Children's Museum Research Network

CMRN The Children's Museum Research Network (CMRN) was created in 2015 with funding from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. Its goal is to collectively develop a sustainable infrastructure for generating actionable, cross-institutional research results to advance the field-wide priorities established in the Learning Value of Children's Museums Research Agenda.

imls logoThe Association of Children's Museums and the University of Washington's Museology Graduate Program are partners in leading CMRN. An original cohort of ten children's museums was selected for their ongoing research and evaluation efforts. These ten museums have been instrumental in developing the Network and initiating research studies. An additional five museums joined the Network in September 2017. The participating institutions are:

  • DuPage Children’s Museum
  • Thanksgiving Point Institute
  • Minnesota Children’s Museum
  • Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
  • The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
  • The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum
  • Children’s Museum of Tacoma
  • Boston Children’s Museum
  • Providence Children’s Museum
  • Children’s Museum of Houston
  • The Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus
  • Glazer Children's Museum
  • Canadian Children's Museum (Canadian Museum of History)
  • Port Discovery Children's Museum
  • Children's Museum of Sonoma County

Learn more about CMRN's background and view an infographic about the project. CMRN has completed two research studies and is actively conducting a third. Read more about the studies below.

Research Study 1: Learning Frameworks

The Network's first study focused on learning frameworks with learning frameworks being defined as the educational standards and/or outcomes by which museums guide the development of exhibits and programs. The study analyzed learning frameworks from five Network museums. Analysis was guided by the following research questions:

  • What major vocabularies do the frameworks share? Where do they diverge?
  • What constructs do children's museums use and prioritize in the learning frameworks?
  • What learning theories do these frameworks implicitly and explicitly reflect or endorse?

CMRN SIG1 The Network completed a document review of each of the five frameworks and interviews with key staff at the museums to develop a deeper understanding of how their institutional beliefs have been reflected in the learning frameworks' development and use. Analysis of the data revealed three key themes: learning approaches, learning outcomes, and the role of play in each of the learning frameworks. Dissemination of the research study results include:

Research Study 2: The Value of Play in Children's Museums

The Network's first research study on Learning Frameworks revealed variation in how individual museums emphasize play, defined play, and described the connections between play and learning. For these reasons, the Network decided to focus on play for its second research study. The Network interviewed senior education and exhibits staff from a representative sample of 48 children's museums across the U.S., asking each participant to describe their institution's perspectives on play.

Research Question:

  • How do children's museums position themselves and their work around play?

Interview Topics:

  • Visibility & role of play in mission statement
  • Definitions of play used by museum internally
  • Beliefs about the connections between play and learning
  • Benefits of play
  • Measures of play

Study findings indicated that while many children's museum staff strongly value play, few have formal descriptions of what play means or how play supports learning in their institutions. Dissemination of the research study results include:

  • Getting Serious About the Value of Play in Children's Museums, InterActivity session, May 4, 2017
  • "Exploring the Learning Value of Children's Museums Through a Research Network," UpNext Blog, Institute of Museum and Library Services, February 9, 2017
  • "Play and Children's Museums: A Path Forward or a Point of Tension?" Curator The Museum Journal, January 2017
  • CMRN Research Study 2: The Value of Play in Children's Museums. Analysis slide deck, November, 2016.
  • Play Is...Recent Research Findings and Their Application, InterActivity session, May 16, 2018
  • Attend the webinar: Play Is...Recent Research Findings and Their Application on Tuesday, August 28, 2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Research Study 3: Caregivers Understanding of Learning in Children's Museums

The Network's third research study is intended to gain a better understanding of what parents/caregivers learn about their children during a visit to a children's museum. Eight CMRN member museum asked their visitors to participate in online questionnaires during July-September 2017. A total of 223 visitors responded to the surveys. This study is guided by the following research questions:

  • What do parents/caregivers learn about their children from their children's museum experience?
  • What is it about the children's museum experience that parents/caregivers feel contributes to that learning?

Study findings indicated that most parents/caregivers did observe their child(ren) learning during their visit to a children's museum and were able to identify different types of learning they observed. The study also revealed indications on the uniqueness of learning in a children's museum. A follow-up interview was conducted in January 2018 in order to further understand the value of the observed learning to the parent/caregiver during their children's museum visit. Dissemination of the research study results include:

Research Study 4: Children's Social-Emotional Development

The Network will continue to investigate the learning value of children's museums as it conducts it's fourth research study during the Summer of 2018. Specifically this study is intended to provide a better understanding of how children's museums contribute to the social and emotional growth of children. Observations of a child's behavior during a visit to a children's museums will be conducted. The Network has decided to use the Minnesota Preschool Affect Checklist (MPAC) observation tool to record their findings. 

More to come!

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