Caregiver-Child interaction at the Children's Museum of Tacoma

How Caregivers See Learning Happen in Children’s Museums

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By Jennifer Rehkamp

Children’s museums are known for being joyful spaces where children can learn through play—and more than just fun places to visit. The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) defines a children’s museum as a nonprofit educational and cultural institution committed to serving the needs and interests of children by providing exhibits and programs that stimulate curiosity and motivate learning.

But how exactly do children’s museums support children’s learning? The Children’s Museum Research Network (CMRN) is working to use research to identify just this. Since 2014, this collective of ACM, the University of Washington’s Museology Graduate Program, and fifteen children’s museums have worked together to complete research studies that show the learning value of children’s museums.

CMRN recently completed its third research study, examining how caregivers see their children learn during museum visits. In 2017, CMRN surveyed visitors to eight children’s museums across the United States to examine the following questions:          

  • What do parents/caregivers learn about their children from their children’s museum experience?
  • What is it about the children’s museum experience that parents and caregivers feel contributes to that learning?

The study found that 70 percent of caregivers surveyed reported observing something about how their children learn during their children’s museum visit, such as their learning processes, preferences, characteristics, or skills. During follow-up interviews, caregivers shared they saw children’s museums as unique environments because of the variety of activities, spaces intentionally designed to support children’s learning and development, and opportunities for purposeful, hands-on play.

The study also found that intentionally designed exhibit environments make children’s museums places where parents and caregivers can observe their child learning. This study underscores the importance of children’s museums as spaces that both promote children’s play-based learning and allow parents and caregivers to observe their children’s learning in a unique way.

What does this research mean for parents and caregivers? Take time to observe your child learning the next time you visit your local children’s museums. You’ll likely learn about their interests, motivations, and how they gather information about the world—helping you to support their learning outside the museum visit.

Jennifer Rehkamp is Director of Field Services at the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM). Follow ACM on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.