Are museums irrelevant?

We travel often so we have the opportunity to go to a lot of museums. And I have pictures. Because like all parents, kids in museums is part of my vision of an idyllic childhood.  But I never use the photos in my posts because, to be honest, most visits to museums stink.

The acoustics are bad which makes museums unnerving to my older son and we have memberships at every museum we go to so he can go to the member’s lounge for some quiet. The kinesthetic opportunities are limited which makes museums unnerving to my younger son, so we have to go to a playground before and after which feels a little like walking a dog.

I was thinking maybe my kids are spoiled brats or video game addicts or both and that’s why we can’t do museums. But increasingly I realized that museums had their heyday along the same trajectory as the development of schools. Schools made learning boring, and museums tried to rectify that.

But today’s kids are dying to do interactive learning and hands-on learning at home, the only place for that kind of thing. For today’s kids, the museum is an improvement over school, but not over learning at home. Which means that homeschoolers have little use for museums.

Before you tell me how your kid loves museums, here are some examples of why museums are an increasingly limited learning tool for kids, and adults, for that matter.

1. Children’s museums are over-designed indoor playgrounds.
Interactive! Movies! Make it yourself! These would all be great opportunities if it weren’t that houses have all these opportunities as well. A lot of children’s museums are good places to play indoors, but why not just go to an indoor playground? They have better climbing equipment.

Maybe you could argue that interactive learning at home is solitary and interactive learning in a  children’s museum is community-based, but seriously, just invite some friends to come over and play and there you have it: Interactive! Movies! Make it yourself!

The Children’s Museum in Madison is really highly rated. My son’s favorite thing he’s ever done there is make a sign to tell people that he’s a cellist.

I looked at it and said, “That’s nice.”

And he said, “Okay. Let’s go. I want to play my cello outside the museum and make some money.”

Some of you will conclude that my son is obsessed with money. This might actually be true. But what is also true is that he sees how the museum is just a list of activities that he might be interested in, and, not surprisingly, his passion is not on the list. Your kid’s passion is probably also not on the list. Any museum is small compared to the world your kid lives in.

2. Dinosaur museums are one-time wonders.
Maybe you are saying that your kid is a museum kid. I have one of those. When he was five my son loved dinosaurs. We went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Five times. The last time we went he was not interested. How many times does a kid need to see a dinosaur? And all the other information he can get online. Or in a book.

Is it more fun to sit on your sofa and read books with your mom or is it more fun in a loud, have-to-travel-there museum? Is it more fun to have all the information about velociraptors at your fingertips, in the Internet, or is it more fun to be limited to just what the museum chooses to tell you?

When he was eight, my son loved fossils, so I took him to a fossil museum. He said he’d rather go on a fossil dig than be in the museum. That makes sense. Most kids would rather do something that interests them rather than read about it. So we went on a dinosaur dig, and guess what he learned? He hates digging for dinosaurs.

3. Exhibit-based museums are primary sources for the rare person who needs them.
And that’s the real learning kids should do: what are they interested in. What a museum teaches kids is that they are not interested in much of the topics the museum has. Or, if they are interested, then they have already found enough information online. You don’t need to go to a museum to get information, and you don’t need to go to a museum to do interactive learning.

So what do we need museums for? Primary sources. People do need to learn from primary sources. But you need to be learning about something deeply to require those primary sources. Let me ask you something: Do you know what you would learn about art history or painting from seeing the Mona Lisa in person instead of in a book?

First of all, I hate to burst your bubble, but you can’t even get close to the Mona Lisa because there is such a crowd in front of it. But even if you could get close, you’d really need to know a lot about renaissance painting and atmospheric illusionism to gain any insight from seeing the painting in person.

4. Museums are another way to limit self-directed learning.
I find that it’s a struggle to make paintings relevant enough to my kids to get them to care that they are standing in front of one. At the Art Institute in Chicago I told my son the painting was made, in part, to inventory the jewelry the person had and to keep track of their wealth.

He understood. He’s a practical boy. And he thought it was a smart way to do it before there was Excel. On the other hand, clearly he could have found this out himself by searching for the history of accounting online. The thing is, this is not what he was most interested in learning that day. So while he did learn something serendipitous, there’s a lot to be said for each of us being able to control what we learn each day.

That’s why museums are like school. They give you a choice of what to learn, but it’s a very limited choice and it’s in a confined space. Which is exactly what you get in school. Let’s say it’s a rich-kid school. There is a great teacher-student ratio and the kids can choose what they want. It’s still very very limited. And unnecessarily limited.

5. To see how irrelevant museums are, follow the money.
Curious Methods is a great business. They use all the resources of the Met to create a product: tours for kids. I didn’t want to take the tour, but Melissa made me. And she took a picture of me to remind me that I truly found the tour enthralling.

At one point we went into a dark corner of the museum I would never have noticed and really,  I’ve been to the Met a million times, and the tour guide, Mark Rosen, blew my mind with the stuff he could find in that museum.

Once I was home, thinking about the business model, I realized that what Curious Methods really does is try to make the museum interesting to kids. And this is not an isolated business. My Learning Springboard and ArtSmart sell customized museum tours because, presumably, if you put a kid in a museum he will not find anything to learn without someone helping them.

And I believe it, because kids can’t find stuff to learn when they are in a situation that is not conducive for learning. And a museum falls into this category for 90% of kids.


85 replies
  1. Christine
    Christine says:

    We unschool. My kids hate museums for ALL of the reasons you listed in this post. Seems most other kids like to go & go often or is it the mom who feels better taking them? If given the choice our kids can smell boring 100 miles away. BTW, one of my favorite posts is the “science fair project” – again right on the money.

  2. Johnna
    Johnna says:

    I have children who love museums each has their own favorite that they have been to many times. My oldest son reads EVERY plaque and has found errors in them. Then he goes to inform the worker at the desk that they have wrong info. The next time he went back the info was corrected. I know that they are experts in their favorite museum but it is much more fun to see B-1B in person and see the size and scale than to see a picture in a book or on the internet.

  3. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I would put museums and art galleries in different categories. I love wandering around art galleries, which seem like they are less about presenting information and more about showcasing beauty, or someone’s personal response to something. I never worry if I’m learning something in an art gallery, because that’s not why I go. I remember when we went to a gallery for high school art class, the teacher suggested that if there was a painting we didn’t like, to just examine it for a minute or two to see if we could pinpoint what exactly we didn’t like about it (or vice versa).

    Actually, the last time I went to one of my favourite national galleries, I was breastfeeding, and so my sister pushed me around in a wheelchair so I could hold and feed my son and not tie us down to one room. It was her first time ever in an art gallery and I had been to this one a bunch of times before, and it was such a cool experience to be wheeled around by her and hear what she thought of paintings and to be sitting the whole time.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      I agree that art museums are different from other ones. Right on! This, however, struck me as really weird: “Actually, the last time I went to one of my favourite national galleries, I was breastfeeding, and so my sister pushed me around in a wheelchair so I could hold and feed my son and not tie us down to one room. “

  4. jessica
    jessica says:

    I’ve had enough interaction with museums and Little ones. The worst is walking through and a kid starts crying/wailing/yelling or something, because big empty space with objects. Then the repeated hushes.

    Children’s museums are OK, more like an advanced playground you visit once a year.

    Once you’ve gone to a museum that’s it really, thus why they have programs and such- they need you to come back, but you’ve already seen it.

    Museums to me are entertainment. There are fascinating things and interesting things, but I’ve never been inspired to the point of action outside the museum walls (based on the museum content.)

    I want my kids to take action, and I don’t really see museums sparking that ignition.

    (We’ve been to all museums in NYC and LONDON multiple times.)

  5. Catherine Thiemann
    Catherine Thiemann says:

    So true. I just took my homeschooled son on a long journey along the Lewis & Clark trail. Along the way we stopped into several museums. They ended up being the least interesting part of our trip. How many canoe replicas and buckskin suits does a kid really need to see? It was much more engaging to travel through the actual land they explored.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Catherine Thiemann,

      We took that trip, too. Did you stop at the Visitor Center in Nebraska City, NE? That was the only worthwhile visitor center, with the replica longboat and the mosquito activity.

      I thought the wilderness areas were the best part of the trip, outside Fort Benton MT for example.

      That’s a meaningful trip and a great way to get to love America. I’m so glad your family did it.

  6. redrock
    redrock says:

    I have to disagree on the Mona Lisa. I thought the same thing – there are great reproductions, and I am by no means an expert on Renaissance art (tend to the more modern stuff) – but seeing the painting in person in the Louvre just blew me away. And I had been to the Louvre before and always had decided to just not joining the crowd in front of the painting. I finally understood why it is one of the great painting, the texture, the colors…

    Same thing for dinosaur skeletons. The magnitude and size of the real thing is phantastic, but I agree that this might get older after the 5th time.

  7. redrock
    redrock says:

    same thing for Rembrand painting – I had read about the special black color he used, never really impressed me until I was able to actually see the “Polish Rider”. Many museums are not necessarily to learn but to experience the exhibit. But I also think that 10 year old kids don’t necessarily have the attention span or broader knowledge to truly experience many museums.

  8. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I understand the value in seeing it I person, but I am thinking in terms of cost-benefit analysis.

    How many dinosaurs does someone need to see to get the point? Certainly there’s quickly diminishing returns. Traveling to France for the Mona Lisa or Pompidou or whatever- that’s really an outrageous amount of time to spend for the small benefit of seeing something new.

    If nothing else, all the research about how you should spend vacations so they are meaningful is DOING things rather than SEEING.


    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Yeah, unless there is a new exhibit or a guest who is a specialist at something where you can snag some one on one time with, seeing the same exhibit more than a few times devalues it, UNLESS it’s a passion you are pursuing or something you just can’t get enough of. It needs to be personally interesting on some level.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      The benefit is different for different people, but that argument is valid for adults. Kids definitely have different needs and curiosities and attention spans.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      …and I also think the benefit of holidays cannot be generalized in that way. For me going to museums is incredibly relaxing and rewarding. It does not require me to be a driving force of anything but I can just take the time to absorb what I feel like absorbing. Maybe the best way to go on vacation is also determined by your personality type.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      To me, seeing museums when traveling abroad is not the REASON for traveling abroad, it’s just one more thing to do when you’re over there. Of course, it’s not worth the cost of the trip JUST to go to a museum, but…it’s something to do when you’re there…an anchor activity between bumming around the city and soaking in the local color.

  9. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I love studying the history of ancient cultures. So when there is an exhibit at the museum that has what I’m interested in I spend hours staring at just a few things… I could spend days there reveling in the pieces on display.

    I live in my head, so this type of environment is perfect for me. Isolated. Quiet.

    As far as I can tell, all of my kids are extroverted, so this type of environment bores them. Hell, even taking them to the zoo is a challenge because it’s sort of like a living museum.

    I guess that I would rather risk boring them through exposure than for them to never have the opportunity to go to a museum because of boredom.

  10. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Here’s what I think:

    You don’t go to the same museum over and over because of the exhibits. You go once, or maybe twice, for the exhibits; you go repeatedly for the community & for the opportunity to be an insider. — A really good museum runs camps and clubs, gives the really interested kids access to curators & allows them to volunteer (which often takes the form of teaching what they know to new visitors).

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m glad you mentioned that. I noticed that lots of businesses/organizations that have trouble staying afloat start up camps.

      Camps are starting to look like substitutes for school to me. There’s the ratio problem, there’s the inherently restricted options problem, there’s the no free time problem (imagine telling parents they are paying for a full day of unstructured nothing.)

      I think camp is just a summer version of school. At it’s core, the goal of camp is t get the kids out of the house so the parents’ lives can continue as they were during the school year.

      Specialized camps are different, but they are an extension of the school year as well. If you play tennis every day during school, you go to tennis camp and play every day in the summer.


      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I don’t think it’s black and white like that. I actually wished they had camps all year round. Then kids could pursue interests with experts or knowledgeable staff with kids they can develop relationships with.

        I just dropped my kid off at an afternoon camp run at a gym which is run by ex marines.

        He loves it and it gives me a couple hours with my other son for one on one.

        The camp has a couple of scheduled things they do, but for the most part the kids play together and learn how to communicate while doing things like rock climbing and zip lining (they are meant to help each other).

        Whenever I arrive, I find all the kids and instructors running around playing a huge game of tag. They are playing. Everyone. And that’s all that really matters to me. Sure the structured part could be beneficial, but I think he gains more from all the free play.

        He is always really proud of their sport achievements too.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        And I guess I’m happy paying for a day of unstructured nothing, we did try out Sudbury after all ;)

      • Linda
        Linda says:

        My homeschooled 9 yo does summer camps all summer long. They are focused on science, art and drama. I consider it his “school” experience. It’s just 2.5 months a year, I get a break, it offers him science instruction and opportunity for art and drama, he spends lots of time outside with friends. The camps are a great fit for his learning style, which I can not say about any local school.

        Summer camps with local organizations resemble what I would want school to be like. Very hands on and engaging the child. They HAVE to make it interesting, so kids will want to come.

      • Kathrine Schlageck, Senior Educator, Beach Museum of Art
        Kathrine Schlageck, Senior Educator, Beach Museum of Art says:

        Summer programs in the U.S. are a way to explored the things that interest you that you can’t during the school year and a chance to pursue further the things you liked during the school year. Museums, with their real collections, curators and educators are well-suited to providing these opportunities.

        They also can provide services for those with unique needs especially when they are working with other social organizations – witness my museum’s work with Autism Spectrum Disorder summer camp and Visual Thinking Strategies, or our Home School Tuesdays that help parents with art, art history and art integration.

        Perhaps it is the parent and their choice of summer programs rather than the programs themselves that fail.

        • Kathrine Schlageck, Senior Educator, Beach Museum of Art
          Kathrine Schlageck, Senior Educator, Beach Museum of Art says:

          P.S. Summer camps are definitely not money makers for museums! BTW,
          Museums are non-profit – anything they make goes back into the museum! Once staff is paid and supplies are purchased, there is nothing to go back into the program, and if there is it goes into some other aspect of our educational programming.:-)

  11. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    Jennifer makes a very good point. Museums are great if they are part of your community. Museums somewhere else are rarely so great. I am fortunate to live somewhere (Boston) with truly great museums.

    My kids have both been going to the museums regularly since they were infants. In times of renovation, the temporary storage of a favorite statue once reduced my toddler son to a weeping lump. My 3 year old daughter can name every instrument in her favorite room.

    During the year we go to the MFA every week for classes. My kids love it. They love it in part because they love the art in certain rooms (we all have our favorites), but perhaps more so because they see their friends and are engaged.

    Their classes follow a simple format: they walk around the museum and listen to a young artist talk about some of the art. Then they go to the lab and make some art of their own. A cubist self-portrait by a three year old is a worthwhile mystery. I don’t think it would be the same if it weren’t in the presence of the art itself. I also think it wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t in our community, a short bike ride from our house.

    I’m okay with the idea that museums aren’t interesting for 90% of kids. But that’s not my kids. My three year old is always sad on Fridays when we don’t go to the museum. And so am I.

    We adults use our museums in a similar way. We like to see some of the new exhibits on member preview. But mostly we like to go to parties, meet friends, see concerts at the Gardner (because what a hall!). The museums are part of our social life, part of our community. We think they’re great, and so do our kids.

  12. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    It is just so interesting to me to see high-class people latching onto low-class realities (no school, no museums) and then making it seem like dramatic, break-the-mold type thinking. I have to say in can be confusing.

    I took my mother-in-law to an art musum a couple of months ago, she is 70 and had never set foot in a museum of any kind her entire life. She liked it.

    I am taking the neice/nephew to a museum this Thursday, and honestly no matter what the museum has to offer, just the experience of walking around with other people, and spending the day more than 15 feet from their bathroom and a refrigerator stocked with Coke will be good. Oh yeah, and the museum is about an hours drive, in another state!

    People in the world are just so different.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Agreed that we are all so different. I appreciate your perspective that you have added here. You are a very wonderful aunt.

    • jessica
      jessica says:


      We just returned from a day of swimming at a public pool.

      Call me ignorant, but it was a huge wake up call regarding the intellect and conversation of kids aged (6-14) around me. They could not speak in coherent sentences.

      Within this experience, I can fully understand requiring school, because there were hundred or so children like this. If they clearly are not learning much at home, they really need school. And if they’ve been in school all these years, we really need to do something- I just don’t know what that is.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        So then if they aren’t learning to speak correctly at school, then maybe they are better off at home??? But I am also living probably a different reality, so maybe I am unrelatable. That would suck.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          I’m not sure what school is doing for them. If school is generally bad for kids and learning, then it is probably worse for poorer kids who don’t have options.

          I Don’t think school is good for underprivileged kids. They are apart of our country too, and I just think we need to do better at whatever support we are meant to be providing them (community, outreach, social services,enhanced focused programs).

          It definitely brought me out of my privileged ‘unschool, with love and support” bubble.

          It was a lot to take in.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Yeah, there were some good points made in other posts that fit here. We talked about people that can afford to homeschool should do it, take their kids out of public school.

            So then what you are left with is essentially a social service, hopefully you would get the really great teachers from the no longer needed public schools in wealthy areas to go to the poorer schools, pay them double salary or pay their housing expenses to get them to move. Then purge all the horrible teachers out. I’m sure some of these good teachers would go private or tutor but there would still be enough of them left to fill the jobs in the poor areas. All the massive resources, equipment and technology send to those schools instead of selling them.

            Just a thought…. I don’t know how realistic it is.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            This is in reply to YMKAS, not sure why I can’t reply directly.

            Middle-class and upper-middle-class public school families mostly live in suburbs with high taxes.

            If people pulled their kids out en masse to homeschool, and their schools closed, do you think people would still pay those taxes to support poor kids from nearby towns? I don’t think so!

            And, of course, those tony suburban public schools aren’t closing any time soon anyway.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Hi Amy, I don’t know why we can’t reply either, I think it’s to do with the format.

            You are in CA right? I think you said N. CA. As you know our guv is redirecting funds to poorer kids and giving them more piece of the pie. This is federal funds… those taxes are not optional, at least last time I checked. If you are talking about the bonds that voters approved to pay for the schools, then wouldn’t those bonds not be needed anymore?

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            Hi YKMAS,

            I’m aware of the changes in CA funding and I’ll be interested to see how that plays out (from the sidelines!). CA coffers are generally full right now so maybe funds really will be distributed equally. But if another 2008 hits, wealthy districts will look after their own. A client told me that in 2008 her town’s Educational Foundation went door-to-door asking for $1000 to make up for deep cuts at the state level. A large swath of residents gave regardless of whether they had kids in the schools. And then there are PTA monies and parcel taxes at the local level.

            I’m not an expert on taxes but my impression is that federal contributions are pretty low, and mostly for Title 1 (high-poverty) schools.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is consistent with my thinking that school should be for underprivileged kids. Museums can be that as well. Museums are like a safety net for kids who have nowhere to go when school is out of session. (By the way, I think libraries work a lot like this as well. Rich kids read on a screen.)


      • BP
        BP says:

        “This is consistent with my thinking that school should be for underprivileged kids. Museums can be that as well. Museums are like a safety net for kids who have nowhere to go when school is out of session. (By the way, I think libraries work a lot like this as well. Rich kids read on a screen.)”

        What? This response baffles me a bit. This sounds like a recipe for promoting current inequalities in education. If only underprivileged kids attended schools and museums, funding and support for these institutions would no doubt drop (see… libraries).

        It would also separate low-income from high-income children in mixed-income communities. I attended reasonably good public schools with children from different class backgrounds growing up. In addition, there were free museums and a local library (both of which I enjoyed). Although there were certainly problems with the learning done in these institutions, I would never change the fact that I grew up in an educational setting with class diversity. My jaw practically dropped at some of the mindsets of folks who attended my college and had grown up with less diversity.

        In my mind, the educational shift that needs to happen is *not* to further institutionally separate kids from different class backgrounds. Many public schools are already pretty far down that road, but museums seem more able to change. Regardless of whether a particular museum has a strong educational program yet, most have incredible resources. If we shift towards making these resources more accessible to underprivileged children and more understandable, and enjoyable for *everyone,* then kids from different backgrounds can gain the same high-caliber educational experience in a more diverse setting.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Where I live, in rural Wisconsin, most kids don’t go to a museum. Ever.

      So you could say that in that case, any museum experience is good for them. But I think that would be insulting. Why are museums that are boring for rich city kids good for poor rural kids? I think all kids want to explore what they are interested in. And when it comes to self-directed, interactive learning, all kids are more excited by free time on a computer than free time in a museum.


      • Jean-Marie
        Jean-Marie says:

        Yes! Exactly! I agree that it IS insulting. I’m tired of these institutions patting themselves on the back for all of the wonderful work that they do for the community when it’s such low quality. Imagine the quality you could produce with millions of dollars. We hear all of the complaints and concerns about education and our children and yet we keep subjecting them to the same old crap. Of course it won’t get better.

  13. Julia
    Julia says:

    I’ve brought a lot of kids to a lot of museums and the best way I’ve found to make the best of it is to have no expectations about what a child will do there or get out of the experience. They might draw copies of their favorite paintings, ask a million questions about an object, read signs without ever looking at anything else, spend the entire time rolling on the mat in the kid play area, have conversations with the sculptures, lay on the floor, or only be interested in climbing on the stairs outside the museum, or whatever. If it’s just seen as another venue for exploring and few limitations or expectations are put on what can and should be experienced, it’s a lot more enjoyable for everyone. It took me a long time to learn this. It can be hard to stomach when you drove an hour to be there,waited in line, and spent $30 per ticket. I agree with Commenter that these are important resources for our community and I want to support them, and I want my kid to have experiences with them and know that they’re available. But I have to train myself to not try to direct the experiences and learning. The biggest problem I have with museums and kids is the rule about not touching anything, though this has changed somewhat with the increase in hands on exhibits.

  14. karelys
    karelys says:

    I am thinking they are only relevant to the people who find them interesting and enjoyable. But they might be too expensive for that.

    I enjoy them. Because I can’t travel to Egypt on a whim.

    I would probably save my money on expensive tickets, though, unless my kid begs to go to one.

  15. JML
    JML says:

    My husband loves art. I do, too, but not like him. We have often gone on art holidays. And I have to agree with redrock, that seeing certain pieces “live” is a really wonderful experience. Our last art holiday was to Italy. And really, there was nothing better than seeing a Caravaggio in a church. Or Michelangelo’s David. I don’t think I have ever been so impressed. And when you go on an art holiday, I think you are doing as well as seeing. It might be about expectations. We didn’t know about the Caravaggio in the church. We just stumbled upon it. And what a find! Although we went looking for David, it was beyond what I ever expected (really, I went in wondering what all the fuss was about).

    Then we had kids. We take them to our local (national) museum because my husband likes to share his passion. Same reason why we read to our kids so much, I think. But there was definitely an adjustment to our museum going. We can no longer stop and consider art the same way. We mostly just follow our kids’ lead (which may lead us to the big trucks outside the window). But it’s just a fun place to be. Once the expectations are gone. This took my husband some time to get over. But art was never my passion so I was always happy to just follow along with the kids. And galleries make for an interesting backdrop.

  16. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    We live in mild northern California, so I have to ask folks who live in harsher climates: Are indoor playgrounds a big thing now?

    We have a few places that cater to the under-5 crowd, as well as a gigantic trampoline place suitable for all ages (fun, but pricey) .

    Funnily enough, I would consider our nearby science museum the closes thing to an indoor playground: it’s large and full of ways to engage both body and mind. We have a membership so we sometimes go for just an hour. My younger son and I enjoy playing an oversized version of a board game there. I know I could just buy the game (or we could get crafty and make it) but I enjoy not having to store it at my house and he enjoys the ritual of playing it out in public at the museum.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      They are a big deal if you have one in your town. When it’s just too cold or too hot outside the indoor playground is great. Bonus if it has wifi for the parents to work.

      Also, places like Seattle are constantly rainy. So indoor playgrounds can be awesome.

  17. jessica
    jessica says:

    Ok, I went straight to the source.

    Hey son, do you like museums?


    What about them do you like?

    I like to look at stuff.

    And there we go. Mystery solved. :)

  18. Sheela Clary
    Sheela Clary says:

    I appreciate the responder who noted the class-based nature of this conversation…..very true. I took 90 Bronx 5th graders to the Met to study the Greek and Roman rooms (I taught Latin and read them Greek myths every day)

    Even that one section of the Met was overwhelming for everyone, and I spent 80% of my time on ensuring no one got lost, but still……that other 20% was sure awesome. One of the highlights of my working life was when my student Siddique found Artemis on a Greek vase and jumped up and down and yelled in joy.

  19. Doc
    Doc says:

    I totally agree and have been thinking that museums are like universities – they are outmoded and out-of-sync with our changing needs. But many of them have large endowments and will continue to carry on unless people reconsider them and question their value.

    Think instead of the magical elevator shaft museum you showed us recently. That was so alluring and I’ve been trying to think of the difference between that and the Met/MoMa/Museum of Natural History:

    -small scale; we get tired of all the rooms in the Met and we hit viewer fatigue
    -not about consumption; the big museums are now like shopping malls or Disney World. As soon as you leave the exhibit you must exit through a gift shop.
    -mysterious environment; the big museum’s grand halls are undifferentiated and therefore become boring.
    -new content; the big museums have many permanent collections in their wings that remain unchanged unless they change the physical space by launching an endowment campaign and jack up the admission prices like the Whitney or MoMA did ($25 per person!).

  20. Anne
    Anne says:

    Maybe museums are just evolving–the New Museum is making itself more relevant with a start up incubator.

    The director says, “In this incubator, we’re looking at ways the museum can support new modes of cultural production that are cross-disciplinary and don’t neatly fit into an existing program or infrastructure.”

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s interesting. I could see museums trying to evolve like libraries. But I ‘m really struck by the huge overhead of both types of institutions. Similar to school, really. And then I wonder if the leadership of these institutions is so entrenched in the old ways and the old infrastructure that changing the nature of the institutions is not worth our time or energy.


      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        You went there before I could make the comment – are libraries irrelevant?

        “You don’t need to go to a museum to get information, and you don’t need to go to a museum to do interactive learning.”

        Substitute the word ‘museum’ with ‘library’ in the sentence above. While both sentences are true, the ‘You don’t need’ portion of the sentence makes it so. I don’t need to go to the museum or library but I may want to for whatever reason. Maybe what makes an institution relevant is its sustainability without compulsion. School is compulsory with a legal option to homeschool. Also funding for public schooling is compulsory in the form of school taxes based on property values. Therefore, with the above guidelines for relevancy, public school is irrelevant with the mandated opt-in attendance and funding requirements. However, museums and libraries are not a decree from government. Their support and funding is more determined by the degree to which the local community deems them worthy.
        The institutions of the museum and library are worthy of our time and energy until they have been determined by the general populace not to be. They are cultural institutions rather than businesses even though businesses operate within these cultural institutions. As for the elitists in government who think they know what is best regarding our lifestyles, they can go take a hike.

  21. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I loved museums as a kid and I still do, but I agree that they’re not necessary for the vast majority of kids. They’re great for artists and other visually oriented people because of the relatively inferior quality of viewing something online or in print versus viewing it in person. But unless you learn visually, you’re not going to learn anything new at a museum that you couldn’t get for cheaper elsewhere.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      I don’t understand the pigeonholing: this is for visual learners, this is for the auditory learner and and and…. yes, we all have a preference for a certain learning style but enjoyment of art is not just linked to how we learn. And, if you classify everybody according to learning style and then provide the learning environment just right for this style you will limit learning and not allow the brain to be challenged with other senses and input. If you have a hard time to understand 3D geometry – you should seek out the challenge in trying to grasp this stuff which is hard.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I am not limiting this remark to museums – but even if a museum caters to looking at paintings and is such profoundly visual, does this mean only someone who classifies himself/herself as a visual learner should go? I am just challenging the idea that you should cater predominantly to your personal learning style.

  22. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    What you say is so true, Penelope.

    I took the kids to the Art Gallery of NSW twice, and every time, and what they loved most was eating in the outdoor gallery café because the rainbow lorikeets would come and eat from their plates. And I enjoyed that, too.

    I’m not giving up on gallery tours with the kids though. I just discovered that the Contemporary Art Gallery of Sydney offers many different Kids and Family activities every day, so I’m looking through their list and we’ll experiment a few, starting this weekend :)

    Here’s their website:

  23. Jean-Marie
    Jean-Marie says:

    Penelope, I am laughing because I just had a big drama with our local science museum, pointing out how irrelevant they are. If our kids are on some kind of science kick – STEM, animals, astronomy, whatever – we should be able to connect with an expert or mentor at the science museum to help us educate our kids on the topic. Instead, it’s just a big facility with stuff.

    You can see some of my conversation with my local science museum here:

    When I finally spoke with the VP on the phone he was less that kind to me. He was touting years experience, visitor numbers, yada yada yada. It seems that the substandard programs my science museum does offer are mostly for at-risk, poverty level children. It’s pretty much the same focus as in public schools. The VP said they get grants for wide-reaching, shallow programs. So they don’t really focus on the smart, learning-loving kids.

    Because I mentioned my interest in writing an op-ed to the local paper and contacting the board and donors about the museum’s inability to create programs that fulfill the needs of the community, he said he would try a fee-based, once-a-month program for homeschoolers. Funny how that works. I followed up with him in an email on Friday with ideas for the once-a-month program. His response: he was out of the office but if it wouldn’t be too much trouble he would appreciate it if I would “…add a Facebook posting saying that the Museum did listen and has responded to your concerns. That would be a really big help to the Museum.” Ugh! I posted something in good faith that they will follow through on our discussion but wasn’t thrilled about it.

    This weekend this same science museum (who has seasonal sea turtle walks and live animals in its exhibits) is hosting a turtle race. A turtle race! How can you try to educate the public about the importance of sea turtle conservation and then encourage that same public to pick the speediest turtle and race it? It’s a shameful gimmick a bar would use to sell beers, not a museum to use to educate the public.

    So, yes, I agree. Museums are completely irrelevant.

    • mh
      mh says:


      I’m so glad you posted your interaction.

      I had an incredible series of interactions with the smug librarians in my old community – like my new librarians much better.

  24. laura
    laura says:

    I think maybe meuseums are a different experience for those who like knowing a little about everything and not just a lot about one or two things. I feel like we are maybe are a blind spot for you. As a kid, I was into something different weekly. I never had a special passion, my passion was starting at the beginning with new subjects and filling in the details just deeply enough that it stayed fun and fresh and astonishing. I am like that as an adult too. My deepest interests are in history where I can branch off into unrelated topics by period and see how everything fits together. Museums were perfect for me because everything in a meuseum is a garden of questions to be asked. Museums are like catalogs of hobbies and interests. You can enjoy shopping without having a genuine intention to select one.

    I can’t be the only one that feels this way.

    • Sara
      Sara says:

      Laura, I learn this way too. I love to just wander around museums, seeing what I can see and what sparks my interest! Just wanted you to know that you are not the only one who feels like that.

  25. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    At the end of the day, isn’t this a free market issue? As Mark W. says, museums are not compulsory. If enough people find museums boring and stay away, they are not sustainable, even with not-for-profit status, endowments, etc.

    Same for camps. The popular ones fill up right away and have waiting lists, while others are canceled abruptly due to lack of enrollment.

    • Jean-Marie
      Jean-Marie says:

      Not necessarily. If these non-profits are good at schmoozing they can raise millions of dollars based on some generalized feeling of nostalgia about museums. The local government doesn’t want a big empty dead space in their county/city so they encourage funding to support these organizations even if they offer very little value. Here’s a press release announcing $2 million support from my county because as a commissioner puts it, “I have no question in my mind that the Museum of Discovery and Science is important to Broward County. I’ve seen it not only through my family, but events my family has been invited to, ranging from birthday parties to bar mitzvahs.” Would you even know she was talking about a science museum? There’s no focus on educating the public. It’s just an interesting venue to host parties, so we keep finding it.

      • Amy K.
        Amy K. says:

        So is the museum a failure, financially speaking?

        The press release says it brings in $20 mil a year but I realize press releases are designed to paint a rosy picture.

        • Jean-Marie
          Jean-Marie says:

          It says that it adds an economic value of $20 million to community. That statement is just plain silly. I have no idea how they came up with that. I’m sure they figure in the money paid to construction for building the new wing. And the money paid to the local sign company for making signage for the new wing. Who knows? The most recent financial I could find FYE 9/12 states total revenue of $7,654,361
          and total expenses of $8,420,353. That a 765,992 deficit.

  26. mh
    mh says:

    We go places off-season. National parks in September, field-trip-type museums on Mondays during the school year. No teachers ever schedule field trips on Mondays. I’m always depressed when museums are closed Mondays -that’s the only good day to go.

    Invariably, we walk in the door of a science museum or a natural history museum or a national park visitor center and my kids scatter. Catching up to them, they each will have cornered some adult – a park ranger or a docent or a museum shop employee and they are asking a thousand questions and having a great interaction. Because in addition to that adult’s job, maybe they are also a photographer or an expert in typographic fonts or the collect old keys from railroad cars. Or maybe my kids are actually interested in their surroundings …. Sometimes that happens. :)

    Mammoth cave n.p. was a great example – Son One was fascinated with Lascaux Cave in France and Joe the ranger had a ton of expertise he was willing to share, one on one with Cave Junior.

    But it happens to us all the time. The kids just happen upon a scientist who helped design the Mars rover, and when I find them they are sitting head to head looking at the guy’s iPad.

    But it’s so sad to see school kids walking right past, stay-with-the-group style, missing all the fun.

    I’d rather spend an hour in the volcanic rock section of the science museum while Mr. Igneous talks one on one with a volunteer than force him to see the whole museum.

    This is the long way to explain that I think museums have value because they gather interesting adults for my kids to interact with, other people who share a passion for some arcane field of knowledge.

    I’d be a lot more interested in zoos if they were not required by law to mention global climate change at each and every exhibit. We’ve been to America’s two best zoos, so the rest seem skippable.

    Love the comment about walking the dog before and after, P. Just leave the museum after an hour.

    • Jean-Marie
      Jean-Marie says:

      I agree that museums would have value and be relevant if they always offered what you have experienced. In our science museum you would be lucky to find someone to point the way to the bathroom, let alone someone to have an engaging conversation. I don’t have that ‘directions to the bathroom’ problem in our art museum, where the security guards follow you from room to room, if you have anyone under the age of 30 accompanying you. A mom with two children during the day in the middle of the week can look quite suspicious. (sigh) Obviously all non-profit cultural institutions are not created equal.

      • mh
        mh says:

        In that regard, your museums are much like schools. Disinterested adults who hold children (and parents) in suspicion and alternately ignore them or monitor them for potential BadBehavior.

  27. Erin
    Erin says:

    A photograph of a painting is nothing like the original work. As an artist, this is very significant to me.

    Yes, I’ve had full museum experiences. But I’ve also had experiences in museums that have moved me and stuck with me for the rest of my life…experiences that spoke to me on a deep level where I had no words…where I didn’t even know there was anything to say.

    For instance, when I visited the contemporary art museum in Geneva, Switzerland. I was 19, traveling solo as a college student. I arrived at the museum alone. It was a warehouse transformed into exhibits. As I wandered around, the exhibits pushed the boundaries of what is considered art. There were pieces as large as my childhood house, pieces that begged for interaction, pieces I didn’t like and moved away from, quickly.

    I remember this one area. There were two rooms: one painted white, one painted yellow. Between the rooms, there was a window…observers were caged outside, because inside the rooms there were dozens and dozens of canaries. Some were white. Some were yellow. They flew back and forth between the rooms. I stared at this exhibit for a long time, and I felt many things.

    I wandered down the hall. There was a small doorway. I entered. It led, at a right angle, to another small doorway. I entered that. Inside the room, it was pitch black. I could see nothing. I groped in the darkness, trying to find a corner of the room. I was terrified. I was so worried there was someone else in there, witnessing my insecurity. I found a corner. I say down, and let the nothingness swallow my senses. I was so anxious, being alone in the dark. Then, I could hear the birds in the distance. Then, I started to see something…on the walls of the room there were scores of handprints in black light ink, and there was just enough light getting in to make them glow after my eyes adjusted. I sat there, surrounded by the handprints, and I realized: even in my darkest moments, even when I am most alone, even when I am anxious and depressed, I am never truly alone…there is always something beautiful to hang my heart on…even in the darkest rooms of my heart, there is always a shimmer of light that is inherent in the darkness. There is always a chance for peace.

  28. Carol Ely
    Carol Ely says:

    As a museum professional, I’m trying to listen to what people are saying without being defensive. I love museums, and I think that today’s museums are working to respond to changing public needs and desires. My own kids have had hugely meaningful experiences at historic sites and museums.

    I think that it’s all in how you use the museum – many educators at museums would be glad to talk with you about how to get the best out of the resources they have for the interests of your family. Many will have downloadable study guides or family tours.

    Here at Locust Grove, a historic plantation in Louisville, we are the home base of a group of homeschoolers studying American history. They’ve become costumed interpreters, researching and presenting historical characters to the public. They offer workshops on period games, and guided tours for our child visitors on some special event days. They formed the Kentucky Junior Historical Society, and have competed and won many National History Day competitions. We’re so pleased with this collaboration.

    There are lots of possibilities for learning from places and objects. Our historic house is like a time machine, that opens the imagination to empathy with the people in the past who moved through the space as well. There’s room to question and explore.

    It’s all in how you use it.

  29. Peter Lacovara
    Peter Lacovara says:

    I wonder if here the problem is not that Museums are boring, but that the many homeschooled (or unschooled-even better) children referred to here, are used to being spoon-fed everything rather than learning themselves. I’m sure they would also find libraries ‘boring.’ The objects are innately interesting in themselves. If children do not appreciate them, the fault lies with the children, not the museums.

    • mh
      mh says:

      I mean to say, I can usually keep aware of the pace and direction of what my children are studying, but the idea that they would sit around idle until I taught them something is … Laughable. Sorry to say, spoon feeding isn’t part of the day.

      Their interests and pursuits are their own. Their learning is intense, but I’m certainly not the driving force behind their intensity.

      I taught them Latin, logic, and economics. They are learning the rest themselves.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      “The objects are innately interesting in themselves. If children do not appreciate them, the fault lies with the children, not the museums.”

      Weird, what if I changed this up a bit.

      I am not interested in video games.

      Your logic:
      The video games are innately interesting in themselves. If I do not appreciate them, the fault lies with me, not the video game.

      My logic, video games don’t interest me, it is not my fault nor is it the video games. But it just happens to be my own personal preference.

      Also, I can’t really tell if you are supportive of unschooling in your comment. My unschooled children aren’t spoon fed. I’m just saying… I’m not sure where that is coming from.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Rewind, reverse that.

      The problem with children’s museums is that they are dumbed down, toy, fake. That makes them accessible to children and teachers for whom everything is always dumbed down and spoon-fed, as at school, but boring for independent children who are more interested in encountering the real world on its own terms. Homeschooled children outgrow children’s museums young.

      • BP
        BP says:

        In corner 1:
        “…many homeschooled (or unschooled-even better) children referred to here, are used to being spoon-fed everything rather than learning themselves.”

        And in corner 2:
        ” That makes them accessible to children and teachers for whom everything is always dumbed down and spoon-fed, as at school…”

        Ok, slow down, hold up. STOP.

        There can be problems with homeschooling/unschooling (such as: accessibility, exposure to class diversity, etc.). There can be problems with public schooling (not tailored to individual learning styles, discrepancies in quality depending on location).

        But can we stop with the petty home vs. public schooling wars? Instead of discussing the valid problems with both types of schooling, it seems like people just want to insult each others’ kids and glorify their own. “Spoon-fed” seems to be a popular insult here.

        To make an appropriate segue back to museums– I love museums. I think they house incredible resources for learning. However, many museums could improve vastly in the way that they distribute information to different types of learners. A child may be very independent learner, but if he/she is also a very tactile learner, then some museums might not provide an enjoyable learning experience. Increasing the number of ways that museums provide information could benefit many types of learners, regardless of how they are schooled.

        Now I don’t think there is cause to un-museum your kids, because there is a huge shift happening in museum improvement. Instead, reach out to your local museum, be it big or small, and kindly voice your specific thoughts. The question of improving educational engagement might already be on their mind, but specific feedback is crucial.

        If you’re really keen, consider trying to get involved in a volunteer capacity. Or, if they are unable to take on a volunteer in that capacity (due to time/staffing limitations, or legal reasons depending on what you specifically ask), be savvy. Can you and your child come up with new ways to interact with museum materials? Offer your inventions to friends or the online community and invite others to do the same.

        • mh
          mh says:

          I would be interested in a museum program that offered year-long apprenticeships to homeschooled children. Homeschoolers are available during the dsys and eager to learn and work. Someone mentioned a living history museum -that’s cool, but these museums are often public resources that just… Sit there.

          Museums seem to expect people to take what is offered. Museums are rarely a customer-service-driven enterprise. I’m generalizing.

          A film museum should be offering screenings to children during the days. A history museum should be teaching conservancy and curating.

          Museums are great, but what’s behind the scenes is the more interesting part.

          I say this as a person who got kicked off the private tour at Burg Eltz for opening too many closed doors. (Burg Eltz is actually a private property, so it’s not a perfect comparison).

          If you’re a public museum, be more accessible to the public. Your job is not to be prestigious minders of the culture, it is customer service. Just like Walmart and McDonald’s and Nordstrom.

          • Edward
            Edward says:

            I have enjoyed this discussion and the original post. They have been very thought provoking.

            There is something missing in this conversation. Why do museums have the exhibits and programs they do? While museums need to keep the needs and desires of their guests in mind, I think it is also important for their guests to understand the needs, requirements and challenges that museums face when they try to share their resources and treasures with the public.

            For example, museums have a mission that is by its nature contradictory. They are tasked with providing today’s audience with access to the artifacts and art. And they are also tasked with preserving these objects for future generations. Those two purposes do not easily mix. The more an object is exposed to light and fingers, the more damage it takes, the less likely your children’s grandchildren will be able to learn and enjoy the object. Yet, at the same time, if the object sits in a storage vault where no one but the occasional curator sees them, really, what value do they have if no one can learn, enjoy or be inspired by them? That is one of the daily questions museums have to wrestle with.

            I am always surprised at people who feel that because they have paid their admission, they can touch whatever they want. And then get offended when they are asked not to touch and reply with the comment, “Oh, I am just one person, one person won’t do it any harm.” Never mind that the annual visitation of the museum could be in the thousands. All of whom might feel they have the right to touch. One touch times a thousand does become significant.

            Along the same vein, the people who get offended because they are watched closely by security staff. “I don’t look like a thief!” Alas, if only all thieves in museums wore stripped shirts and face masks. I never understood why many museum visitors don’t get that many thefts in museums are done by people that look just like you and I. Not drawing attention to yourself does make it easier to successfully walkout of a building with a treasure in your bag or pocket.

            Another thing to think about is the level of the museums staff. Most museums I know of were hit very hard by the recession. That typically means they shed the staff that worked with the public. Do they have a sufficient amount of people to be able to offer diverse and meaningful programs and exhibits? Another result of the recession is that many museum staff are doing 2 to 3 full time jobs. It is difficult to be creative when you do not have the time to focus on a project.

            Developing and implementing programs is an incredibly time intensive endeavor. Quality programs do not just materialize out of thin air. Every time you spend an hour in a museum activity, there was at least one staff member who spent weeks preparing for. And if it was a large community event, they spent months if not years preparing.

            Most museums are aware that the needs and interests of their guests are changing. Most are doing what they can to create new ways to engage their interests. Some of this does involve new technologies. But here museums have to move carefully. New technologies are expensive and frequently become obsolete quickly. For example, QR codes are starting to fade out already. If you developed an exhibit panel with QR codes embedded to allow your guests to dig deeper for more info and content, how long before you have to replace the panel because the QR code technology is no longer supported? Will you have the money to install whatever is the latest and greatest new gadget that allows your guest to dig deeper? Most museums will not.

            I am also surprised by the number of people who seem to think the museum experience is the end of the learning journey. I paid my $15 so know I should have the equivalent of a bachelors degree in the topic covered. Museum exhibits and programs are only designed to be the foundation of the search. They should give you the base from which to start adding more info. Museums and their staff cannot do it all, most of the learning is on us the visitors.

            Most people who work in museums do so because they want to share the stories contained therein. If you want your museums to be a stronger place of learning get involved, volunteer, become a member, visit and fill out evaluations. But if you take a confrontational approach to giving feedback, I can guarantee the stressed and overworked museum folks are not going going to be very willing to listen and partner with you.

          • Dawn Anderson
            Dawn Anderson says:

            “If you’re a public museum, be more accessible to the public. Your job is not to be prestigious minders of the culture, it is customer service. Just like Walmart and McDonald’s and Nordstrom.” — And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I no longer take any of you seriously. On the one hand, you complain about museums ‘dumbing down’ but in the same breath you expect customer service like McDonalds? Complaining about how children’s museums are ‘over designed playgrounds’? How exactly do you think young children LEARN? You complain about how we’re getting too much money (which is utterly laughable—newsflash, for every Metropolitan Museum of Art, there are thousands of smaller museums that don’t receive even 1/100th of the notoriety/money), but expect us to pull quality educational programming out of thin air.
            None of you – INCLUDING the author – have any idea of what museums are about. A museum’s job is to be an educational/community institution, plain and simple. There is a changing tide in museums towards community engagement, and museums across the country (I can only speak for the US) are making the transition. Please do some research, you can start with the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ list of 2014 National Medal for Museum and Library Service award recipients: Go a Google search on museums and community engagement, there is a wealth of coverage on the topic.
            Of course, not all museums are getting with the program. Unfortunately there are some museums that remain clueless and are losing visitors in droves. Yes, those particular institutions run the risk of becoming irrelevant. But to paint all museums with one brush is ignorant and irresponsible. As someone mentioned above—if museums are not meeting your needs, stop whining and GET INVOLVED. Join a museum committee, volunteer, connect with museum educators and have an ADULT discussion about how they can help you. With a few notable exceptions, most museums are struggling for money. As a result, museum staff are over worked, sometimes tackling the work of 2-3 people. Believe me when I tell you, museum workers are overjoyed when people offer to help, and are all too happy to accept it. Your confrontational tone (again, author and commenters) is only alienating those who would be more than happy to help you.

  30. mh
    mh says:

    “Spoon fed”.

    That’s hilarious.

    I take it you haven’t met many homeschooled/ unschooled children ?

  31. Elizabeth Knight
    Elizabeth Knight says:

    “Children’s museums are over-designed indoor playgrounds.”

    What do you think a childen’s museum *should* be?

    Although for full disclosure I am on staff at a children’s museum, I am honestly curious as I have wrestled with that myself. Is it OK to be an indoor playground? Are there things a children’s museum could/should have that are *not* available in any house? If so, what? If exhibits changed every month, would that make it more likely for your child’s passion t to be addressed at some point? Would that be enough?

    • BP
      BP says:

      I’m interested in hearing about this too.

      I think it might all come down to recognizing that children are incredibly different learners. They learn at different speeds and in different styles. Having an exhibit try to address a wide range of learners and age groups (even higher than the typical age of a visitor) might be a solution. Try forming a group with other staff members to meet periodically and discuss this question/relevant case studies.

  32. Clare Smith
    Clare Smith says:

    I am a museum educator working in Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. I have been following the discussion with some interest. I passionately believe that museums are for everyone and they have the potential to inspire, engage, and offer opportunities for children and young people to achieve a personal sense of understanding with the world around them.

    I have seen thousands of children come through the doors of our venues over the years and for the most part I see them having a great time, engaged, participating, being creative, handling objects talking and exploring either as a class or a family or as part of one of our home school sessions. On the occasion when I am less able to see the childrens enthusiasm and engagement it tends to be mirrored in the adult/s that they bring with them. Museums are social spaces and places for discovery and curiousity but that doesn’t happen by magic, it requires interaction and being open to the experience.
    As the school summer holiday draws ever closer I am aware that in a few cases, classes are visiting our venues with little or no preparation, little staff interest in what they are going to see or do and in turn this is passed on to the pupils. I have seen large groups of over 100 pupils out for an end of term trip who miss the opportunity to value their museum experience because there is no investment from their adults in getting the most fun, enjoyable high quality engaging experience that museums can and do offer.

    Personally I am with the person who posted ‘the best way I’ve found to make the best of it is to have no expectations about what a child will do there or get out of the experience.’ (Julia on June 30, 2014 at 2:05 pm)
    We have a programme that is constantly developing called Dare to Enquire you can see a film of our pilot phase here.
    The programme supports teachers to follow their pupils learning using enquiry based learning approaches in a museum setting. The teachers and museum educators act as facilitators and the focus is on the pupil’s areas of interest, supporting them to look, think and wonder formulating questions and ideas to develop work back at school. The museum becomes an extended classroom that is the pupils to explore and take ownership of. It has been a real deep learning process for everyone that is involved and as on teacher said quite recently ‘for the pupils it is a real level buster’. This programme is as relevant to families and carers as it is to schools. Perhaps we all need the ‘permission’ and confidence to allow our natural curiosity to blossom even in places that we are not ‘at home’ in.

    • Kathrine Schlageck
      Kathrine Schlageck says:

      I believe that you are correct in every way! We find that engaged adults mean engaged children!
      From a fellow museum educator with a huge family, early childhood and school age following

  33. Kathrine Schlageck
    Kathrine Schlageck says:

    Not all museums are created equal, nor are museum visitors – as the follow-up posts evidence. While the original post is a wake-up call for many museums, I would hardly write-off museum visits with kids, or most of the innovative programs that many museums offer.

    Of interest is a new article in Art Education Magazine (July 2014) by Ilona Szekely called “Creating Meaningful Art Museum Experience for Young Children.”

    I would also suggest that the accompanying adult may add or detract from a child’s museum experience – perhaps not all the blame goes to the museum.

    • Luis Vazquez
      Luis Vazquez says:

      I’m really late in tagging in the conversation but I do have to say that the original post is very controversial – good job Penelope Trunk.

      While I agree on some of the viewpoints of this blog in general, I don’t fully agree with this post since the explanations are only partially true. Most of what Penelope considers “relevant” has to do with how museums interact with kids. Very little mention about adults in her post.

      I even wrote a response blog post to the original post. You can read it here if you’re interested:

      Nevertheless, I’m happy to see museum professionals take the post as constructive criticism. At the end of the day, Museums need feedback like this.

  34. Kathrine Schlageck, Senior Educator, Beach Museum of Art
    Kathrine Schlageck, Senior Educator, Beach Museum of Art says:

    “I was home, thinking about the business model, I realized that what Curious Methods really does is try to make the museum interesting to kids. And this is not an isolated business. My Learning Springboard and ArtSmart sell customized museum tours because, presumably, if you put a kid in a museum he will not find anything to learn without someone helping them.”

    This is what museum education departments do! It’s why we offer programs for Homeschool families.

    I’m not saying every museum experience needs to be with staff, but certainly if you want a meaningful and educative experience, you may want to think about a facilitator that specializes in museum learning and engagement!

    Think of it this way- you wouldn’t do brain surgery on your child unless you were a brain surgeon.

    And, museums are really interested in working with homeschool families. Many of our ideas on learning match yours.

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