Museum Manners – Ten Tips

We visited an art museum last weekend. Visiting museums, whether they be art, natural history, children’s – whatever, is a foundational method to expose children to the greater world around them. We’ve found museum trips can be a lifesaver when raising a gifted child as they help quench their thirst for new experiences. Tips for visiting museums

Visiting museums can provide so many topics for discussion. Not just on the artwork and exhibits but even the architecture of the museum itself. How can you visit the Guggenheim in New York and not talk about Frank Lloyd Wright? Or the Guggenheim Bilbao and not discuss Frank Gehry? That one’s on my bucket list of museums to visit.

One recent conversation was about the philanthropy that has traditionally supported so many of the great art museums. If you had the money to make a substantial donation to support the arts, would you? Or would you choose to support another worthy cause, say education or healthcare?

Personally, I’m a fan of the way the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works out these decisions.

As we wandered the galleries there was an amazing lack of manners and common courtesy shown by fellow museum goers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the kids who were acting inappropriately.

I know I sound like a grumpy old(ish) woman but there would be some serious repercussions if my child behaved the way some of our fellow patrons were acting. Yep, I’m that mom.

My guess is it’s because they’ve never learned what’s appropriate and what’s not. Probably lots of reasons for this but one I keep coming back to is the lack of field trips in elementary schools.

I know there are plenty of school districts that schedule meaningful field trips but the one we’re in isn’t one of them. We’re in a moderately rural district that isn’t well-funded. Pretty sure this district isn’t so unique in that regard.

This year the only field trip scheduled for my daughter’s class is to the local roller-rink. Now, I’m all for a good time with classmates (despite the grumpy old(ish) woman thing) but I think it’s a shame that students aren’t getting those rite of passage experiences that school field trips should provide.

I know you can hear my frustration. Is there a frustrated font? It probably looks like that sarcastic font I know we’re all dying for.

Who knows what inspiration a child may get from gazing on a Matisse or Mondrian? They’ll never know until they get to go and have the time to enjoy the experience.

I firmly believe that everyone should enjoy our museums. Not just those who are up on Miss Manners. But please, let’s all follow some basic rules of civilized society so we might all enjoy the experience.

Museum Etiquette Tips

  1. It’s a museum, not a playground. Unless, of course, it’s a children’s museum then it probably is a playground. But I’m talking about museums that hold priceless works of art or irreplaceable artifacts. These places are not playgrounds even though those long galleries make foot races incredibly tempting. Just say no.
  2. Don’t over pack. Seriously, leave the backpacks in the car. Most museums won’t allow them and they’ll be checked. You really don’t want to knock something over because of an overloaded backpack. Hmm…I wonder how maybe the Venus de Milo lost her arms.
  3. Eat the snacks before you get there. Lots of reasons for this, like no one wants to see or smell your burritos. Or see your Diet Coke spilled on the Picasso. Did you just get mustard on a Van Gogh? You see where I’m going. Not to mention the trash and crumbs that would be generated and that could mean vermin. Yuck.
  4. You don’t have to whisper but it would be so nice if you did. Museums usually have lots of hard surfaces and high ceilings which means sound travels. Yes, you should discuss the art – that’s why we’re all there! Just think of a museum as a library for artworks and use the same tone of voice you would there. Please.
  5. Stay together. I find museums confusing places and routinely get lost even with the help of maps. This is tricky to do when visiting with children but trying to track them down without yelling and running is tougher. See points 2 and 4 above.
  6. No flash photography. More and more museums are relaxing the rules on photography since the proliferation of smartphones with cameras. However, flash photography is still considered a no-no. Over time all those flashes can diminish the vibrancy of colors in the paintings. Not good.
  7. Most museums will allow you to sketch if you’re so inclined. Sometimes this is limited to certain days or times or particular galleries. One common caveat though is that sketching is only allowed in pencil. Not ink, markers, or paints. Makes sense.
  8. Plot your visit in advance. Talk with your children and have them involved on the front end. They’ll be more interested if they have a say in the itinerary. Allow for plenty of just ‘wandering’ time but doing research can give them something to look forward to. Part of learning to appreciate art is learning the back story and symbolism. Help them learn why a certain piece of work is significant.
  9. Different museums have different rules. I haven’t checked them all but all the ones I have looked at have visitor policies available online. Check them out before you head out the door.
  10. Be respectful. Good tip for just about anything. Be cognizant of fellow patrons and don’t ‘hog’ a work of art. Let someone else get close to see it. Practice common courtesy and you’ll be good. Always.

Full disclosure: the picture is of my daughter a few years ago at Crystal Bridges Museum. She spent more time reading about the artwork than looking at the artwork. Oh well.

What are your favorite museum experiences?

The Activity Gap and Gifted Students

A recent article in The Atlantic, The Activity Gap, struck a nerve with me and got me thinking. The article is about how kids living in poverty are at a disadvantage from not being able to access the enrichment opportunities. I believe and agree with this.

What the article doesn’t mention but what I also believe, is that gifted children living in poverty are doubly disadvantaged and this is also an issue for consideration. Activity gap and gifted children

One of the only ways to break the cycle of poverty is through education. When you’re poor a good education is a tough thing to come by let alone the enrichment programs that give you a competitive advantage. I’m sure there are lots of studies to document this but I’m not referencing them. I know this is true because I’ve seen it first hand as a volunteer in the elementary school on the ‘wrong’ side of town.

Nope, it wasn’t helping gifted students. It was helping 1st graders learn to read. Most, not all, of our gifted kids are reading chapter books by the time they get to 1st grade. The kids I was working with were struggling with sight words.

If you want to see what poverty-stricken students go through, spend some time helping teachers in an inner city school. I promise you they’ll welcome any help you can offer. I promise you an experience you won’t forget.

When schools struggle to provide just the basics tools of instruction, like current textbooks – don’t even think about tablets and laptops, the idea of after-school enrichment programs is nothing but a fairy tale. Yes, maybe they offer some sports but probably no much else for those students not athletically inclined.

Forget about it if you’re looking for chess club or a debate team.

Giftedness does not, contrary to the belief of some, occur only in affluent families.

So what happens to the gifted children in these schools? Where they don’t have access to an academic environment that meets their intellectual needs nor do they have potentially life-changing enrichment opportunities?

Their lives don’t get changed.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to change the trajectory of a life. It could be a teacher who actually sees a student, a class that sparks the imagination and ignites a passion, or maybe it’s a field trip to Harvard.

The recent story of Mont Hall Bridges Academy (grab the tissues) is an example of an educator fighting to give her students life-changing experiences.

I don’t know how many gifted students attend the school but I’m willing to bet they’re there. Probably not identified and probably feeling a little hopeless.

Imagine you’re 12 years old, you know you’re ‘smart’ but you don’t feel like you fit at school. Then you get to visit Harvard and all of a sudden you realize there’s a path – your future isn’t fixed. There are possibilities. It gives me chills thinking about it.

We’ve recently moved to a rural county and the enrichment programs that we’ve come to rely on to supplement school (because my daughter needs *more*) are nowhere to be found.

I take that back, they are to be found about an hour away. That might as well mean the moon on some days.

Thankfully, we have options. No field trip to Harvard but we’ve got options.

One of the reasons we have options is because we have high-speed internet and computers at home. Sounds like a small thing to many of us but I’m realizing in some communities that’s still a luxury. Because of this we can take advantage of things like Khan Academy. Heck, even being able to Google anything and everything whenever we want.

We have flexible schedules so we can spend hours in the car driving o weekend math classes, academic competitions, and museums.

We can take advantage of free or low-cost programs like the talent searches and Davidson Young Scholars because we know about them.

We’re still benefitting from our previous school district that was gifted friendly. We’re finding our tribe online.

We feel lucky. We are lucky.

But the gifted students who aren’t able to avail themselves of the opportunities that are out there are already behind. They simply don’t know the possibilities and sadly those responsible for their care and education probably don’t either.

I feel for all children living in poverty but the gifted kids in that situation – I feel just a teeny bit more for them.


There Is Crying in T-Ball

There is crying in T-ballI know, I know; not all gifted kids are bookworms. Many are out there kicking soccer balls on Saturday, shooting hoops in the driveway, or turning cartwheels until their head spins. When I knew I was going to have a daughter I thought my weekends for the next several years would be filled with dance recitals and volleyball games. Ha!

The kids in our family are into sports. A lot of sports. So when my daughter turned three we signed her up for t-ball which was the only sport I could find for kids her age.

I know most little girls do gymnastics (at least in my neck of the woods) but I have what some have called an irrational fear of her breaking her neck that sport. But I did cave in and she took gymnastics for three weeks and that’s how we found out she has irrational fear of being upside down. And that took care of that.


Her birthday was in March and t-ball practice started in April so she was a very young player. We’d been to plenty of her cousin’s games so she was excited about playing until she saw the team shirts were blue – the horror! Pink was a big part of our lives back then. We supplemented the uniform with a pair of pink Chuck Taylor’s, pink ribbon for the ponytail and a pink batting helmet. She was definitely a three year old girly girl.

The first (and only) practice was exactly what I imagined it would be. The field was on a hill in a small, rural community. No one around except the inexperienced team, a capable and patient coach, anxious parents, and a bunch of cows grazing nearby. Very Norman Rockwellesque.

The kids learned how to catch the ball, which way to run the bases, and how to hit. Expectations for a t-ball team of three-year olds are thankfully pretty low.

Safety First

All you really need to know about the first year of t-ball was at my daughter’s first at bat she looked totally prepared. Her hot-pink batting helmet (it was huge, think Rick Moranis in Space Balls and she wore it the entire game), her stance was strong and her game face was tough. Just as she was ready to swing she she dropped the bat and ran screaming and crying, “Mom, I need more sunscreen!” That’s my girl.

She went on to play t-ball for 3 seasons but that first one was a doozy. There were tears at each and every game that first year.  I can’t tell you what they were for but she never wanted to quit. I think tears are just part of the landscape at that age.

The second season there were no tears (except one time the game got rained out) and she made friends. That was a huge win. Those games were the absolute best 45 minutes of the week that summer.

By the third season you could definitely tell which kids had natural athleticism and which didn’t. It became evident that t-ball and all thoughts of future softball games were going the way of gymnastics.

Lessons Learned

  • You’re never too young to be a part of a team
  • Tears are normal for three-year old girls (Right, please tell me I’m right!)
  • Good t-ball coaches are precious and I’m grateful for them
  • My kid would much rather read about sports than play them
  • Pink really does go with everything

I will always be grateful that I was able to see her be a part of her first team.

What was your child’s first experience with sports like?