The History of Museum Educators, Part Two: Children’s Museums

December 12, 2019

Last week I wrote about my reaction to part of this edition of the Journal of Museum Education, a publication by Museum Education Roundtable. I continued to read the Journal and after I finished reading the Journal, I thought I would give my thoughts on the rest of it. As I mentioned last week, the articles made me think about my previous experiences. This week while I read the rest of the Journal, I thought about my experiences in children’s museum. While these articles reminded me of my experiences, I always find more to learn in the Journal of Museum Education.

The most recent edition of the Journal of Museum Education, for instance, had a couple of articles focused on children’s museums. In the article “Museums for Somebody: Children’s Museum Professionals and the American Association of Museums (1907-1922)”, Jessie Swigger discussed the origins of children’s museums and the contributions of museum professionals in these children’s museums. Swigger discussed the first three children’s museums in the world opened in Brooklyn, New York (1899), Boston, Massachusetts (1913), and Detroit, Michigan (1917). She examined contributions of children’s museum professionals and museum education through presentations at the American Association of Museums (now known as the American Alliance of Museums) given by the curators of the first three children’s museums: Anna Billings Gallup’s (Brooklyn), Delia I. Griffin (Boston), and Gertrude A. Gillmore (Detroit). The review of papers delivered to their colleagues demonstrated how their pioneering educational approaches, including encouraging visitors to interact with objects and creating opportunities for children to become empowered and invested museum visitors, continue to shape the field. Also, the article pointed out the value of including children’s museum professionals in conversations on museum education. Another article about children’s museums revealed another example of the value of children’s museum professionals contributions to conversations on museum education.

In the article “What Caregivers Observe about Their Children’s Learning During a Visit to the Children’s Museum” by Jessica J. Luke, Eileen D. Tomczuk, Susan Foutz, Nicole Rivera, Lisa Brahms, Kari Nelson, Barbara Hahn, Melissa Swank & Kimberly McKenney, they pointed out that while significant research focused on caregiver-child interaction in children’s museums little is known about what caregivers might be observing or perceiving about their children’s learning. The article discussed a study conducted by the Children’s Museums Research Network to examine what caregivers observe about their children’s learning during a visit to the children’s museum. Data were collected through online questionnaires (N=223) and follow-up phone interviews (N=20) with caregivers recruited from eight children’s museums across the U.S. Results show that caregivers could identify numerous things they discovered about their child(ren) in the museum, including their interests, social skills, thinking/problem-solving skills, and emotional regulation. What contributed most to these discoveries was opportunities to watch their children play and interact with others, and to play with unique materials and activities that they don’t have access to at home. The signage and floor staff were seen as minimally important. These findings have implications for exhibit design and staff facilitation in children’s museums.

As a museum professional who has experience working in a children’s museum, I loved learning more about the history of children’s museums and what other children’s museum professionals have discovered about children’s learning in their research. The research reinforced what I learned about how children learned and interacted with museum exhibits. I learned in my experience in a children’s museum about the constructivist method which allowed children to get involved in the process of their own learning; what I learned in my experience is that the constructivist method cannot be relied on alone to educate children, and therefore a little bit of instruction is important to give children context to what they need to learn. In a couple of blog posts I have written, I wrote about children’s museums and my experience in a children’s museum.

The post “Maker Space: Museums Can Benefit from Having a Creative Space” is where I related what I learned in the children’s science museum Maritime Explorium and how I translate my experience from historic house museums into the newer experience. Another blog post I wrote was “Is Children’s Play Declining? What are Museums Doing to Encourage Playtime” in which I wrote about my reaction to an article in the Huffington Post called “Children’s Play is Declining, But We Can Help Reclaim It.”

By reading these articles in publications such as the Journal of Museum Education, museum professionals and museum educators share their knowledge and learn from one another to help move the museum field forward.

Resources:

Jessica J. Luke, Eileen D. Tomczuk, Susan Foutz, Nicole Rivera, Lisa Brahms, Kari Nelson, Barbara Hahn, Melissa Swank & Kimberly McKenney (2019) What Caregivers Observe about Their Children’s Learning During a Visit to the Children’s Museum, Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 427-438, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1672136

Jessie Swigger (2019) Museums for Somebody: Children’s Museum Professionals and the American Association of Museums (1907–1922), Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 345-353, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1663685

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/06/23/maker-space-museums-can-benefit-from-having-a-creative-space/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/07/20/is-childrens-play-declining-what-are-museums-doing-to-encourage-playtime/

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