Family days out — especially with young children — are often some of most uplifting, happy, and life-affirming experiences the world has to offer. You get to spend time with your loved ones, laughing, learning, and bonding, while as a parent also enjoying the privilege of watching your children stare in wide-eyed wonder as they learn something new about the world.
Not all family days out confer the same benefits, however. While you might take your kids along with you to the shops to look for Montgomery curtains, it’s unclear that the experience will be quite so memorable (even if you end up walking away with a great pair of curtains).
One of the classic destinations for a family day out is the local museum, and there are many good reasons why you should seriously consider taking your kids on a museum visit in the near future.
Here are a few of those reasons.
Museums offer a chance for vivid, physical learning while still engaging the imagination
Children are, as a rule, quite tactile and adventurous in terms of how they interact with, and learn about, the world at large. While children’s books and TV shows can be useful for conveying interesting facts and deepening their understanding of various topics, there’s just no substitute for taking them out into the wider world to look at things directly.
A museum, as it so happens, is pretty much the ideal place to take your child to look at interesting things, directly. Here they can see everything from ancient Egyptian sarcophagi, to commercial aeroplanes, to high-powered astronomical telescopes, and the skeletons of prehistoric creatures, depending on which museum you happen to be visiting that day.
This kind of environment allows your child to experience the world, and “learning”, head-on, in a way that has the power to engage their minds and encourage their natural sense of wonder and awe.
At the same time, museums don’t “complete” the whole experience for your child in the same way that a high-budget documentary on TV might. In a museum, a child can see preserved dinosaur bones, and look at to-scale, and even animatronic models of dinosaurs, but they won’t have the Jurassic period played out to them for an hour in vivid HD 3D detail.
This means that your child’s imagination will come into play in a way that it perhaps wouldn’t at other times.
This combination; of making a learning experience vivid and “real” in the present, while also encouraging imaginative engagement, is, arguably, a speciality of museums in general.
Museums allow your child to discover new interests and deepen existing ones
Many museums — even some of those on the more moderate end of the size scale — will be packed full of artifacts, materials, and information, to the point where it could be difficult, if not impossible, to see all the exhibits in a single day trip, never mind get to the bottom of what’s going on in each.
A museum visit can be a great opportunity for your child to discover new interests and to nurture and deepen existing ones. This, in turn, can open the door to you, as a parent, encouraging that interest back home in an academic sense, and buying them books and toys related to it.
As new experiences and in-depth learning have been suggested by neuroscientists to be intimately connected with the development of the brain and the enhancement of various mental functions — particularly in childhood — the more you’re able to encourage and supplement your child’s natural curiosity, the better.
It may well be that your child is keen on visiting the museum because they really want to see the woolly mammoth display, but, while visiting, develop a deep interest in astronomy, or the lives and behaviours of whales, or any number of other things.
In fact, one of the best ways of identifying areas of interest to your child, is to expose them to as many different fields and areas of potential interest as possible. A museum, by its very nature, is ideally designed to facilitate this.
Museum visits can be an exciting departure from the ordinary
Museums can be something quite similar to time-travelling experiences, allowing us to venture back into the distant past to check up on how things were, or (in a museum, or exhibit more focused on technology and the course of scientific development) into the future, to see how things might one day be.
Although museums may be established and conventional cultural institutions in most societies today, they still offer us a chance to experience the world in a radically different way, and to completely challenge our thinking on certain topics. The world we inhabit on a daily basis contains things like cars, skyscrapers, and computers.
A museum, by contrast, may contain fossilised and wondrous creatures we could scarcely have imagined, models and descriptions of planets light-years away, and cultural relics from the other side of the world.
Museum visits, in other words, can be an exciting departure from the world of the ordinary, and can give your child a brilliant opportunity to experience a sense of true wonder at the history, complexity, and possibilities of the world. This, in turn, can radically increase the gratitude they feel at their present state of affairs, and deepen their desire to explore and map out the further mysteries of the world, such as they are.
When we depart from the ordinary world for a time, we are often faced with potentially life-changing opportunities for awe and reflection. This, in turn, can make the whole world feel brighter, more exciting, and more filled with opportunity and potential than before.