Taking young kids to museums should be a no-brainer when you live in a major metropolitan area like DC. As a former New Yorker, I know how lucky were are here in DC to have access to so many wonderful free museums. In New York, several prominent museums have $25 admission prices! But I often see visitors racing through museums with their kids without really pausing or taking in a particular exhibit. Museums aren’t theme parks. You shouldn’t feel pressured to see and do everything in one day, especially if you live nearby.

Did you know the Smithsonian has an in-house preschool called the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC)? Until recently I had no idea the Smithsonian housed an early childhood program that admits mostly the children of Smithsonian staff members but also children from the surrounding areas (find out more about enrollment). SEEC invited The DC Moms to check out the new Puppetry in America case at the American History Museum and to discuss ways that parents can really make the most of taking their young children to the museum on a regular basis.

Museum visit

Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center Executive Director Dr. Kim Kiehl was kind enough to share some important concepts and tips for families:

1. Multiple exposure: Young children learn best by repeatedly being exposed to an idea or theme, so if you plan ahead, you can prepare kids for what they’re going to see before you even step foot in the museum. Then after you go home, you can also reinforce what
2. Careful looking: This means staying at one exhibit for a longer period of time instead of spreading your visit too thin by trying to see *everything.* A child will retain more and be infinitely more engaged if you spend time really, really looking at an exhibit. It doesn’t matter how long everyone around you is zipping through an area. Take your time and ask your kids questions!
3. Linking and connections: Little kids need to make connections between what they’re seeing and their lives/knowledge base. So if you’re looking at the Snap, Crackle and Pop puppets, talk about cereal, Rice Krispie Treats, and how the puppets used to be a prize for people who ate the cereal. You can even look up the old commercial jingle!
4. Technology: There’s nothing wrong with using technology in a museum IF you are doing it to further the museum experience. That doesn’t mean texting or talking on the phone, but it can mean looking up an artist’s other works at other museums or an extended bio or more facts about a piece of art or exhibit.

SEEC offerers programs for young children that are open to anyone who wants to register. Here’s an upcoming one:
What Does It Mean? 
Saturdays, April 26—May 17, 2014
10—12pm 3.5—6 years
From portrait to landscape, children discover art through it’s many forms and meanings.
Register by April 25