Would I recommend it to visitors coming to Toronto for the first time? Not necessarily.
I mean I love it personally, but unless you are a super museum freak and love looking at random artifacts and reading plaques – it might not be for you.
The collection is really lovely and unique in that it has both natural history and human history. I believe it is one of the only museums in the world that has that combination.
And as much as I love museums, I have always had a hard time walking around and just looking at random bits and bobs of human history. I need the context and the story. And diaromas.
Which is why I love the programs for moms (or dads or nannies or grandparents) and kids that the ROM offers.
Babies at the ROM:
One of the most incredible programs I came across in George’s first year was the Baby & Me or, as I still call it, ROM Moms.
This program is not for your baby, but for you!
I know when you first have a baby you are so eager to get them in music classes or story times or baby sign.
I was too.
And looking back I was a dummy.
At four and five months old, George had no more interest in music class than he did at playing with a heating vent in the corner of the room where we took music.
And let me tell you: you have plenty of time to sing ‘Zoom Zoom Zoom’ or ‘Roly-Poly’ with your kids. You will go from enthusiastically sending your little baby to the moon (and if they are like George, they will not like going to the moon until they are two and a half) to thinking “I’m still zooming to the f-ing moon” with your second.
But I digress.
This is one program I look back on with such fondness and happy memories.
Here is how it works: you and your baby get to stroll around the ROM each week with a group of like-minded moms and pretty much one of the most amazing guides/teachers that I have ever met at a museum. Beverly has been teaching this program for years and really knows her stuff (as one has to obviously).
When I went with George it was a slightly different format with smaller groups. I took Alice once and they’ve had to change it a bit to meet the demands of a corporate head (which sucks a bit) – but it’s still great. The groups are just much larger.
You sign up for four-week block and each block follows a theme. Each week you go to a selected gallery within that theme.
Beverly does a fantastic and interesting (honestly – it’s not at all dry. Even the rocks. And I do not like rocks.) talk while you walk around with your baby in their carrier.
After about an hour, you head back to a private area that has been set up with tables, coffee/tea, and snacks and socialize with the other moms. Beverly is set up at her own table with artifacts that correlate to the theme.
I did this program about five times (and when I started it was six weeks) so feel I really know the collections at the ROM well. I might be foggy on some details, but I can walk through the galleries and know way more than what the plaques say as well as have lots of inside stories about how the museum got the item or about the item itself.
Who is it for?
Ideally the littler the baby, the better.
Until they were crawling/walking, my kids happily slept in the carrier or their stroller. But as soon as George was more mobile, I would miss much of what Beverly was saying because I was chasing him through Egypt.
Why I like it:
As stated above, you will want to get your baby out meeting other babies. Or you want to get out of the house and socialize with other parents.
Whichever it is, this program will do those things as well as feed your mind while you spend most of the day wondering why you put milk in the cupboard or when the last time you showered was.
I also like that for both my kids, they have been going to this museum since they were tiny babies and now we continue to go and enjoy programs for them.
Which leads me to:
Toddlers/Preschoolers at the ROM
Since George was two and a half and Alice was just a newborn, we have gone to Rom Kids Jr without fail.
After doing the Baby & Me, I knew I wanted to continue the learning for George. I liked the first semester so much, we have gone to every semester since.
Like the Baby & Me program, each semester has a theme. In each of the eight weeks, you explore that theme gallery by gallery.
You show up at 9:30 (this takes some practise – let me tell you. I think it took until my third semester to not be painfully late) or 1:30 depending on which time slot you choose. I prefer the mornings because you get the museum to yourself for a good 30-45 minutes.
If you are not out of breath late (like I usually am), you get your kids settled with some colouring that falls into that theme. When everyone has arrived, you head up to whichever gallery you are learning about that day.
The teacher (which are all excellent) then reads a story and talks about what is in the gallery. I’m always amazed at how they can do this on a level the kids understand and actually engage in. This is much easier with dinosaurs than perhaps the Vikings – but George always answers questions. Or talks about his dogs.
The teacher then has some artifacts that they share and allow the kids to touch. This is always great (and a bit creepy when it is a stuffed blue jay on a stick) especially when they get to hold dinosaur poop or a medieval sword.
Finally, we get a scavenger hunt and about 20 minutes to play around in the gallery ourselves.
Once finished, we go down to the kids room and the kids eat their snacks (which parents provide yourself), do a craft, and have free play with the ROM’s fantastic collection of toys, puzzles and books.
Finally, we sit in a circle and sing songs (Roly Poly and Zoom Zoom Zoom woot woot!) and read a book.
This all takes just over two hours.
I plan to do this age group with Alice when George begins school. And then hopefully as George gets older, he will go into the Saturday Club or other camps that the ROM offers up for children.
The guy who runs all the kids programs was himself a student of ROM Kids Jr and the camps – he says it was this that created his passion to work at the museum with kids. It honestly shows through in their programming.
Why I like it:
As stated above, I hope it starts a passion in my kids to love the museum. I like that I still get something out of each visit for myself and I like that my son has started to state fun facts about vikings or dinosaurs.
I also like the social aspect. I’ve always met really cool moms who are likeminded in their passion for inspiring learning in their kids and themselves. A few of us are now friends outside of the ROM.
Now that George no longer naps, we stay and play in the kids area or go to the bat cave (and again and again).
Sidenote: This last part is pretty much my most favourite thing – especially in the fall and spring (okay, only in the fall and spring). It’s such a nice park area and you can venture through Queen’s Park and other areas of U of T that are stunning (like Trinity College which makes you feel you are not in the UK not in Toronto).
The ROM can seem a bit outdated and dusty and not at all for kids.
This is not true. There are lots of areas where kids love the explore and play.
There is the CIBC Discovery Gallery where kids can dress up as Romans or Japanese Royalty. There is also an area to dig up dinosaur bones that both my kids love. And if your kids are under six, there is a fantastic little play area complete with dragon tails, puppets, a play castle and more.
Additionally, there is Schad Gallery of Biodiversity where my kids love to see animals (taxidermy) upclose – especially the beluga and narwhal.
The Patrick and Barbara Keenan Family Gallery of Hands-on Biodiversity (or as we call it: the moose bubble), where kids can crawl through a tunnel and come up in a bubble under a moose, dress up as a zebra, see the bee hive, get up close to animal bones, and look for animals in the fall foliage.
Finally, on the same level as all the above is the famous bat cave. This is a hit with kids of all ages and if it were allowed – I would just sit beside the exit with a tea and let George and his BFF Ellie run through the cave again and again.
Unfortunately, I think it’s rude to let your kids scream in delight at the top of their lungs in a museum.
ATTN Breastfeeding moms:
There is a little nook outside the bat cave set aside for a private breastfeeding area in case you require it.
I hope this post has encouraged you to sign your kids up for a ROM Kids Jr semester or for yourself and your new baby.
I honestly can’t recommend it enough.
I myself have happy, long lasting memories from my time spent at the Manitoba Museum (or Museum of Man and Nature as it was called in the 90’s) that I hope my kids will have of the ROM.
I’ve done a search of the other ‘Royal’ museums across Canada, and although they offer some kids programming, no one seems to have early childhood programming or any programs for new moms. So we are lucky in Toronto!
As always, curiously yours,