New addition to the family and desperate to get out? Why not grab your infant carrier and take your baby to a museum? Museums are quiet, climate controlled, and full of visual stimuli for you and baby to explore. And now, more and more museums are specifically catering to this audience. Our neighbors on the National Mall are becoming more and more family friendly. A great way to find out about family friendly events is to visit the Smithsonian’s event calendar and select the Kids and Family category.
You don’t need a special event to visit with your baby though. Below, you’ll find reasons why we think exploring a museum with your baby is awesome and our suggestions on how to have a successful visit with your youngest family member.
- It’s Quiet
Museums are quiet. Sometimes quieter than your home which will translate to a calm soothing environment for you and baby.
- Brain Stimulation
This is a great place for you both to learn. For adults, you are able to read exhibit labels and increase your visual literacy. For babies, a museum provides an opportunity to receive great visual stimulation from the objects while also learning to adapt to new environments. In addition, they are also building vocabulary as you describe what they are seeing (more details below).
- Lots of Places to Sit
There are usually lots of places for you and baby to sit and take a break. If a museum doesn’t have many benches, they will often provide gallery stools (just ask at reception). Take baby out of the carrier or stroller and find a spot to sit and spend some time looking at the art.
If you live in or near D.C., museums are free. This means you can spend as much or as little time in the museum as you want. There is no need to feel guilty if you only last 20 minutes. Talk about budget friendly!
- Temperature Controlled
The temperature in a museum is always just right. Summers and winters are brutal and often limit a new parent’s ability to organize an outing with their child. Museums offer large temperature-controlled environments for you and baby to shed layers on cold days or to cool down during hot summer weather.
- Food and Coffee
Museums are one stop shops. There is usually a café attached so you don’t have to transition or travel to a new space for a beverage or a meal.
Museums offer lots of space for movement. Babies like to be on the go and museum galleries are great places for a stroll while you both are also actively learning and looking. You could also park the stroller and lay out a blanket to allow baby to get in some tummy time near an exciting object in the gallery. If you are not feeling comfortable doing this in the gallery, try starting in a common space like a courtyard or in the lobby. The National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum have a wonderful space for this type of activity in their sunny covered central lobby.
- Pick the Right Museum
When possible, start by visiting a museum with which you are familiar and comfortable. Being able to navigate the space easily will reduce the stress of taking your baby out on this type of adventure for the first time. Knowing the width of hallways and where the elevators are located will enable you to relax and enjoy exploring this new environment. In addition, it is important to choose a collection that is engaging for both you and your child. A museum of miniatures might be great for a solo adult visit, but would probably be too small for your baby’s field of vision. We recommend galleries with large graphic objects for babies.
- Make it Social
Grab another caregiver to join you on your visit. This will allow your babies to have new social interactions and provide you time to hit a short pause on the baby talk and also enjoy some adult conversations.
- Set Up a Timeline
Plan to visit the museum during a time you think you and your child might enjoy it the most. Even if your child ends up sleeping through the whole event, they are still absorbing the environment and learning from that experience.
- Let Go (Babies make sounds, it’s ok!)
While museums prefer that sound is kept to a level that allows all patrons enjoy the objects, this does not mean that visitors need to be silent. Patrons and museum staff understand that babies make sounds, and may get upset and cry. It’s ok! Try not to spend the whole time worrying about it. Instead, understand their coos and chirps as part of your ongoing dialogue as you explore the galleries.
- Narrate to Baby
This is a great habit to incorporate throughout your daily routine, but especially in the museum. Babies may not be able to respond with words, but your new baby is listening and picking up language and verbal skills from your dialogue. Since babies’ eyes may not yet be able to see all the sharp details of the objects, it is important to describe the works so you can help them better “visualize” the museum’s collection.
- Bring Hands on Materials
To enable children to develop deeper connections with what they are seeing, bring something along that relates to the object, with which they can interact. For example, if you are going to a natural history museum bring along some faux fur or snake skin so that they can touch these materials while observing the creatures in the animal hall. This allows the object to come “out from behind the glass” and interact with the child.
- Attend a Baby Museum Class
Not ready to head out on your own? Try joining a baby in museum program at a local museum. If you’re in D.C., check out SEEC’s Bring Your Own Baby infant program: here . During this guided visit you’ll join other families with new babies and explore the galleries with an engaging and supportive educator. By the end you’ll feel excited and empowered to take independent museum explorations with your baby!