I love living in Chicago, with it’s great opportunities for field trips and adventures! We had a great day at the Museum of Science and Industry yesterday, and as we wound our way through the awesome exhibits, I was reminded of some of the truths I’ve learned by experience over the years.
- Go early. Check out your destination’s website, and find out how early you can enter (for example, MSI opened at 9:30 and we hit the door soon after). Trust me, early is always better. Parking is quicker, lines are shorter, crowds are smaller. Go Early.
- Plan ahead. Check out the website for times, parking and logistics, or get the app if your destination offers one. Buy tickets online, to avoid admission lines when you arrive. Pick up a map right away, if it’s a new destination for you (and map reading is a great skill for your kids to learn).
- Ask for Memberships as gifts. In 18 years of parenting, we’ve had annual memberships to Brookfield Zoo, the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, receiving many of these as gifts for Christmas. Just one trip to one of these locations can make the membership worth the price, and any additional visits through the year show how valuable that membership can be, with “free” admission, food and parking discounts, special events, etc.
- Don’t expect to experience the whole destination in one day. Expecting to spend 10 hours at a zoo / museum / destination with small children is delusional, sorry to say. I’m an adult, and I will admit to being fried after 5 or 6 hours. By about 2 pm yesterday, we all were ready to head home. 2 pm was when all the exhibits got really crowded, so we didn’t mind leaving. When my kids were younger, that 5 or 6 hour time limit usually had us hitting nap time on the drive home, which worked out for everyone (and having a membership means you can go back multiple times to explore).
- Pack a lunch. This is not just a money saving tactic, though it certainly will save money. Packing a lunch ensures there is food your child will actually eat; helps avoid long lines at lunch time; and enables occasional snacking when everyone starts to get a little hungry. Leave yourself a cooler in the car, for the ride home, too, with water bottles and more healthy snacks.
- Mandatory potty breaks from everyone. When one person has to go, everyone goes. And scout out those restrooms when you arrive.
- Review Rules of Conduct. There was a lost little boy at the museum yesterday who just broke my heart. Happily, he was found just moments after I first saw him, but he was so upset. His mom did all the right things, though, hugging and calming first, then reminding of the rules. So, what are your rules (and know that rules will change as your children age)? There are always the “Be Polite, Take Turns, Listen for Directions, etc”, but on adventures, we add: Don’t range too far ahead; check in occasionally; don’t leave an exhibit until you find me; if we get separated, stay where you are and ask for help, etc..
- Have your children memorize your cell phone number, or put a business card in their pocket. Make sure they can say their own full name, your full name and cell phone number, in case they get separated from you.