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October 23, 2007


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Erica Donnis

As a museum professional and parent of a young child, I agree with your analysis of why history museums are not popular with young families. I think parents often have the perception, accurate or inaccurate, that history museums offer little for active young children who need to move and be stimulated constantly because of their shorter attention spans. I also wonder if parents stay away from history museums because of the difficulty of keeping small children from touching and possibly breaking irreplaceable items. Who wants to spend the experience constantly disciplining your child ("look with your eyes, not your hands" ...)? In my opinion, unless history museums are proactive about marketing their programs as active, hands-on learning experiences, parents are likely go elsewhere.


What about targeting people who have no children?
Why must a history museum be an "amusement park?" I realize that's an exaggerated description,but having been a museum director I got tired of being told to be more interactive. Doesn't thinking about what one is looking at count as interactivity? What about having a quiet place to come to in this increasingly jangled, noisy world?
Only the very youngest need to touch a piece of fur or try on "the funny clothes." The older ones among us should be given the opportunity to ponder what we are looking at or a quiet space in which to just ponder.
One of the things I used to like best about my then-favorite museum was that I could go back any time and study the same exhibits over and over. Then the "1980s" hit and suddenly, "studying" was no longer a valid activity [yup, activity] for the average museum-goer. I no longer bother visiting the museum because it's too darn crowded, nothing is the same from one time to the next and worst of all, the price of admission is out of sight.

Susie Wilkening, Reach Advisors

Hi Regine - thanks for your comment. The research for this post came from a study we did of children's museums last year, hence the family-focus. Since then, we have done a lot more research, including history-based museums. There are a lot of compelling reasons to focus on adults too, but we are finding that "traditional" museums, including history-based museums, are of critical, critical importance to very young children and that exposure to these museums are key to creating future generations of adults who appreciate museums. Ultimately, we need to serve both audiences very well. And hands-on, interactive exhibits? Well, they have their place, but may not be the end-all be-all in childhood learning.

We will be sharing a lot more on this subject over the next few months, as we complete some research projects. So look for more hard data on the topic soon. In the meantime, please do dip into the category "history visitors" found in the menu on the right. There is a lot there not just on families, but on adults too!

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