Rediscovering the Natural History Museum with Children

.REDISCOVERING THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM WITH KIDS

I hate dragging my heels round museums.

Staring vacantly at inanimate artifacts, reading huge blocks of text, returning home with blisters from being on my feet all day.

So, it’s no wonder, every time I’ve visited the Natural History Museum in London, I’ve never felt excited about it.

Over the last six months or so, Noah’s developed an appetite for dinos and geology. Everywhere we go, he picks up a new rock to “add to his collection”. Thanks to a TV cartoon that he watches incessantly, Dinosaur Train, he had also discovered that there is such a thing as the ‘Natural History Museum’ – a place he had decided he had to go to so he could “meet a paleontologist”.

IT WAS TIME TO VENTURE BACK

We were visiting London for the weekend and needed an inexpensive way to spend an afternoon. While he probably wouldn’t meet a paleontologist, I’d figured he would probably get quite a lot out of visiting the free Natural History Museum.

Last time I visited, I queued for quite some time. A lady at Doncaster railway station suggested we check out the side entrance on Exhibition Road. To our surprise, we walked straight in. Whilst we weren’t greeted with the extravagance of the main entrance’ whale skeleton, the side entrance’ humongous model of a fiery earth (entrance to the museum’s Volcanoes and Earthquakes section) certainly got our attention. Immediately, Noah was making a bee line for the escalator that intercepts the model, although his attention was interrupted by the glistening stones and minerals on display in the the foyer.

MEETING DINOSAURS

After asking one of the helpful museum staff, we found that the dinosaur gallery was on the ground floor so we headed there first. I had realised, as the museum is so big and spread out, I had never actually visited the dinosaur wing. I think I also had a preconception that it would be a quiet, drab gallery designed more for history loving intellectuals than for families. How wrong I was!

We were both captivated by the life-size animatronic T-Rex that looked like one of the creatures from Jurassic Park and gave us a little sense of what it might be like to come face to face with a predatory dinosaur.

A one-way system took us through a parade of different dinosaur related exhibits that investigated subject matters such as how dinosaurs’ bodies worked and what could have possibly brought them to extinction. The simple text accompanying the exhibits allowed me to easily explain them and answer Noah’s questions (on a subject matter I know very little about). To my astonishment, Noah pointed to pictures of models of dinosaurs that I’d never seen before and told me their almost unpronounceable names. I asked him how on earth he knew what they were and his answer was “Easy! Dinosaur Train!”

DISCOVERING HOW OUR BODIES WORK

Following a trip to the dinosaur gallery’s fantastic shop, I asked Noah if he’d like to look at the mammals or the human body (both galleries are close by). He chose the Human Body gallery, a deceptively large, interactive area. Kids and adults firstly learn about how babies are born and then about a bundle of other aspects of the human body. We really liked how many activities there were to do in this gallery that made learning really fun.

VOLCANOES AND EARTHQUAKES

Noah decided it was time to go back to the fiery earth model we had seen at the entrance; he was desperate to investigate. Usually, I would not have been fussed about riding an escalator, but looking at things from Noah’s point of view helps me see the wonder of things I’ve become complacent about. At the top, we discovered the Volcanoes and Earthquakes zone. Thanks to our trip last year to Iceland, this was of particular interest to us. There were so many exhibits that helped explain why volcanoes and earthquakes happen. Noah and I had lots to talk about, however, my favourite part (not so much Noah’s) was the earthquake simulator where you can experience how the ground moving in a supermarket would feel.

ADVICE IF YOU PLAN TO TAKE THE KIDS

By this point, we had spent 3-4 hours in the museum. Noah decided he wanted to go see our hotel. Thanks to his questions and insights, this was my best ever experience of the museum. My perception of the Natural History Museum was unquestionably challenged by letting Noah take the reigns. I thoroughly recommend visiting with children, but follow these tips for an easier trip:

  • Plan ahead. I absolutely think it would be impossible to see everything in the museum in one day so have a look at their website before you go and pick out which sections you would like to look at. The map of the museum is conveniently broken into four colour coded sections. I suggest to save your legs and explore one section in one day.

 

  • Use the side entrance. The Exhibition road entrance may have less of a queue than the Cromwell Road entrance, or even no queue at all. Also follow the NHM Visitor Info Twitter Feed for real time queue info.
  • Use the cloakroom. We were visiting the museum on our way to checking into our hotel, so we had heavy backpacks. It would have been exhausting carrying these around so for a few £ we popped them in the museum’s cloakroom.
  • But remember to bring a small, light bag to carry necessities around. No doubt you will want to keep a phone and possibly a camera with you and your purse or a bank card. I didn’t have any pockets on my trousers, so I ended up buying a jute bag in the souvenir shop; an over the shoulder pouch would have been way more ideal though.
  • Carry a bottle of water (or money to pick one up). Walking around the museum is tiring. It can be crowded and warm. So, keep a bottle of water with you or purchase some from the gift shops. Although I did not notice them, I have read that there are water fountains installed as well.
  • Wear light clothes and your most comfortable shoes. I can’t stress how important it is to wear comfortable shoes, especially in spring/summer. You will be on your feet for a long time. It gets very warm, so you will be thankful at the end of the day to be wearing comfortable clothes.
  • Take pocket money. There are several shops in the Natural History Museum and if the kids spot the impressive main shop it will be difficult to get them out without them wanting to purchase a souvenir.

The Natural History Museum is free to visit (donations welcome). It’s located at Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD (5 mins from South Kensington underground station). Hours are 10:00 – 17:50 (Closed 24th – 26th December). See their website for more details.

We really love interacting on Twitter so if you enjoyed our review, please get in touch: @esther_and_noah 🙂 And have a look at our other museum reviews, like this one

 

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. I love that long escalator! How fantastic that Dinosaur Train inspired your journey and a top tip from the lady at Doncaster station. Thank you for linking up to #CulturedKids

  2. Some great tips – didn’t realise the Twitter feed had real-time queue information. I haven’t seen the Whale yet so must pay a visit soon (but did the DinoSnores sleepover which I highly recommend!)

    1. Oh wow, I would love to to the sleepover with Noah! 😃

  3. I’m so pleased you overcame your museum phobia! The Natural History Museum is definitely best for kids aged 5+, and as you said it’s huge! I think a lot of people try to see everything then get exhausted, but it’s much better as you say to focus on one thing and stop when you’re getting tired. My son also loves Dinosaur Train and it’s amazing what they pick up. Seeing the world afresh is one of the greatest gifts of having kids.

  4. I *nearly* went for a visit today with my toddler – your post has inspired me to make the effort to get there soon! #CulturedKids

  5. love the dinosaurs exhibition, for me the best part of the museum:) #CulturedKids

  6. It’s a great museum – I’m looking forward to visiting again to see the whale in the entrance. #culturedkids

  7. Thanks for the tips! Going to the Natural History Museum is definitely on my bucket list. Children have a beautiful way of making an experience seem like the first and bringing renewed joy. Hope he had the best time! And so happy that you took him, even though it’s not your cup of tea (at least in the beginning).

  8. Melanie says:

    I haven’t visited the Natural history Museum for many years but always loved it! My son is dinosaur mad too and I know he would love to take a trip there! We were lucky a couple of years ago to see a travelling exhibition of animatronic dinosaurs from the museum and he loved that!
    Great post thanks for sharing 😃

    Melanie | http://www.frasersfunhouse.com

  9. Love this! I’ve been meaning to revisit the National History Museum so it’s now definitely on my list! Great post 🙂

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