No More Meltdowns: How to Take Kids to Museums and Zoo

As parents, we know the value of educational outings to the zoo, art and science museums, botanical gardens and cultural venues: they help us really see things, stimulate the brain and encourage creativity, create memories and help children place their growing experiences in context. But how do you take kids on outings and have no more meltdowns?

Do What You, the Parent, Love:

If you don't really enjoy zoos, it's going to be hard to impart a love of it (you can try to fake it for a while if your child really has an interest in something you that you don't). But if you're truly a culture vulture and you need need your fill of say. impressionism, to give you a sense of well-bring, it's easy to show off what you love. When you're happy to be somewhere, your children sense it, which contributes to no more meltdowns. 

Keep Trips Short for No More Meltdowns:

  • Don't even consider a trip of more than 2 hours, especially if there is a lot of walking involved. 
  • If you know you are only going to be somewhere for 1/2 hours, select your most favorite items/animals to see. If you have a toddler, let them choose three animals to see or choose which floor to go to at the museum (if they have been before). 
  • When they're having a good time, don't push it. Let them leave wanting more.
  • Penny-wise; if the venue costs a bit and a short trip seems wasteful, find what days are free for children or consider purchasing a membership.

See Things form a Child's Eye;

  • Make your trip child-friendly. Think about what it's like to be young. Literally put. yourself at your child's level. What can they see? Left them up, take them to places that engage them, find the hands-on section of the museum or the totally child-friendly museum. 
  • At the sculpture garden at Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), kids can run around and photography is completely allowed. If your kids like to pose or even photobomb, that's a blast.
  • If you know the site well, you can create your own scavenger hunt (find as many lizards as you can; how many images in the French gallery have a boat in them etc).

Packing for No More Meltdowns:

  • What are the food rules? Lots of places don't allow food and drinks, so be prepared to take a snack break and look at the cafe menu to be sure it will meet your needs.
  • If you're  allowed, bring along their favorite easy to store and eat snacks and drinks. Eat them a the halfway point.
  • If you have a little baby or toddlers, consider carrying the in a sling, particularly if there are restrictions on strollers where you are going.
  • Leave teddy bear in the car. If your children use transitional objects, it would be a disaster to lose "monkey" in some huge complex. A reunion with blank in the care on the way home is far better plan.

Walk, Stroll, Run!!

What's the best way for your child to see the attractions? It depends. Having a stroller (if allowed) gives you a place to stow your stuff and lets your children in and out to walk when they want. Your own stroller might be the best bet (plus it's free), but sometimes the retail strollers are a fun treat. Be wary of wagons. They have no protection from the sun and are much harder to pull than it is to push a stroller. But for very short jaunts and when you need to schlep coolers, they might be the best bet. You might need to hit the gym ahead of time to build up those arm muscles!

Extending the Lesson..

There are great books and movies that help kids learn more about what they have seen, things that really interest them. Here is a short list for multiple ages:

How the Sphinx Got to the Museum by Jessie Harland. She also has books that explain how the dinosaur and meteorite got to the museum.

Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman is a lovely bedtime book, where the zookeeper and the gorilla visit all the animals to put them to bed.

Zoo by Gail Givvons show the behind the scenes view of the zoos, what zookeepers do and how a zoo is managed.

James Meyhew has a series of books about Kaire, including Katie Meets the Impressionsists.

"Night at the Museum" is a super fun film, featuring the Field Museum in Chicago for the first movie and the Smithsonian for the second one. Too thrilling for little, little ones, but great for elementary ages.

From the Mixed up Files of Basil by E.Frankweiler is a  mystery story by E.L Kongisburg that takes place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The book is now 50 years old but still a favorite of 4th graders everywhere.