The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly difficult for children and families. Whether caregivers are essential workers, working from home, or stay-at-home care providers, they have needed to navigate childcare and online or hybrid schooling in the midst of the extreme stress and isolation of the past year. In many ways, this year has exposed the failings of our social safety net—and many children’s museums have found ways to provide support and fill the gaps. On April 6, the Association of Children’s Museums held “Museums Mobilize to Support Parents and Caregivers,” a webinar looking at three museum-community partnerships in this parent support space.
This webinar was the second in ACM’s Museums Mobilize webinar series, following “Museums Mobilize to Combat Food Insecurity during COVID-19.” ACM launched Museums Mobilize last year to show how children’s museums around the world are supporting children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While 70 percent of ACM’s member museums are currently open to visitors, this number is a high point over the past year. However, children’s museums’ work has always gone beyond their physical venues. All children’s museums function in four ways, which ACM defines as the Four Dimensions of Children’s Museums: as local destinations, educational laboratories, community resources, and advocates for children. During the pandemic, when most children’s museums couldn’t fulfill this local destination role, they were able to innovate and expand across the other three dimensions.
One trend that has emerged from the Museums Mobilize initiative’s documentation is programming to support parents and caregivers, especially as it relates to the stresses they’ve endured during the pandemic, as explored in “Museums Mobilize to Support Parents and Caregivers.” ACM Executive Director Laura Huerta Migus began the webinar with an introduction of the Museums Mobilize initiative, and how it builds from ACM’s Four Dimensions of Children’s Museums. The speakers then engaged in a fireside chat about their work in support of parents and caregivers.
Leslie Perovich, Chief Operating Officer of Pretend City Children’s Museum and Tiffany Alva, Director of Partnerships and Government Affairs at First 5 Orange County, discussed their organizations’ partnership to offer free development screenings to all young children in Orange County, California. Developmental screenings assess children’s social-emotional wellbeing, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The partnership has extended into information-sharing and support.
Julia Bland, CEO of Louisiana Children’s Museum and Past President of the ACM board of directors, and Dr. Angie Breidenstine, a psychologist with the Tulane Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, talked about their In Dialogue video chat series, which demystifies mental health issues for caregivers and their children. Launched in March 2020, the series has covered critical topics facing families over the past year.
Alix Tonsgard, Early Learning Specialist at DuPage Children’s Museum, discussed DuPage Children’s Museum’s Partners in Play program, formed in partnership with Jump Start, to support caregivers. Funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Partners in Play had hosted two in-person sessions before the pandemic hit. They quickly pivoted their program to continue to engage families, many of whom had no other supports in those first few months off the pandemic. (Read more about Partners in Play in “Building Relationships through a Pandemic.”)
Together, all participants discussed the needs they identified in parents and caregivers that inspired them to start their programs, and why they chose to collaborate with like-minded organizations.
The next Museums Mobilize webinar will take place on May 6 at 2:00 p.m. ET, focusing on how children’s museums are supporting children with special needs during the pandemic. This fireside chat-style discussion will feature leaders from Pretend City Children’s Museum, Louisiana Children’s Museum, and DuPage Children’s Museum, along with community partners. Register here.
As the world looks to reopening, it’s clear the pandemic will have consequences on museum operations for years to come. ACM’s Museums Mobilize initiative highlights the need to invest in children’s museums as community responders. Learn more about the efforts of children’s museums worldwide the hashtag #MuseumsMobilize and by viewing the Museums Mobilize dashboard with key stats at ChildrensMuseums.org/Museums-Mobilize.
Photo courtesy of DuPage Children’s Museum.