When I was a family child care provider I was lucky enough to live in the Chicago Metro Area and had a world of museums at my fingertips. I would choose every year to have a different annual membership and we would spend a couple of days every month exploring every nook and cranny of that museum. The next year I would move on to another museum. We spent hours and hours exploring Brookfield Zoo, the Chicago Children’s Museum, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Wonder Works Children’s Museum. It was relatively inexpensive for the annual passes and I could take as many children on the annual pass as I wanted.
Many of you are probably thinking I am crazy! Field trips can be very stressful I know. But, the trick is to not see it as a field trip, but rather as an extension of your learning environment. Having an annual membership that allowed us to visit a couple of times a month meant I was not stressed out about making sure we saw everything in one day. We would often go spend 3 hours just in one or two areas of the museum. There was never any rush. Today some museum policies have changed, you can’t always bring in as many children as you want and the parking (at least in Chicago) can be terribly expensive unless they offer deals for annual pass holders. But, it’s still worth thinking about. Many of you may have local small museums right in your backyard that you don’t even know about. These smaller museums are easier to navigate with young children, cater to smaller groups, and are often really excited you are there. It can be worth inquiring about a membership as a provider if information is not listed.
For example Wonder Works Children’s Museum is in Oak Park, IL, a suburb just outside of Chicago. It has free parking and is small at only 6,400 square feet as compared to the Chicago Children’s Museum at 84,000 square feet. But it packs a lot of fun into its small space. It has six experience areas including art, dramatic play, farm to market, outdoor theme area, construction, and gardening. Children will be happy to spend many days at this small museum and will love returning for things they remember fondly.
Though transporting children can be challenging (and this is especially true if you only venture out once or twice a year), it gets easier once children know the routine and understand why they are doing it. So, don’t judge your outings based on that once a year jaunt to the pumpkin patch. It can be helpful to remind children “If we get settled in the car quickly, we can get to the museum and play sooner.” It is also helpful if the children know where they are going. I know that once I told my children it was a “Wonder Works Day”, they would begin to get excited and talk about what they would do once they got there, which made the transportation process that much easier. Please remember that you must always follow licensing guidelines when transporting children.
So check out the big and small museums in your areas and make them into an extension of your learning environment.