We think children’s museums are fun places where families learn together. But do the parents and grandparents that bring their children to children’s museums agree?
In our latest field-wide survey, which included over 8,400 core visitors to children’s museums across the country, we did a little digging around what visitors think the role of children’s museums is.
But first, let’s take a look at who responded, as that affects the results pretty significantly.
Unsurprisingly, the typical respondent to this survey was a mom – 77% of the sample. Most moms were in their 30s, college-educated, married, white, and three-quarters have a child that is 5 or younger. This was almost identical to our findings from our 2007 children’s museum study, which tells us two things:
- that the "sweet spot" for children's museums continues to be families with the youngest children (pre-school and younger).
- that there continues to be a persistent gap in reaching more diverse audiences, especially among those with lower educational attainment, minorities, and single parents. This is not a challenge unique to children’s museums, however, but common among museums of all types.
Respondents visited primarily because their children love the museum (66%), for learning opportunities for their children (59%), and because it is fun (58%). These results are consistent with our previous samples from children’s museums.
When we ran our first children’s museum study in 2007, however, we were stunned to find that only 34% of respondents felt that their needs were met. In our 2012 study . . . it was once again 34%. (For context, we generally find a similar percentage of science center respondents say their needs are met, but for art and history museum respondents the percentage is closer to half. Why the difference? We think a lot of it has to do with moms with young children being the toughest, most negative audience segment in museums, and children’s museums and science centers serve a lot of moms and their families.)
Since moms in particular tend to treat visiting museums, especially children’s museums, as more of a task to complete than an enjoyable family outing, we were not terribly surprised by the results when we asked respondents what they felt the primary purposes of a children’s museum were. The top responses were:
- 79% - place for child to have fun and play
- 77% - place for child to learn and develop
- 66% - place for child to get excited about learning
Only one in five felt that children’s museums were places that brought their family closer together. Since only 16% of respondents said they, as adults, were engaged at the children's museums, it is pretty clear that children's museums are generally perceived to be places to visit for your child, and not as much places you visit with your child.
But keep in mind that these findings reflect what respondents explicitly think of children’s museums. In later posts we’ll come back to what they, and their children, have found most meaningful and memorable, as they are not quite the same thing.
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