I’m Not Sorry My Kids Ruined Your Experience

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The loom we were so excited to see because we watched a video about the Williamsburg loom.

I’m upset with myself today.  I made my kid leave a situation where he was interested and learning just because someone else thought he was annoying.

Today we went to Colonial Williamsburg.  It’s a long drive for us, especially with little kids who think sitting in car seats is a special form of torture.  We’ve been meaning to go for a while, and decided to visit because they’re having “Homeschool Days” for about half of this month.

For what it’s worth, I’m disappointed.  It’s been a while since I last visited Williamsburg, but I remember a more vibrant atmosphere, more people in costume doing “colonial” things, and less emphasis on selling touristy clutter.

Anyway.

Despite the much-vaunted “Homeschool Days,” the majority of visitors were retirees.  So many, in fact, that we couldn’t park in the 20+ lot of handicapped spots.

Our visit started off with a bang, literally.  We just happened to be walking by the spot where the cannon demonstration was.  Cue scared, worried kids.  We almost hopped back on the shuttle bus right there and went home – kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (auditory focus) just can’t handle that kind of loud sound, especially if it’s unexpected.

If you’ve ever visited Williamsburg, you’ll know that it’s really spread out.  It’s a town.  Different workshops and houses and markets host different activities.  As we meandered around the town I found myself constantly nagging the kids to stop doing little kid things.  Like “stay on your side of the sidewalk,” and “be quiet so that everyone else can hear the demonstrator too.”  We even had trouble in the colonial gardens because my kids wanted to walk around and look and the narrow paths just didn’t allow enough room for passing.  They’re little.  Most everyone else was not.

I found myself constantly saying “wait your turn,” “stay out of the way,” “be quiet,” and “don’t touch!”

This is supposed to be a living history museum, right?  As in, interactive, let’s get hands-on about learning?  It wasn’t.  Or rather, the portion that we saw today wasn’t.  Little legs got tired so we only saw about 25% of the entire town.  Of that 25% every other building we passed was a store (buy this wooden musket!) a tavern (overpriced food!) or a specialty shop (cold drinks, only $4!)

Our entire experience at Williamsburg involved standing still and listening to someone talk about what their building was about.

What five-year old do you know that can handle that?

Invariably, the Destroyer would wander off, the Princess would start whining, and the Engineer either wouldn’t shut up or wouldn’t stop touching stuff.  And then the looks would start.  Those looks – the your-kids-are-ruining-my-experience kind of looks.  So we would leave.

When did our society decide that kids need to be seen and not heard?  Isn’t that an outdated, Victorian attitude?

Little kids are little.  They’re loud.  They’re energetic.  They’re very sensual: they want to explore their world with all five senses, not just the hearing one.  The attitude of all the adults around them today (including me) said that’s wrong.  We told them their curiosity and intensity was inappropriate with our body language and our expressions.  But it wasn’t inappropriate, or it shouldn’t have been.  In a different setting that kind of disapproval would be good – it would teach them to behave appropriately in the right environment.  In this setting, it was just intolerance and discrimination.

My kids want to learn.  They’re little sponges intent on filling up with experiences.  That takes time, energy, tasting, smelling, touching, and wandering around.  And I made them abandon that because some retirees thought they were being pests.  They were being little kids.

When I started to get really irritated with their behavior, I stood back (as much as humanly possible while herding three little kids) and thought about my response.  My expectations were the problem, not their behavior.  So we headed over to the art museum’s kid craft area with its wide-open space and classroom setting and sat down to be kids.

When the Destroyer found the broom that the curator left out in reach, he started “sweeping” the floor.  He wasn’t bothering anyone, he wasn’t in anyone’s way, but he was a little enthusiastic about it.  And again, we got the looks.  From older kids.  From parents.  From grandparents.  Even from the curator who set up the craft area.

And you know what?  I let him sweep.  Deal with it, people.

 

Update: I’ve gotten a lot of responses on this article.  Most of them not very positive.  Want to learn more about what it’s like as a parent of a child with a hidden disability?  Read Part 2 here.

 

10 comments

  1. I knew better than to take my kids to some place like that when they were little. How did I know? I taught school for decades. No, field trips aren’t all fun and games. They’re EXHAUSTING. Most kids will be obedient, but there are always several in the bunch who want to and need to touch things. Isn’t that part of the experience? I was that teacher who looked away at the broom sweeper for a moment and then said something like, “Oh, that broom isn’t really for sweeping. Isn’t that crazy, they DON’T want you to clean?” lol.

    They’ll get over it. And if they don’t, oh well.

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    • Boy are you right! Field trips are a painful, difficult way for us parents to help our kids learn. But, since he’s gifted and learns best hands-on and doing things like field trips, they’ve become a part of our daily lives. I’m the mom that hops on the DC metro with three little kids, stroller and all, to go meander about the National Mall and visit the Smithsonian museums. It’s not fun for me – stressful and difficult, and praying that the metro elevators don’t break – but the Engineer absolutely loves visiting DC. We may have our limits, but eliminating field trips just doesn’t work for us right now.

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  2. A single-day adult ticket to Colonial Williamsburg costs about $41.00 … probably not a cheap ticket for anyone (and perhaps especially for seniors on pensions / Social Security) who may be hard of hearing, yet want a meaningful experience. And as someone who has begun to have walking aches but fortunately no need of special parking, I have ambivalent feelings about “we couldn’t park in the 20+ lot of handicapped spots”. Sometimes I have to let my special needs passenger off near a particular area, then find a parking space for me as close as possible. Of course, if this wouldn’t work if you are the only adult

    When you said “Our entire experience at Williamsburg involved standing still and listening to someone talk about what their building was about. What five-year old do you know that can handle that?” … I agree, and would suggest a more 2- 3- and 5-year-old appropriate excursion. Or, write to the venue beforehand for events suitable to the age group. I notice that the “Homeschool Days” child’s ticket is for ages 6-17 on the “Education” link (http://www.history.org/history/teaching/index.cfm) – and lists these interests:
    Bit And Bridles: $5.00
    Life Of A Soldier: $5.00
    Mother Goose’s Riddles & Rhymes Tour: $5.00
    Brick Wall from Start to Finish: $15.00
    Juba, Shakers & Bells: African American Music in the 18th century: $15.00
    An Exceeding Good Cook: Exploration of African American Foodways: $5.00
    Dig for Home Educators: $5.00
    Objects & The Stories They Tell: A behind the scenes look in the world of Collections: $5.00
    Note: Children 2 and up will need to pay for special programs
    I believe that the educational themes are paired to Virginia’s Standards of Learning – beginning in Grade 1.

    “They’re little sponges intent on filling up with experiences. That takes time, energy, tasting, smelling, touching, and wandering around.” – again I agree! So don’t take them to the VMFA statuary hall, instead visit the Early Childhood (https://vmfa.museum/youth-studio/) Art Classes for children 3 months – 5 years.

    “Little kids are little. They’re loud. They’re energetic. They’re very sensual: they want to explore their world with all five senses, not just the hearing one.” – yes, yes, yes! I taught middle schoolers, and they are so alike. I wonder if your experience would have been more rewarding had you chosen an activity better suited to their age, or even teamed with other home-schoolers for a tour tailored to your specific interests and needs.

    Providing meaningful experiences for, and teaching exceptional children, can be a bumpy road to say the least (and in the public school area I was blessed to have been provided with educational aides). I pray for better experiences for your “pre-schoolers”.

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  3. I have been in your same position and both agree and disagree with you on this. I agree hands-on learning is oh so important and of course kids must be kids (loud, exploring, etc).

    However, I think it’s important for both kids and adults to be more conscious of how our actions affect others. Yes perhaps this is a trip you guys can’t easily make another day…but even more so for senior citizens (they aren’t getting any younger!). I try to get my kids to understand that and if they can’t (or don’t want to) then they can step out until they are ready. I also bribe them with lots of outdoor, run around screaming as much as you want time…

    Our family lives in an aging society where my rambunctious girls have to share the sidewalk with 90-year-olds. It is doable (barely), but my girls are learning that they matter just as much as adults and and as much as the elderly…and that the reverse is true too.

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    • I agree that it’s important to be respectful of others. In this case, however, my kids were not being brats, they were curious and inquisitive, but not quiet. And the adults around them weren’t tolerant at all. Specifically in the Weaver’s house, the docent had items out for touching and exploring. When my kid had questions about it he was ignored and stared down by the retirees. So we left. We were there less than 5 minutes, because that’s all it took for me to figure out that it wasn’t going to work, despite the hands-on display. And in this case, we had already done the outdoor thing too, and fed them to prevent the hunger pangs from causing issues. In short, we did everything possible to lessen the issues and picked a hands-on area, and it still didn’t work. The lesson my kids took from that was that they didn’t matter. Not what I wanted them to learn.

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  4. I just returned with my family from colonial Williamsburg and I understand where you’re coming from. I was surprised at how much of it was not as hands-on as I had been expecting, and in terms of the touristy crap I was not surprised but I was really offended by how they jacked up all the prices by at like three or four times what they cost anywhere else in Virginia. My kid bought a musket ball at Yorktown for 1/6 what Williamsburg charged. I totally hear you about the tours. I think the guides I saw did their best but I wished that there had been some family friendly or kid directed to ours that were designed specifically for wiggly little sponges. We drove from the Midwest all the way to Williamsburg for our children not for ourselves–THEY where in the ones who were supposed to be getting the education into the experience not ops where in the ones who were supposed to be getting the education into the experience not us. So we had wanted it to be tailored toward children. Isn’t that the point of homeschool days? I did feel that the tours were trying to be more of a catchall and often angled more toward adults than children. Just having a few more docents who were natural preschool teachers would have gone a long way. And having tours designed and advertised for children would keep away the grumpy senior citizens who were giving you dirty looks. I hope that you enjoy the rest of your stay. My family did enjoyed Williamsburg. I totally hope that you run into some more rational understanding people who get that kids are kids and are supposed to be kids!

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    • It does seem that a lot of places touted as “family friendly” are really geared towards families with much older kids. My kids enjoyed the art time at the museum – I think that was their favorite part! I guess we’ll go back when they’re older and can sit still and listen. I felt like Homeschool days were just a marketing ploy, really. I’m glad you guys had fun, especially since you live so far away – I would hate to feel that your trip was wasted.

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  5. I’m so glad you shared this story. We’ve been there so many times (the situation, not your museum!). Our kids need to know it’s okay to be their natural, curious, exuberant selves. Even if (for now) we’re the only ones saying so.

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    • So true! Of course, my kids are rather loud – gotta love those psychomotor overexcitabilities. I do try to strike a balance in public places – completely bombed on this one!

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