The sun is not yet up as my three-year-old runs into my room. He hands me Little Bear and Marshall to give me the false hope that this morning he might actually fall back to asleep then climbs up into the bed and takes over my pillow before bouncing up and down. “What we doing today, Mommy?”

I look up at him and admit defeat.

“I was thinking we could go to the museum.”

“Yay!” He hops back off the bed and b-lines for the door. “Ready!” he calls as he bounds down the stairs.

When I first had a child I was pretty nervous about taking him to art galleries or museums or anything that involved walking around the halls and staring at exhibits. But I loved going to them and I didn’t want to give that up.

Now that I’m two kids and countless museum and art gallery trips in, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned to make the experience enjoyable for everyone.

1. Be Prepared
My son is usually happy to run out the door in his pajamas, but I like to take some time to get ready so we can set ourselves up for a good day.

For example, I pack a lot of snacks. My boys get hungry after running or crawling through the exhibits. Food isn’t usually allowed in most museums, so if we’re at, for example, Royal BC Museum (RBCM), we take advantage of the café area. We like to break for food twice: once right when we arrive, and then again after we’ve explored, in this case, the second floor of the RBCM.

We also take some time to go over the ground rules, like no yelling, being careful with the exhibits they’re allowed to touch, and sticking together as a group.
Finally, I take a few moments to plan our route when we get there. When we’re at RBCM, we have to tour the second floor where we make sure to visit my eldest son’s buddy, the Woolly Mammoth. After that we head downstairs for our second snack, and then we finish off our visit with the third floor.

2. Go When It’s Quieter
It’s not always possible, but if you can, try to go when it’s a bit quieter. It’s easier to keep track of roaming children when there are less people milling about. You also won’t have to worry about feeling like your children are being disruptive and ruining someone else’s enjoyment of the museum, and anything that prevents extra mom guilt is a plus.

3. Tour at a Toddler’s Pace
You will be exploring the museum at a toddler’s pace, so plan to be there a while (hence all the snacks). But that doesn’t mean they’ll toddle slowly from one place to the next letting you read every sign you pass. Sometimes they will stop when there are things to play with, but other times they’ll simply rush from one thing to the next.

Side note, if you actually do want to read something or look closely at one exhibit that your kids have decided isn’t worth their time, remind your children that they agreed to stay close to you. Just remember to stay close to them if they want to spend more time than you would like in a different exhibit.

4. Don’t Outstay Your Welcome
Sometimes, it’s just not a good day to be there. The last time we went my youngest did not nap on my back like I hoped he would, and he desperately needed a nap. We were also with a small group of other toddlers and preschoolers and we knew we were quickly approaching their naptime too, which meant no amount of snacks would stop the crying once it started. So we hurried through the last exhibit to get them out and on the way home before the tears began to fall.

It might not always be the perfect experience you’re hoping for, but it probably won’t be the horror story you’re imagining either. Just remember, with a bit of prep work you really can enjoy a trip to the museum with your young children. So the next time they wake you up far too early to ask what you’re doing that day, why not say “I was thinking we could go to the museum”?

Christina Van Starkenburg is a freelance writer and mother of two young boys. You can read about their adventures at thebookandbaby.com.