I’ve had my fair share of underwhelming experiences trying to organise family days out at museums. Last weekend I think I finally got it right with a great afternoon out at Leeds City Museum! These are my five top tips for making the most of one of these free tourist attractions on our doorstep.
- Make sure it’s age appropriate.
I’ve tried various museums with my youngest child on several occasions and it’s not always been a great success. Museum information boards can be incredibly frustrating for children who are just beginning to learn to read, especially when they ask you to read the display boards out loud, only to find that the language is too grown up for them to understand anyway. The best museum visits I’ve had with pre-schoolers have been ones with lots of dressing up and craft activities that they can get stuck into – like the visitors centre at Kirkstall Abbey. But after a year at primary school during which 5YO’s confidence in reading has really taken off, this visit to Leeds Museum came at just the right time. The Life on Earth gallery on the lower ground floor of the museum has an excellent map on the floor, leading to different animals on display through following the trails around a series of yes/no questions. She absolutely loved working out whether or not her chosen animal had a backbone, or fur, or claws. The questions are written on big easy-to-read signs on the floor, in language that’s just the right level for a 5 to 7 year old to read by themselves.
- Let them take charge
Being able to read the signs and information boards all by herself was a huge confidence boost. We must have spent an nearly an hour discovering each different animal over and over again! Was I bored? Honestly, after we “discovered” the stag beetle for the 4th time, yes! And I would have liked to explore more than just that one gallery. Maybe I’ll go back on my own sometime…
- They need to touch things
Even when children are able to start reading the information boards, looking at stuff and reading about it isn’t going to keep them interested for very long. Again, this is another box ticked by the Life on Earth gallery at Leeds Museum, making it one of my favourite places to go in Leeds with kids. They have a rotating screen showing different landscapes, with a dressing up box next to it to show how animals use camouflage. You can choose a white furry coat and a snowy Arctic background, or a bright green crocodile outfit against the backdrop of an Amazon rainforest. Spinning the screens to change the background was almost as much fun as the dressing up! After this we moved on to digging for fossils – not real ones, obviously, but still good, tactile fun.
- Go with children of the same age – or go alone!
My two girls are six years apart, and frankly trying to take them around any family friendly tourist attractions together has always been hard work. Their level of understanding, and what they’re interested in, is just poles apart. 12YO and I have had some great times indulging our inner history nerds on guided tours while Husband has taken 5YO off to a soft play centre. And this time, it was nice to go round at 5YO’s pace while her big sister was doing something else with her Dad. If you are taking children of different ages to somewhere like a museum, my best tip is to make sure each child has a companion who will go at their pace – whether that’s an adult or a friend of their own age.
- Finish off with cake and ice cream!
There’s nothing worse than the massive queue in the café when you’re all hungry and tired! We timed our visit perfectly – later on a Sunday afternoon (Leeds City Museum is open until 5pm) when not only were all the galleries nice and quiet, but so was the café! We finished off the day with tea and cake for me, and a Strawberry Cornetto for 5YO – perfect.