Kids can be hit or miss at a museum. Some seem to be incredibly bored, while others have the best time and could spend hours in one. But throughout my time at the Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum, they’ve become my favorite type of visitors to interact with. Why? Because they tend to find the funny stuff in the stories we tell! 

I’m prone to thinking seriously about history because a) it’s my profession; b) I think history is vitally important; and c) my research questions incorporate weighty topics. But interacting with kids at the museum has taught me to find the humor in it.

They’ll look at the breeches buoy and say: “that doesn’t sound like a fun ride! Why would they do it that way?” Or, when they see the metal lifeguard buoy, they exclaim: “that’s too pointy to help anybody!” Same goes for the Blake surfboard, which was lighter and easier to handle that previous solid boards, but still seems intimidating when compared to the surfboards of today. There are, of course, good reasons and thought processes into why each of these artifacts looked and worked they way they did. But, it’s still fun to stop and laugh with a guest that no, the breeches buoy doesn’t look like a fun ride (especially in a storm), and yes, that metal buoy does look sharp and pointy.

I think kids interact with the museum in this way because they notice details that I tend to gloss over in order to focus on the larger history. I may not notice the guy in a full suit on the beach in a picture, because I’m thinking more broadly about beach tourism in the 1930s. But when a kid says “Those bathing suits look uncomfortable and why is that guy in a suit?,” I have to stop and reconsider the finer details of history. I have to think about the individuals and the specifics of people who lived in the past. And I have to laugh at the funny wool bathing suits.