Parents: What Kind of Museum Are You?

Where do you get your parenting tips? Books? Wise friends? How about art museums? Laura Sydel recently reported for NPR on how various museums are engaging or resisting mobile tech. It turns out their methods can be applied to your kids. The question is, which museum are you?

Photo credit: Jeff (Matt) Zhang Photography (MZP) via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Method #1: Let Analogue Trump Digital

The folks at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford don't mind photography, but they openly encourage visitors to set tech aside and engage with the art themselves. How do they do that? They hand out colored pencils and paper.

I can’t draw. But if you’ve ever wandered through a museum with a sketch pad, you know how much closer it brings you to the art. Trying to replicate the lines of a sculpture makes you notice the object in ways you never would otherwise. That’s what the Cantor Arts Center proposes instead of Instagramming your favorite piece. They encourage kids and families alike to really engage with the art.

The Cantor Arts Center style of digital parenting takes consistent engagement and creativity. If you want to keep your kids' hands and eyes engaged with the physical world, watch for opportunities. Sketch works of art with them. Talk about cool architecture with them. Feed pigeons and make bets on which bird will snatch the bread. You get the idea.

Method #2: Make No-Phone Zones

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam pioneered that sketch-pad method of drawing visitors into the art (get it?). They added a more aggressive step, though. They didn’t outright ban smartphones and cameras, but the giant sign of a crossed-out camera over their entrance made the point pretty clear. Whip out your smartphone if you must, the sign whispered, but you’ll feel weird about it.

There’s nothing wrong with no-phone zones. Designating areas and times to switch of the devices can be an effective way to encourage real engagement.

If you’re a Rijksmuseum kind of digital parent, though, make sure to participate in those forced no-phone moments. Propose other activities. Switch off your own device and start an argument about who rules the pop world, Sia or Taylor. (Spoiler: it’s Sia. Come on.)

Method #3: Let Tech Magnify the World

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art just reopened with an expanded collection, new touchscreen menus, and a museum app to show people around. It uses highly accurate GPS to guide you and tell you about the nearest works of art. It’s like a smarty-pants friend with smarty-pants glasses who won’t stop following you around, showing off their smarty-pants art knowledge. But in a good way.

The app comes with little visual content, encouraging guest to pocket their devices and listen with headphones so they can keep their eyes on the art. It’s a layer of tech between viewer and art, meant to enhance—not interrupt—the museum experience.

If you’re a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art kind of parent, invest a little time, attention, and even a little cash into making your kid’s tech magnify the world. Write down what interests your kids, and then start browsing for apps and podcasts that match that list.

Method #4: Something in the Middle

Maybe you’re not a Cantor, Rijksmuseum, or SFMOMA kind of digital parent. We’d love to hear how you deal when you worry that mobile tech is coming between your kid and the big, beautiful world. We’re all ears.

Also, drag your kids to a museum this summer. If it’s a good one, you might find you have to drag them out again at closing time.


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Brian Beise

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