Have you visited a children’s museum lately? You may be surprised by what you find.
At the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in New York, children crawl through the entire digestive system to learn how it works when they visit the EatSleepPlay installation. With such labels as “Intestines: Digestion Ahead,” the exhibit is part of a larger effort by the Children’s Museum of Manhattan to help prevent childhood obesity. There is also a play center where visitors learn the power of pedaling, bouncing and jumping and a place to meet superpowered vegetable heroes.
Social Outreach At Children’s Museums
From The New York Times:
While children’s museums are primarily known as activity centers to divert the younger set and to help form future museumgoers, they are increasingly focused on social outreach. “Part of our mission is to provide access,” said Andy Ackerman, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. “Social issues, education, health and creativity — it’s all a continuum, and we can connect those domains and reinforce each of them.”
Museums are also developing continuing relationships with outside experts. The Children’s Museum of Manhattan, for example, has worked closely with health advisers like Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. Her research helped the museum develop the sleep section of the EatSleepPlay exhibition, covering topics like preparing for sleep, what happens during sleep and how much sleep children need.
The history of children’s museums is pretty recent. I remember visiting the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, one of the pioneers, a few years ago, and being amazed to discover all the hands-on activities, as well as firefighter storytime, little yogis, flight exploration, bilingual storytelling – exciting stuff for little ones!
Museums Invite Kids With Special Needs, Homeless Kids
And now the field is widening, as children’s museums are using various social issues to reach out to their audience. The Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore has adapted museum exhibits and programming for children with special needs. The Young at Art Museum in Davie, Fla., has an afterschool arts program for homeless students, while Providence Children’s Museum in Rhode Island helps children in foster care find permanent families.
Some children’s museums are also targeting specific groups of people: the Children’s Museum of Manhattan is open to children with autism and their families, as well as to school groups, on Mondays, and the ARTogether program at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in Soho brings foster children together with their biological parents to create art, led by a clinically trained, licensed art therapist.
What do you think? Does addressing social issues at children’s museums seem like a good idea?
Photo Credit: Tony Crescibene