Visiting Museums with Kids - A Visit to the Research & Collections Facility, Canada's Nature Museum

Every two years Ottawa's Museum of Nature opens the doors of their Research and Collections Facility to the public, for one special day. The facility is fully staffed with incredible friendly people who offer demonstrations and mini workshops in almost every area of the facility. They open up their labs and explain what they are trying to achieve, and how they care for and display collections.
This was an incredible learning opportunity for the children.

Things we try to remember when visiting Museums with                our kids 💗

We visit many museums and we love it, but we have a few simple things we do to make things run a little more smoothly. These are things we do that have worked for our family, and I thought I would share them with you:)

Manage our Expectations
We decided long ago that museum visits with our children, are about their learning adventure.
We experience the museum at the pace of our children. It is important to us that they have time to appreciate the things they are looking at, and that we do our best to answer all of their questions.
We made the decision to understand that we may not get to all areas or exhibits depending on what the children are interested in, and that there will be future visits to take in more. Every time the children visit a museum they have a completely new learning experience.
If we are out of town we research what the museum has to offer,we pick what we want to see most, and do our best to cover what they really want to see.
Our choice is to visit museums together as a family, or with an extra hand. This is something we are able to do, but there are of course many different family dynamics in terms of parent(s) and number of children, needs etc. For us (when poss) one to one in some form is our preference in our situation.
Xander and Ava have an age difference, and their levels of interest can vary significantly. Many times we split up. During this visit we started off together and then split - my husband toured with Ava, and I toured with Xander as they simply wanted to spend time on different things.
Many museums that we have visited offer scavenger (look and learn) type hunts, and these are very fun especially for smaller children to take advantage of. We paid a visit to the BC Maritime Museum, and they offered a hunt by navigation with a compass!! Xander and daddy did that one together while Ava did a hunt for objects during her tour:) So much fun!!

The chat
We chat with the kids about what we are going to see, and the work that goes in to create these fantastic displays. We ask that they look with their eyes. We chat about museum traffic, and that there will be many children and adults who are excited to see what they are seeing so it's important to make sure everyone is respectful and takes turns.

Getting there
We try and do a washroom break at the beginning, and to have eaten. Many times we arrive at lunch time, because many museums are less busy during mealtime (in our area) - we have an early lunch beforehand.
We also go at times when there are large child related events happening in the city, because this pulls traffic out of the museums - we've had great luck doing this.
We take only essentials to lighten our load. One particular museum we visit regularly during winter has underground parking, and we get as close to the door as possible and leave coats - change out boots to be free of clutter to walk around. Of course most have lockers, but there are times this is just easier for us to take advantage of.

Back to our Visit!

This is a massive 20, 478 - square-metre facility. We visited a lab where we were able to learn about preservation of collections, and the process they go through to introduce new collections into the museum pest free! They had displays showing the effects unwanted pests can have on collections. This was all an interesting view of the inter-workings of museum life that perhaps we would not have given a great deal of thought to. They conduct research in the areas of botany, zoology, mineral sciences and paleo biology - we were able to visit all labs.

They had lots of fun hands on activities for kids of all ages and level of interest.

Seeing some things required a helping hand:) This is an African Elephant skull!

Fin Whale skull

Fin & Blue Whale jaw bones. This was interesting because a couple of summers ago we went whale watching in St. Andrews New Brunswick to see FinbackWhales. This was very cool to see!

Learning about Lichen, and checking out some specimens.

This was a cross section of a Western Red Cedar from British Columbia. We were in BC last spring and paid a visit to Cathedral Grove and the kids were able to see these this first hand, and it was just incredible! The small plaques on the rings of the tree denote a timeline of Canadian history. This was an amazing trip that sparked a huge amount of interest in our Native North American (Canadian) Cultures and thus we have just completed a large Native North American unit more to come on that later...

This was an exciting discovery for Mr. Xander!!

The Nature Museum has stunning rock and mineral collections that we have paid many a visit to but will do so again with renewed interest once we begin our Rock Unit. They had large industrial racks filled with large beautiful specimens to explore. We were able to learn about the process of identifying minerals with X-Ray technology.

They had incredible displays of Dinosaur bones and skulls. They had staff on hand talking about bone excavation and the plastering process they use to safely transport the specimens from the field to the facility. We were able to visit the lab where they remove the earth and plaster to work on the bones.

It was pretty exciting to see a T-Rex Skull!! The only full skeleton we have been able to see was at the Vancouver Science World (below) and it was pretty cool!!

Xander was able to ask tons of questions!!  Here he was talking about the characteristics of Dino teeth, for herbivore and carnivores among other things.
They had a small treasure shop at the end, and we picked up a few interesting things!!
These were an amazing find because we were studying prehistoric man at the time. I'll chat more about them in our Prehistoric Man Unit Study. We bought both to read and compare the Neanderthal with a modern human skeleton. The books that came with these are amazing! They talked about the difference and characteristics of the Neanderthal skeleton and the reasoning behind it.
These were such a fun treat to find!!

This was also a great followup to our Great Lessons Part 1 Study.

Visiting museums has become such a catalyst for learning in our home. We always come away with loads of questions and inspiration for future study!!
To visit some of our other favourite visits check out our left sidebar!!

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  1. Wow!
    This looks like so much fun! I love your tips and I agree with all of them. I have had some problems with the one on one aspect because we almost always visit during the week to avoid crowds and that leaves me with two kids with a large age difference. I think with smaller crowds it does work out ok though, if we go on the weekends we always have Daddy join us.

    Does your museum advertise this special event? I would LOVE to do something like this but I have never heard of it at any of our museums. I will have to do some research to find out.
    Thanks for sharing, your pics are beautiful as always

    1. You are right... for sure it is less busy during the week during school months. We also have many Dr's appts for the children that we do together, and use those weekdays to hit up a museum whenever poss!! They do advertise it, but I think closer to event time. It only happens every two years as this is not the main museum but their Research Facility. A great friend and homeschool mom actually saw the post somewhere and passed the info off to us, and we were so happy!!! I hope you can find something similar because it was truely amazing!!


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