museumblog (3)

Children’s Museums: Not just for kids

If you're in the business of kids and media, children's museums are a must-see. Use the exhibits, as well as the building design, as a guide to how kids test, play and learn.
May 22, 2013

Sandbox Summit co-founder Claire Green gives a new perspective to “Children’s” museums.

Those of us who produce conferences can’t always sit still long enough to learn from the speakers we’ve gathered. As co-founder and organizer of Sandbox Summit, I usually have to wait until the presentations are online to hear them in their entirety.  So it was great fun to be a freewheeling participant at the Reimagining Children’s Museums conference in Pittsburgh earlier this month. I listened, I played, and I learned; it doesn’t get much better than that.

If you haven’t been to a children’s museum lately, run, do not walk to one in your area or plan a visit wherever your next trip takes you. Unlike most museums for grownups, children’s museums have a “please touch” design and policy. If you’re in the business of kids and media, children’s museums are a must-see.  Use the exhibits, as well as the building design, as a guide to how kids test, play and learn. Curiosity in the space is palpable, as evidenced by what Children’s Museum Pittsburgh has to offer. Touching, poking and prodding are required. Learning occurs naturally, collaboratively, and constantly.

Do not underestimate the power of collaboration. Collaboration makes both creative sense and business sense. Renaissance man Drew Davidson’s labs at Carnegie Mellon’s ETC hummed with students’ collaborative energy and outcome. The dry, droll and utterly delightful Luis Ahn , Inventor of the cursed Captcha, demonstrated the power of collaboration in his newest undertaking, Duolingo.

Curiosity is evident in everywhere.  Connecting that to your work requires implementing game designer Jesse Schell’s words as a mantra: “A game is a problem that indulges curiosity.” How fabulous a credo is that?

The power of generosity can fuel inspiration. The twinkle in Eric Carle’s eyes is tribute to his philosophy and his work. We were treated to a showing of Picture Writer, an exquisite 30-minute video that documents Carle’s generosity as an artist – sharing his success, his process, and his perspective. As Mr. Carle said in the Q&A session that followed, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been very good to us —my wife Bobbie and I founded the Eric Carle Museum for Picture Book Art.” Under the leadership of the ever gracious, talented and tenacious Alix Kennedy, this museum is another must-see.

The power of generosity can fuel change. Not all bankers are stuffy. James E. Rohr, Executive Chairman of PNC Financial Services Group, is as charming as they come. His keynote address was both a plea for— and proof of —the importance of corporations investing in programs that provide all children access to quality early childhood education. The crowd cheered, and so should you.

Good children’s museums are more than just an afternoon playdate.  Sure, a visit will thrill your kids, but it will also refresh your own outlook, and may even inspire you to re-imagine how you approach your work.

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