Children’s Discovery Museum is a museum that children can touch things themselves. It takes discovery with hands as precondition, and allows children to move and touch things to intrigue their curiosity through various interactive and experiencing items, programs, and activities. By playing, children can look for answers and learn arts, science, creation, and innovation during experience, give full play to imagination and creativity, understand the world where human live, and acquire and know natural laws to cultivate their abilities including self-cognition, interpersonal communication, exchange and cooperation, self-adaptation, and environmental adaptability.
For ordinary parents, when mentioning museums, many can immediately count the large and small museums that they have visited with children. At present, more and more begin to regard museums as a place for learning. Besides traditional historical museums, science and technology museums, natural museums, and art galleries, etc. have gradually become destinations for many families on holidays. Meanwhile, parents are no longer limited to taking children to exhibition only, and various educational activities in museums are often favored by parents and children.
However, when it comes to Children’s Museum, many people will show confusion, and even doubt that a children’s museum is used to show all kinds of children!
Picture source: New York Daily News website
Actually, this problem also brings trouble to practitioners in it, because it seems very difficult to explain what it is in a word to people who have never seen a children’s museum before. The usual situation is that we must compare Children’s Museum with other places to roughly describe its unique image.
In an earlier article, I described the essential difference between Children’s Museum and children’s playground (click to read Not All Children’s Playgrounds Can Be Called Children’s Museums). In that article, Children’s Museum is an important type of museums, belonging to the museum family. Like other types of museums, its most important value lies in its educational function.
Since it is a kind of museum, we can examine Children’s Museum in the history of museum development. The term “Museum” originally referred to the temple of the Greek Muse, so from etymological perspective, museum has been closely related to the human aesthetic activities from the beginning. The ancients visited museums to appreciate beauty. Later, museums gradually began collecting specimens, historical relics, important documents, and artwork. With the rising industrial revolution in the 18th century, science and technology museum (or museum of science and industry) came into being to collect and exhibit the new inventions of human beings. History museum was born out of natural history museum (natural museum), focusing on classified display of human achievements in transforming nature. And botanical garden and aquarium are also museums in the broad sense while their collections are living objects. (Reference: Edward P. Alexander & Mary Alexander, Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Function of Museum)
Picture source: http://www.quazoo.com
Although different types of museums are different, they all share the same functions including collection, research, protection, exhibition, education, and service. Since modern museums began to enter people’s life and developed, so far, educational function has become the core of museum functions and the entire public services. The educational function of museum a learning space has been widely recognized. Museum education, as non-formal education, has developed various concepts including “all-round learning”, “lifelong learning”, and “real-based learning”, making helpful supplements to formal education.
Picture source: https://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au
Under such background, we can easily understand why children’s museum is an important museum type.
From another perspective, however, the biggest difference between children’s museum and other museums is the audience, as can be seen from its name. Although some children’s museums also have certain collections, such collections do not focus on the scarcity but whether they can play a role in education, inspire visitors’ curiosity, and guide visitors to participate in interaction.
It is based on such positioning and response to the learning characteristics and growth needs of children in preschool and early school age that children’s museum has these differences compared with other museums.
First, children’s museum is the only museum particularly designed for children.
Children and adults learn in different ways. Children’s museum combines children’s unique learning styles and promote them to actively learn actively and explore learning through interactive exhibitions, educational activities, and environmental construction, etc. The starting point of children’s museum is to meet the growing needs of children and put children first in all work. The overall layout of the stadium should make children feel that they are welcome. From the perspective of exhibition style, children’s museum provides interactive rather than passive visits. And children’s museum encourages children to operate with their hands, learn via sensory experiences, and form clear understanding of the surrounding world with an accurate grasp of the laws of things in their personal practice and thinking.
Secondly, children’s museum pays special attention to family learning.
Adults (parents, grandparents, or other caregivers) accompanying children to visit the museum can also benefit from it. In addition to parent-child education activities particularly designed for families, there are also teachers’ demonstrations in the exhibition area to parents as well as various graphic information and parent guides to help parents to learn to accompany children with high quality and guide children for in-depth learning in the museum and at home. Children’s museum no longer strictly separates children audience from adult audience, and “intergeneration learning” can often be seen in children’s museum.
Finally, children’s museum covers all aspects of educational content that are always presented in the way that children can understand.
Unlike history museum only collecting cultural relics, art gallery only displaying art works, and science and technology museum focusing on science and technology, children’s museum will try to involve as many aspects of children’s demand as possible in a limited space. History, art, culture, science and technology, health, sports, language, and even social topics such as identity and multiculturalism can all be the educational content for children’s museum. Front-line teachers in children’s museum may have a variety of educational backgrounds; and ideally, professionals in each field will take children to explore the real world and solve real-world problems together. More importantly, the goal of education in children’s museum is not to make children memorize a few knowledge points, but inspire their desire for exploration and guide them to conduct in-depth learning by themselves out of curiosity.
As more and more museums pay attention to children and family visitors, as described at the beginning of this article, visiting museums has become a habit of many families, and various museums including children’s museum have become children’s learning spaces.
As practitioners in museum industry, we are in the greatest time, witnessing the museum detaching from “too high to be popular” situation, and gradually entering people’s life. Every time I see children’s concentration or enjoyment in the exhibition hall, I cannot help but imagine how many of them will tell others about their childhood visits to the museum in the future. Perhaps, the so-called “museum complex” is rooted in children’s mind in a joyful museum visit.
Picture source: https://www.tripping.com
American Association of Museums (now renamed as American Alliance of Museums) used to publish a report titled Excellence and Equity in 1992. A paragraph of it may serve as the mission of every museum practitioner and is included in the following:
The community of museums in the United States shares the responsibility with other educational institutions to enrich learning opportunities for all individuals and to nurture an enlightened, humane citizenry that appreciates the value of knowing about past, is resourcefully and sensitively engaged in the present, and is determined to shape a future in which many experiences and many points of view are giving voice. In this endeavor, museums will play a powerful, beneficial role for the people of the next century.
Article source: Children’s Museum Research Center (CMRC)
Author: Liu Xin(The pictures in the text are provided by the author unless otherwise specified.)