offer significant benefits, the tactile, “analog” experience – “digital” in the sense of fingers touching – continues to be a critical component of developmental growth. Museums, with their diverse collections ranging from historical artifacts to lifelike dioramas and masterful art, serve as a vital gateway to the tangible reality that surrounds us.
2. Prime early learning of concepts and facts
The adage that children are akin to sponges, absorbing information effortlessly, is especially true in the setting of a museum. Immersed in an environment rich with stories and knowledge, children demonstrate their remarkable capacity to internalize diverse information – often grasping complex concepts even before they are introduced to them in school, which proves invaluable for their future education.
Research conducted in 2012 by Mary Ellen Munley for the Smithsonian Institution’s Early Learning Collaborative Network and the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC) supports that “early exposure to the arts, history, and science plays a pivotal role in shaping a child’s identity and establishes a solid groundwork for ongoing, multifaceted learning in both academic settings and everyday life”.
Moreover, the learning acquired in museums comes with an added benefit: credibility. The knowledge imparted to children and adolescents within these institutions is curated by experts, ensuring its accuracy. Consequently, parents and educators can trust that museum experiences are not only enriching but also dependable sources of learning.
3. Foster personal interests and critical thinking
A museum visit provides a unique platform for self-directed exploration within the framework of established guidelines. While visitors can adhere to suggested paths and interpretive signs, they are equally free to meander according to their whims, drawn by sheer curiosity from one exhibit to the next. Such experiences are fertile ground for cultivating personal interests as individuals discover and make connections within the collections.
Moreover, museums present children with a space where they can engage in comparison and critical evaluation of objects and concepts. This process aids in nurturing a deeper critical awareness and the ability to pursue additional questions and investigations, setting the foundations for lifelong inquisitive and analytical skills.
4. Spark curiosity and fuel creativity
Museum visits are a dance of discovery, leading young explorers from one exhibit to another, from paintings to sculptures to historical artifacts. This journey naturally encourages visitors to pursue their individual passions, be it a particular subject, artistic technique, or creator.
While not all will choose a career in the arts, the exposure to diverse graphic styles, narrative forms, and practical designs serves as a wellspring of inspiration. This immersion builds a bank of creative stimuli that can be applied across various fields and life situations.
The museum, therefore, stands as an antidote to boredom and passive consumption. It is a dynamic playground where imagination and creativity are honed, not only through structured educational workshops provided by the institution but also by the efforts of teachers and parents fostering this growth.
5. Enhance focus and communication skills
The question posed by a BBC article a few years back was pointed: “How can a distracted generation learn anything?”. The article focused on the difficulty young people have in concentrating due to the continuous stimuli they are subjected to – and accustomed to – by apps and streaming platforms. One of the interviewees suggested breaking up lessons into several parts and, in a sense, this is exactly what happens inside a museum: inserted in a broader context, each artwork offers a partial point of view from which to isolate and draw particular information. Moreover, by inviting the little ones to talk about what struck them the most and to express themselves freely, their communicative abilities and their spirit of observation will be facilitated.
However, avoiding distractions does not mean demonizing technology: there are several museums that propose multimedia paths to accompany and enrich the visit on-site or at home through tools that are familiar to children and adolescents.An example? The Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Firenze, which has recently developed an app (MAF 360), dedicated to the virtual visit of its interiors and the study of the artifacts it houses, accessible from any smartphone.
6. Foster civic awareness and cultural identity
Museums play a significant role in cultivating both a sense of community and a broader global consciousness from a historical and cultural standpoint. The artworks on display serve as concrete links to a collective history, encompassing the evolution of ideas, ideologies, beliefs, customs, and traditions. They stand as witnesses to the progress of human thought and endeavor, representing a legacy that is both intangible and palpable, and worthy of preservation.
Close encounters with such heritage can profoundly influence the social development of young people, instilling in them an appreciation for the importance of safeguarding cultural memories. By participating actively in the life of museums – through regular visits and engagement – they contribute to the enduring legacy of our shared human story.
7. Provide quality family time
Let’s not deny it: bringing children to museums offers a delightful break from the everyday grind and serves as an excellent alternative to outdoor activities, especially during vacations. Museums are not just a refuge from inclement weather – complete with amenities such as restrooms, cafes, and gift shops – they also provide precious opportunities for families to bond. Whether marveling at world-famous masterpieces or inspecting lesser-known relics, from celebrated artists’ creations to simple domestic tools, from exotic animals to mythical depictions, there’s joy to be found in the minutiae. The museum is a veritable treasure trove of wondrous items awaiting discovery by visitors young and old.
But what’s the best way to approach a museum visit with energetic youngsters or toddlers in tow?
Organizing a museum visit with children: tips and strategies
Crafting the perfect museum outing with youngsters doesn’t come with a universal blueprint, particularly if it’s their inaugural visit.
Acclimatizing children to the museum environment from an early age can foster comfort with these cultural spaces and nurture their inquisitive minds as they mature.
While there’s no definitive guide on the optimal time to introduce children to the museum, several strategies can enhance the experience for all involved.
Here are some tips:
- Plan ahead: a little preparation can go a long way. Before your visit, take some time to explore what the museum offers and sketch a basic route. This is crucial to avoid unnecessary fatigue and frustration. Remember, children’s attention spans and endurance levels are not like ours, so plan with their limits in mind;
- Involve the kids: approach the museum visit as an adventure, not a chore. Engage your children’s curiosity by previewing what you’ll see, perhaps through pictures or stories. During the visit, cater to their interests, answer their questions thoughtfully, and listen to their impressions. Afterwards, reinforce the experience with a thematic book or a keepsake;
- Timing and comfort: mornings are often when children are most alert and receptive. Avoid disrupting their routines, such as nap times, and always pack essentials like water and snacks to keep them refreshed, especially in larger galleries which can be exhaustive.
- Discuss museum etiquette beforehand: kids’ excitement might translate into raised voices or the temptation to dash about. Explain the importance of being considerate of others and respecting the space. Also, clarify rules about not touching exhibits or crossing certain boundaries to prevent any alarms or admonishment from staff.
With some foresight, a dash of spontaneity, and an eagerness to engage collectively, a museum visit can be a delightful experience.
Art appreciation can start at any age – why not cultivate it early?