October 15, 2019
Reconsidering Children’s Museums
At KidSenses Children’s Interactive Museum we are often asked why adults have to pay the same admission fee we charge for their children. And occasionally, parents ask if they can leave their children with us while they go somewhere else.
Responding to these questions can be frustrating for several reasons, particularly since some adults can be quite belligerent regarding having to pay for their own admission. In addition, having to deal with a mildly hostile attitude, our staff has the burden of trying to help these parents understand how the interaction with their children in this stimulating, interactive environment not only benefits their children, but also, they themselves.
Many parents have the misapprehension that children’s museums are merely indoor playgrounds. It is indeed true that children play in our museums. But what is often not understood is that it’s play with a purpose. Play is the work of childhood; children learn through play. For the very youngest, learning to navigate their way in these highly stimulating and carefully thought out environments fosters early brain development, and skills acquisition and mastery. Older children roll play and discover their own interests and preferences, and begin to acquire knowledge, increasingly about STEM topics.
This intellectual and emotional development is enhanced by parental interaction. Observing and playing with your children is empowering and validating for the child and enriching for the parent. I often describe our parent profile as being one of three categories. The “babysitters” – parents who are present in the museum but are primarily using their cell phones or talking with other adults. The “documentarians” – parents observing their children playing, recording the action on their phone cameras and posting frequently. The “gold standard” – parents actually playing and interacting with their kids. There is no rule that says you have to play with your kids, but our goal is to nurture this kind of interactivity.
As a result of years of observing parental behavior in children’s museums, I’ve begun to think we need to do some serious re-branding. At KidSenses we are currently constructing a new addition entitled The FACTORY – A Place to Meet and Make. This facility will engage older youth, age 11 into their teens. We’ve started talking about “whole family engagement.” I think that’s the key, to be forthcoming about the desire and need to embrace all members of the family. Increased opportunities for intergenerational mentoring, volunteerism and more are being evaluated as we develop our future plans. I definitely think it might be time for us to reconsider how our institutions are perceived by both visitors and peers.