When I planned a family trip to New York with a three year old and a five year old, I knew that I wanted to include the city’s world class museums in the itinerary. Of course there would be no way to see all of the great museums the city has to offer in one trip, so I decided to stick with the two biggies; the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both of these museums are housed in imposing buildings bordering Central Park which are sights in themselves and they happen to also be two of my favourite museums in the world.
Even though my husband and I had both visited these places several times before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when visiting them with small children. We knew that we had to keep our expectations low and for the most part those expectations were met. But we all had fun, and I have my fingers crossed that the kids may have actually learned something from the experience.
We started with the American Museum of Natural History and did a sort of modified highlights tour, taking in the dinosaurs, the African and American Mammal galleries (AKA the Dead Zoo), and the space exhibits. We did a brief walk through of the other galleries and headed out after about five hours with two very tired and slightly cranky kids.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art we hit the big showy exhibits on the first floor to start, visiting the Egyptian temple, the Tiffany glass fountains, the suits of armour and the Greek statues. After lunch we did a brief wander through the galleries of European paintings, but the kids were starting to flag quickly, so we left after about four hours while the kids were still in a good mood.
So overall, I would call it a success. We didn’t have two little kids studiously wandering the galleries while asking intelligent questions and sketching in little books. (Don’t laugh, I’ve seen little New York kids in their little private preschool uniforms actually doing this.) And we did have a few cries of “My legs are tired. When are we leaving? This is booooring” . But the kids were engaged and enjoying themselves most of the time and that’s probably as much as I can ask at this age.
So what have I learned for next time? Well, with one whole big city museum visiting trip under our belts, this is what I can suggest to others who may be considering it.
1) You can’t see it all
You can’t even see a fraction of it all. I’m really glad that my husband and I have had chances to visit these museums on our own, because we were barely able to scratch the surface with the kids in tow. There was also no way to work through the museum methodically like I usually like to do. Once they spotted something interesting in another room, they were off.
2) If you’re wondering if the kids are done, they probably are.
We stayed at the Natural History Museum for five hours, and they had fun the whole time, but in the last hour the ratio of happy moments to cranky moments began to get worse and worse. At the Met, we left a bit earlier in the day and everyone was a bit happier. We spent the rest of the day playing in Central Park which was a good way to balance out the day.
3) Go early/Avoid the crowds
We got to both museums shortly after opening and the crowds were much better at the beginning of the day and began to build at about noon. The Met was especially nice in the morning because there had been a snowstorm the night before and New York didn’t seem to wake up until after eleven or so. Both the kids and the adults are much happier with a bit of room to move around.
4) Strollers are great
Now I have to say that getting around New York with a stroller is a huge pain in the butt for the most part. My poor husband has carried that stupid thing up and down more stairs and up and over more snow banks than any person should ever have to. But once we got inside it was a huge help. While everyone else was either waiting in a long coat check line or lugging a heavy jacket, we had a basket to throw our coats, hats, gloves and snacks and a place for kids to rest their tired legs wherever we went. I really wonder how long we’ll be able to keep bringing a stroller along with us, more as a large rolling storage locker than a form of kiddie transportation.
5) The museum cafe is your friend
Yes, they’re way overpriced. Yes the quality varies. But nothing perks up tired kids (and parents!) better than a promise of a stop to eat. We had lunch at both museums and although we paid a bit more than we would have for the same meal outside the museum, it was well worth it. And more and more museums have fresh and interesting cafes these days, often in a very nice setting.
So that’s what I’ve learned about visiting museums with kids on this trip. Now if only there were some tips on what to do when your five year old takes a look at a priceless Vermeer and declares “Booooor-ring” to the entire room. Some sort of invisibility cloak perhaps. Oh well, at least I tried.