In part 1 of this Homeschool How-to series, we discussed different ways to incorporate museums into your curriculum, types of museums, and general tips for making the most of museum visits. In this post, we’ll get into ways to maximize learning once you’re actually in front of an object or display. 

Here are three fun learning activities that will get your child interacting with museum exhibits and connecting to the learning at home.

Activity 1: Label a map

When visiting your museum of choice, an easy way to keep track of what you’ve seen is to have your child label a map. You may want to purchase small dot stickers or use Post-it® tape flags, or simply go with pencil. (Many museums won’t allow other art implements.)

Version 1: Use the museum’s map

This can be as simple as grabbing the museum’s visitor map on your way in. As you move from room to room, you can mark your path. If there’s room on the page, your child can add a word or two about what s/he saw, or you can use a separate sticky note. Older kids might want to color code (i.e. blue stickers for Egyptian artifacts, red for Roman). This is a great way to practice map reading while also creating a memory of your visit.

Version 2: Use your curriculum’s blackline masters

Another option is to bring a printout of a map from your curriculum. For example, if visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Egyptian galleries, you might bring a copy of your Egypt outline from home, or a map of Egypt plus its neighbors. If you are using History Odyssey, map outlines are included with your purchase.

If your curriculum doesn’t provide a suitable document, you can find many options online. Bring a composition notebook to lean on, so that you can keep your document flat and avoid leaning on the display or floor. Or, fold it up accordion style.

I recommend using an unmarked copy of your document, rather than taking the original that your child has spent time on. If your child would like to reference the original, snap a photo or make a copy, so that you don’t risk losing or damaging your child’s work during your visit. This also ensures that your child will have plenty of room to add notes and sketches.

Help your child to locate the artifacts or artwork on your map. As you view artifacts, you can locate the place of origin, and add a sticker or note. Your child can sketch the objects directly onto your map, if space permits, or use a separate sticky note or index card if not. If desired, you can purchase postcards of key objects in the gift shop or print public domain photos when you get home, and add these images to your document using string or washi tape.

 

Maps will be particularly helpful if you are:

  • viewing artifacts, specimens, or artwork from many different locales
  • visiting an exhibit organized as a journey from one location to another
  • studying a topic in which geography plays a key role

Activity 2: Label a timeline

Instead of using a map, you may wish to bring along a copy of a timeline. This is a great option if you will be viewing objects that span a long period of time and that tell a story in sequence. Many museums organize their galleries in chronological order, and may even have timelines posted as well.

I recommend bringing a simple outline that your child can draw and write upon, similar to the suggestions for maps above. If you think it would help orient your child, you can put in a few key events on the timeline but leave the rest open to be labeled at the museum.

The time increments on your timeline will depend upon the exhibit that you are viewing. If you are walking the fossil halls of the American Museum of Natural History, your timeline will include about 500 million years! However, a gallery of paintings or a historic house might only require a few decades.

If it’s too much to ask your child to line up drawings with numbers on site, you can have your child draw or write on sticky notes and label them with the appropriate year or era. You can then arrange the stickies on a timeline when you get home. You can also use postcards from the gift shop for this purpose if you would like your child to do other writing or drawing during the visit.

Timelines will be particularly helpful if you are:

  • viewing several galleries of artwork organized by time period (i.e. Medieval and Renaissance paintings)
  • looking at fossils from different eras, such as in a hall of dinosaurs or extinct vertebrates
  • visiting a historic or archaeological site that was inhabited by different groups of people over time
The Pandia Press History Odyssey Timeline is a great visual tool for organizing events in a tangible way. 

Activity 3: Scavenger hunt

This option involves some advance preparation, but it can really pay off! Preparing a scavenger hunt involves pre-selecting artifacts or objects in the museum, and providing your child with a game sheet with questions, clues, or images to help her recognize the items as she finds them. A scavenger hunt can add an element of playfulness to your visit and guide your child to the key objects that you want him to see – argument-free.

Before putting in the time and effort to make your own scavenger hunt from scratch, check to see if the museum provides one! For example, the Met Museum family guides include some great scavenger hunts, including a Percy Jackson-themed one for the Greek galleries!

A good scavenger hunt includes a mix of easier and more difficult items – keep in mind that the rooms may be crowded, so small items in the corner might be hard to spot. Younger children might simply check items off, but children old enough to walk around without holding a parent’s hand should be asked to sketch, answer a question, or write down a keyword. This ensures that they slow down enough to fully examine the object, and prevents the temptation to race off to the next thing.

Examples of scavenger hunt questions
Here are some suggested scavenger hunt questions to get you started. You can customize endlessly, based on the age of your child, the particular museum, and your child’s interests!

Art museum

  • Find paintings for every color of the rainbow
  • Find a work of art from each century
  • Find three paintings/sculptures from the same artist (country, time period, or style)
  • Find depictions of animals, children, buildings, mythological creatures, or food (you can get more specific, if desired)

Historical museum

  • Find three portrait paintings
  • Find a handwritten note or sign
  • Find an artifact from the bedroom (kitchen, farm, etc.)
  • Find an artifact that tells you how rich/poor the owner was
  • Find any three artifacts of interest, and explain what we can learn from each one

Natural history museum

  • Find a living thing (you can specify extinct or current) from each continent
  • Find the oldest item on display in the museum
  • Find three igneous rocks (or metamorphic, sedimentary…)
  • Find three animals that use camouflage, warning coloration, or mimicry
  • Find the animal that shares the most (or least) DNA with humans

Be sure to check out part 2 of this series, Homeschool How-to: Virtual Museum Visits.

About the Author

Lisa is a homeschooling mom, science educator and curriculum developer with classroom experience ranging from pre-K students to 7th grade. After almost 20 years in traditional school settings, Lisa currently works as a curriculum consultant to schools and families. She also teaches weekend, after-school, camp programs, and graduate courses for science teachers at the American Museum of Natural History. Lisa blogs at  Inquiring Minds Homeschool.