Last weekend we went on a family date to the Leonardo Museum in downtown Salt Lake City (UT). I'd been once before, helping with a fieldtrip, and I loved it! It's so hands-on!
Our main purpose on this visit was to see the temporary BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life exhibit. My husband and I saw one a few years ago and this time wanted our kids to go, too. (they are 10, 13, and 15.) One child was neutral about the idea. One was interested. And one did not want to go. A self-proclaimed museum hater (they're too boring. too quiet. too slow.) and sensitive about death and "gross things" I knew it would be a challenge to make it a positive experience for this child.
While I respect hesitancy and the need for emotional safety, I feel strongly about exposing kids to as many experiences as possible.
(sometimes it needs to be a gentle exposure, but we can work with that.)
Remembering how nervous I was before my first visit, I read through the educator's guide on preparing for a BODY WORLDS visit with children. One thing I learned was that the exhibit shows the various stages of fetal development. Seeing preserved fetuses always disturbs me, and I didn't want my kids viewing them unless they specifically wanted to. I was relieved to learn that this part of the exhibit would be in a separate and optional area.
The docent welcomed us and reminded us that taking pictures wasn't permitted out of respect for the donors. We entered the exhibit, read the opening information, and followed the winding path leading inside.
And here's where things went wrong....
My uneasy child had walked ahead and came back crying and fairly distraught. While holding this child tightly to my chest, offering comforting words, I turned the corner and saw the problem. THE FIRST AREA WAS THE FETUSES! Yes, it was in a separate area. Unfortunately, it was unavoidable.*
I repressed my flaring displeasure to concentrate on my children. The interested one seemed fine. The neutral one was with their dad, so I focused on the one I was with.
I don't recall what words I murmured while ushering us through that area and into the next. Finding a quite corner, I wiped tears and we reassessed our plan. At this point we could see many of the exhibits and I encouraged moving forward. I let this child take the lead, determining how close or how far to stay from the bodies. We focused on reading the posters on the wall. I gently pointed out things I hoped would be interesting. We didn't linger in any one place for long.
15 minutes in to the experience, my husband said the neutral one was feeling sick so they would wait outside. I assumed it was a recent cold flaring up. I later learned that the solemn and stuffy room had antagonized some nervousness and led to dry-heaving that was gratefully halted upon reaching the cold air. I can laugh about it now, but I'm sure glad I wasn't the only parent there that day!
Overall, I'm counting this adventure a success.
None of my kids were enraptured by the bodies, but they have now literally seen most of what we are made of and we've had some good conversations. We made sure to end the day on a high note by exploring the rest of the museum and having lunch in the cafe. (If I was doing it over again, with a hesitant child, I might wait for the BODY WORLDS Animal exhibit.)
Here's my advice:
1. before you go, view exhibit images together online
(this will gauge interest and prepare for the displays)
2. print BODY WORLDS info pages for kids
(they have great info & fun activities for before and after a visit)
3. be prepared to leave early, and quickly
(and maybe bring wet wipes and a barf bag. LOL)
4. if you have littles, be prepared for giggles
(most of the bodies are male, and genitalia is definitely present)
5. relax and have fun
(if they love it, great! if they don't, that's okay!)
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*Update: I checked in with The Leonardo and they kindly pointed out that BODY WORLDS is a traveling exhibit, so every location may not be set up the same. If this is a sensitive issue for you, check your local museum for details before you go.