5 Ways Children’s Museums Have Said “We Can Do This”

We Can Do This logo for blog

Over the past five months, ACM partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the We Can Do This campaign to help increase the public confidence and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines among families and children. In just a short time, ACM shared critical updates and campaign information with over 53,000 people through social media, member discussion forums, virtual calls with museum CEOs, and at our annual 2022 InterActivity conference.

In addition, children’s museums across the country supported these efforts by educating and sharing information about vaccines and the importance of getting loved ones and community members vaccinated with their audiences. Below are five ways children’s museums helped share the word about COVID-19 vaccines.

Displayed a 4-Panel Exhibit on Vaccines

Museums did what they do best—share it with an exhibition! Over 25 children’s museums signed up to print and display the 4-panel exhibit on vaccines and viruses created by ACM and HHS to help parents better understand vaccine safety and increase parental confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. Together, more than half of the participating museums reported the ability to reach nearly 401,000 people, while one museum that integrated the panels into its own exhibition reported over 13,500 viewers.

Shared about COVID-19 Vaccines on Social Media

Direct communications with community members were vital to the campaign. 13 children’s museums helped educate nearly 170,000 parents and caregivers on the importance of COVID-19 vaccines through dedicated social media posts, emails/e-newsletters, and vaccine-related information shared on their websites.

Hung COVID-19 Vaccine-Related Posters

In hallways, bathrooms, bulletin boards, and more, displaying COVID-19 vaccine-related posters was another way 11 museums encouraged close to 179,000 visitors, including parents and caregivers, to protect their children by getting them a COVID-19 vaccine.

Hosted Educational Health and Wellness Programs for Children

Some children’s museums saw the opportunity to host other health-related events like Teddy Bear Clinics, in which children role-played with their teddy bear “patient” during several stages of a healthcare visit. Facilitated by health care professionals, these clinics helped reduce fear and empower children by providing their chosen toy with the same treatments they would receive, such as COVID-19 vaccines.

Hosted or Supported COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics

Children’s museums have been busy serving their communities this year. Thirty-seven ACM member museums have reported hosting a vaccine-related program, 26 of which were vaccination clinics that served numerous families and children. Several other children’s museums plan to host or participate in vaccination clinics later this summer in an effort to get more parents, caregivers, and children protected against COVID-19.


If your children’s museum is interested in hosting a vaccine clinic, displaying the 4-panel exhibition on vaccines, or sharing more information about COVID-19 vaccines, you still can!

The We Can Do This website has up-to-date resources for getting the word out, guides for hosting your own vaccination clinic, and supplemental information for helping increase vaccine confidence among parents and caregivers. All resources are available in Spanish on the Spanish language site, JuntosSíPodemos. You can also contact Keni.Sturgeon@ChildrensMuseums.org at ACM for a copy of the 4-panel exhibition for your museum. Together, We Can Do This!

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

Virtual Programming in Action: National Children’s Museum

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 5.4, the fourth report in the fifth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology.

For this ACM Trends Report, we invited staff from National Children’s Museum in Washington, DC, to write about their experiences with virtual programming during COVID-19. Staff from the museum participated in the October 2021 discussion forum focused on virtual programming (See ACM Trends Report 5.1 for details).

After seventeen years without a permanent home in Washington, DC, National Children’s Museum (NCM) reopened as a science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) focused institution on February 24, 2020. Eighteen days later, the Museum temporarily closed as a precaution against COVID-19, and committed to providing families and educators with free, meaningful experiences at home. When the institution reopened, NCM continued to offer virtual programming for children under twelve and their families, garnering more than three million impressions to date.

While preparing to reopen, NCM conducted a survey to better understand the community’s engagement with the museum, including its virtual offerings. Fifty percent of respondents indicated they would be likely or very likely to engage with virtual offerings once NCM opened. Although the virtual offerings were initially developed in response to a need created by the pandemic, they are now part of the museum’s ongoing programmatic strategy.

This ACM Trends Report describes the survey items related to virtual programs and the current “evergreen” programming that will be retained based on these data.

ACM Trends #5.4

When NCM reopened to in-person visits in September 2021, it began complementing its on-site programming with the on-demand resources developed during the pandemic. As NCM looks to the future, staff are committed to maintaining, and in some cases, expanding the museum’s virtual offerings. All of the virtual experiences created during NCM’s pandemic closure are fully aligned with its mission and continue to be essential to its ability to promote its mission to audiences locally and abroad.

Social Media Video + Digital Resources

Between March and May 2020, NCM produced free STEAM videos that premiered seven days a week on its social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). Funded by Booz Allen Hamilton, the series called “STEAMwork” featured experiments, projects, design + build challenges, story times, and demonstrations.

These videos and accompanying resources were made available free-of-charge on NCM’s website and continue to be featured as “STEAM At Home” opportunities in the museum’s newsletter. Staff also send the videos to educators as a post field trip resource for continued learning.

One NCM exhibit that was successfully adapted is its Climate Action Headquarters. In the pre-pandemic era visitors had participated in monthly missions and climate challenges. The virtual format introduced during the pandemic allowed visitors to determine their own climate action hero persona by answering a playful online quiz. This virtual version is available as part of NCM’s STEAMwork series. At this writing, NCM staff anticipate producing additional STEAMwork videos and related resources with ties to curriculum standards to promote classroom use.


With funding from GEICO and The Akamai Foundation, NCM launched the STEAM Daydream with National Children’s Museum podcast in June 2020 to provide tailored content to young audiences.

Staff engaged 3rd– to 5th-graders as interviewers. The first season had 18 episodes on critical, timely issues. Each episode allowed young learners to hear from STEAM experts, ask questions, and understand the world around them. Topics included:

• What children want to know about the COVID-19 vaccine with Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, the Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC,
• The wonder of animation with Dave Cunningham, Supervising Director of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants.

The Museum’s podcast, featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Vox, was streamed 5,000+ times, with 15% international listenership for the first season. In 2022, NCM began production for the second season of the podcast for debut in the fall, followed by an assessment to determine the feasibility of a third season.

Virtual Field Trip Videos + Live Virtual Extension Sessions

NCM also developed two 20-minute virtual field trip videos based on in-person offerings. These virtual trips were offered to educators and families free of charge. Both virtual field trips are aligned with Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. So far, the videos have been requested by thousands of educators across all 50 states.

The first video, “Head in the Clouds,” prompts budding young scientists to observe and identify different types of clouds. When this video was released in May 2020, the museum received 475 initial requests for it from educators and caregivers. Of those 475 requests, 285 were from educators, who almost universally expressed interest in having their class participate in virtual extension sessions related to the video.

This demand enabled the museum to secure funding from a media company to develop a second video, “Climate Action Heroes.” This video explored the difference between weather and climate and introduces learners to seven real-life climate action heroes from across the country.

To extend learning beyond the videos, NCM has offered classroom teachers the opportunity to sign up for “live virtual extension sessions’’ with museum educators. These hour-long sessions, held over platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, help youth in formal classroom settings delve deeper into complementary content, participate in virtual activities, and ask museum educators questions.

Grant-funding through the end of 2021 offset the fee-based model for local Title 1 schools to book the sessions at no cost. Between May 2020 and June 2021, NCM fielded requests from 1,401 educators interested in live classroom sessions. Overall, NCM received 2,382 overall requests for access to the “Head in the Clouds” and “Climate Action Heroes” videos.

At this writing, staff plan to focus on content designed specifically for 3rd to 5th grade, which make up the majority of onsite field trips at the museum. Staff believe that this audience will be best served through live virtual field trips led by museum educators.

Based on the scale of these programs, NCM added a dedicated second full time educator to focus on teaching live extension sessions. The internal analysis also confirmed the museum will require dedicated space for a virtual field trip studio to allow educators the privacy and technical setup to teach effectively.

Lastly, the team recognized that programming developed during COVID tended to be longer than newer audiences anticipate. They concluded that offering shorter, fee-based classes, as well as promoting live virtual field trips to a national audience may be an effective use of resources.

Re-opening Survey

Figure 1. Responses to NCM’s re-opening survey question on digital offerings used (N = 316).

NCM shared a re-opening survey through their newsletter, which had nearly 10,000 subscribers at the time of distribution. The 316 returned surveys translate to a (roughly) 3% response rate.

The survey asked two questions on virtual programming:

• During National Children’s Museum’s temporary in-person closure, did you use any of the museum’s digital offerings? If so, please check all that apply.
• How likely are you to continue to use–or begin to use–the museum’s digital offerings once our institution and others are open for in-person visits?

While only 15 percent or less of respondents utilized the museum’s digital offerings (Figure 1), 24 percent said (Figure 2) they would be likely or very likely to use digital offerings in the future. An additional 24 percent indicated they were neutral to digital programming.

Figure 2. Responses to NCM’s re-opening survey question on digital offerings (N = 316).

With roughly 50% of respondents neutral or likely to consider virtual offerings once NCM re-opened, the Museum felt there was sufficient interest to continue some types of virtual programs, especially given prevailing health and safety concerns. Coupled with the data on educators’ interest in virtual field trips and live educator extension sessions, NCM felt compelled to retain virtual programming as an asset for the museum moving forward.

Key Takeaways

There are a few important takeaways from the NCM’s experiences with virtual programming:


• NCM’s reach across the country has expanded through free virtual content, contributing to its identity as a national institution. For example, as of September 2021, the Museum has served educators in all 50 states, which is a 90% increase from February 2020.
• Creating new categories of experiences and content has strengthened a culture of innovation amongst staff members, providing the opportunity to think creatively and develop new skillsets.


• Balancing the allocation of resources, especially staff time, between designing and implementing onsite programming and keeping this digital exhibit dynamic with fresh content is highly challenging. Virtual content creation is extremely labor and time intensive, as well as requiring additional investment in equipment and even reallocation of physical space.
• The content available to the public on demand via social media or podcast platforms is free. This has depended on continued success in corporate fundraising.


• By demonstrating its ability to adapt and fulfill the NCM mission in a new environment, the organization was able to tap new funding sources. This extends beyond grants to support content creation; our experience suggests is an opportunity to generate revenue on an ongoing basis from fee-based live virtual trips for primary school classrooms nationwide.
• NCM’s profile has been raised by the significant attention its high-quality virtual programming has received in national media coverage.


• Public engagement plays a key role in sustaining virtual programming, especially in terms of justifying the allocation of labor. A reduction in online consumption would affect the ability to create new content.


Association of Children’s Museums. (2021, March 18) Reflecting on One Year of the Pandemic for Children’s Museums and the Communities They Serve. https://bit.ly/3jhxmJF

Flinner, K., Field, S., Voiklis, J., Thomas, U.G., & ACM Staff (2021). Museums in a Pandemic: Personnel & Rebuilding Teams. ACM Trends 4(12). Knology & Association of Children’s Museums.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramKnology produces practical social science for a better world. Follow Knology on Twitter.

Key Concepts: Trust

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 5.3, the third report in the fifth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology.

This ACM Trends Report delves into the topic of trust, which is particularly important as museums reach out to new audiences with activities such as virtual programming. Knology researcher John Voiklis shares what research suggests about the nature of trust and its impact on the relationship between a museum and its audience(s).

Virtual programming became an unplanned necessity when children’s museums had to close their doors to the public during the pandemic. Nevertheless, it began to fulfill a long-sought goal of children’s museums: reaching previously unreachable audiences.

This benefit was cited by participants in the surveys that were reported in Volume 4 of the ACM Trends Report series, and by participants in the first annual discussion forum hosted by Knology and Association of Children’s Museums (see ACM Trends Report 5.1). During the forum, participants talked about using virtual programs to cultivate trusting relationships with new audiences.

This ACM Trends Report differentiates between two types of trust identified by social scientists: identity-based trust and experience-based trust (Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt, & Camerer, 1998). It reviews evidence from a large-scale study Knology conducted with institutions that share audiences with children’s museums and play a similar role in the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children: zoos and aquariums. The study shows the particular importance of experience-based trust in building trusting relationships with a broad audience. Lastly, the report explores how children’s museums might apply what Knology learned about experience-based trust to outreach efforts such as virtual programming, focusing on two facets: Reliability and Benevolence.

ACM Trends #5.3

Trust ranks as a major concern in the museum field (Museums and Trust 2021). Moreover, it plays a foundational role in all human relations. The anthropological and psychological literature makes it clear that without help from others, people cannot meet their material, emotional, and intellectual needs (Tomasello & Gonzalez-Cabrera, 2017). Trust is how people manage the risks associated with such high levels of interdependence (Cvetkovich & Lofstedt, 2013).

Almost every scholarly field has developed one or more theories of trust. This report will introduce two consensus varieties: identity-based trust and experience- based trust (Rousseau et al., 1998), focusing on the latter.

Sometimes, people choose to trust those with whom they share some kind of identity or affinity. For example, as a research psychologist, I tend to seek career advice from other research psychologists. This is identity-based trust. At many organizations, the marketing department manages identity-based trust by convincing people to see the organization as a likeable friend. For example, a children’s museum might market itself as a fun place where families feel welcome.

More often, people choose to trust those whom prior experience has shown are trustworthy; this is experience- based trust. Research shows that whether people are judging another person, an organization, or even a robot, they use the same five criteria when conferring experience-based trust: Competence, Reliability, Sincerity, Integrity, and Benevolence.

For example, I trust my hair stylist because she gives me great haircuts (competence) on every occasion (reliability); she is transparent about pricing (sincerity), which is consistent for everyone (integrity); and she both asks after my wellbeing and actively listens to my responses (benevolence). This report will look most closely at Reliability and Benevolence (see section Trust in Children’s Museums).

First, it is useful to summarize some of what Knology has already learned about trust from zoos and aquariums.

While zoos and aquariums are different institutions than children’s museums, all three play a role in the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children.

Further, all three institutions work to build trust as both mission-based organizations that serve their audiences (at least in part) through publicly accessible facilities.

Trust in Action: Believing Zoos and Aquariums

Zoos and aquariums work to promote the conservation of wildlife and wild places. Typically, they rely on identity- based trust to gauge the credibility of their conservation messages: to learn whether their audiences believe their messages they instead ask whether those audiences like them (favorability) and feel attached (affinity) to them as places. This approach is not wrong, but it is incomplete. Although the conservation mission extends far beyond their facilities, people decide whether they trust in the institution’s conservation mission based on what the experience firsthand when visiting and what they hear about through their social networks

Theories of persuasion posit a much larger role for the criteria of experience-based trust (trustworthiness) in deciding whether to believe a message about conservation or any topic.

ACM Trends 5.3 Figure 1

Figure 1. Model of how trust contributes to message credibility. Blue and green arrows show the contributions of experience- based trust. This report pays special attention to the contributions of the green arrows.

Figure 1 shows how the criteria of the two varieties of trust fuse into “epistemic authority”—i.e., whether people see you as a thought leader. The icons represent collections of behaviors the public judges when deciding whether to trust a potential thought leader. The arrows show the influence of epistemic authority on whether people believe the potential thought leader, i.e., believing the conservation messages that zoos and aquariums offer as potential conservation leaders.

Knology worked with zoos and aquariums to identify nearly one hundred behaviors that sampled every aspect of daily operations and mission-related work, including caring for animals, interacting with visitors and the local community, supporting staff, managing their finances, etc. (Voiklis, Gupta, Rank, et al., In Press).

We might call this activity “what is your trust fall?” In identifying these behaviors, Knology was asking zoos and aquariums to imagine each one as a piece of evidence for why members of the public should take the risk of trusting them. Two thousand people from around the U.S. participated in two surveys to assess the importance of these behaviors and how well zoos and aquariums performed them.

The results matched the theory: trustworthiness, with its five experience-based criteria, was the strongest predictor of message credibility. Identity-based trust criteria also mattered, but more so for specialized publics: For example, those who regularly sought out conservation news and likely identified as conservationists.

Trust for Children’s Museums

These findings from Knology on zoos and aquariums offer insights for the children’s museum field. Of course, children’s museums have a distinct trust profile that reflects their focus on children rather than conservation.

Further research is required to identify the key reasons behind children’s museums’ message credibility, as detailed with zoos and aquariums above.

Nevertheless, museum professionals can run an activity akin to the “what is your trust fall?” exercise. They can identify behaviors that provide the evidence their audiences need to assess trustworthiness. Virtual programming can provide evidence for almost every criterion of trustworthiness. Here, we focus on two criteria—Reliability and Benevolence—that audiences are likely to use when judging the trustworthiness of a children’s museum with which they are newly acquainted.

Virtual Programming as Evidence of Reliability

Children’s museums have long sought to reach audiences who cannot visit their facilities due to geographical distance and/or costs. Virtual programs, originally intended as an emergency response to the pandemic, help accomplish that goal. Continuing to produce virtual programming may tax resources for some museums, making these programs unfeasible. However, museums interested in sustaining virtual programming can use it as a way to cultivate the museum’s reputation for reliability and build trust with new audiences.

Virtual Programming as Evidence of Benevolence

Producing virtual programming can also serve as evidence of goodwill for audiences who cannot otherwise access the children’s museum. Again, continuing to offer consistent virtual programming would further cultivate the museum’s reputation for benevolence.

Market research (e.g., Dilenschneider, 2020) shows people avoid museums after a negative experience, including a seeming “bait and switch” in programming. It is possible to repair a breach of benevolence (Xie & Peng, 2009), but the process is slow and resource intensive.

Key Takeaway

Research shows that trust is crucial to successful engagement by public institutions, although much work remains to be done on the specific trust profile of children’s museums. Museums can get a head start by assessing their exhibits and programs—including virtual programming—from the perspective of their audiences. Museums can ask what does this exhibit or program reveal about my Competence, Reliability, Sincerity, Integrity, and Benevolence? Research can then test whether audiences agree when deciding whether they trust children’s museums and believe their messages.


Cvetkovich, G., & Lofstedt, R. E. (2013). Social Trust and the Management of Risk. Routledge.

Dilenschneider, C. (2020, June 24). Why People Say They Won’t Visit Cultural Entities, COVID-19 Aside (DATA). Impacts Experience. https://www.colleendilen.com/2020/06/24/why-people-say-they-wont-visit-cultural-entities-covd-19-aside-data/

Field, S., Fraser, J., Thomas, U.G., Voiklis, J., & ACM Staff (2022). The Expanding Role of Virtual Programming in Children’s Museums. ACM Trends 5(1). Knology & Association of Children’s Museums.

Museums and Trust 2021. (2021, September 21). American Association of Museums. https://www.aam-us.org/2021/09/30/museums-and-trust-2021/

Rousseau, D. M., Sitkin, S. B., Burt, R. S., & Camerer, C. (1998). Not so Different after All: A Cross-Discipline View of Trust. The Academy of Management Review, 23(3), 393–404.

Tomasello, M., & Gonzalez-Cabrera, I. (2017). The Role of Ontogeny in the Evolution of Human Cooperation. Human Nature, 28(3), 274–288.

Voiklis, J., Gupta, R., Rank, S. J., Dwyer, J. T., Fraser, J. R., and Thomas,

G. (In Press). Believing zoos and aquariums as conservation informants. Zoos & Aquariums in the Public Mind. Springer Nature.

Xie, Y., & Peng, S. (2009). How to repair customer trust after negative publicity: The roles of competence, integrity, benevolence, and forgiveness. Psychology & Marketing, 26(7), 572–589.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramKnology produces practical social science for a better world. Follow Knology on Twitter.

Museum Summer Camps and COVID Safety

Sample social posts from the We Can Do This Summer Camp Toolkit

It is finally summer with school out of session and camp activities in full swing! Museum camps are one of the best places for children to spend their summers investigating, learning, and growing in a safe and educational environment. A crucial element of a great camp experience is keeping parents and caregivers informed about your COVID-19 safety protocols and policies, including precautions they can take to protect their children from COVID-19.

As part of our partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we are sharing below some of the latest resources available for camp administrators from the We Can Do This public education campaign. From safety checklists to voluntary vaccination policies, these tools can support camp administrators who want to help increase confidence in and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines among staff and campers. The toolkit and all assets are available in both English and Spanish.

Checklist for Staying Safe From COVID-19 at Summer Camp

When making up information packets for parents and caregivers, consider including this COVID-19 safety checklist to review as they prepare to send their child to camp. Getting children vaccinated, testing frequently, and staying home when sick are just some of the precautions that can help everyone have a safer camp experience.

Summer Camp Blog and Social Media Posts About COVID-19 Vaccines

In addition to sending pre-camp information packets, museums can continuously keep parents and caregivers informed about the availability of COVID-19 vaccines through digital communications.

Check out this example blog post for camp administrators to share on their website about how campers can protect themselves from COVID-19, plus social media posts targeted at parents and caregivers about the importance of keeping campers safe by getting them vaccinated.

Text Messages to Encourage Vaccination

Frequent communication is the key to educating parents and caregivers about the risks of COVID-19 and the benefits of getting their children vaccinated. If you stay in touch with parents and caregivers via text, consider sending these messages as-is or as inspiration for your own draft messages to encourage them to get their child vaccinated before camp.

Voluntary Summer Camp Vaccination Model Policy

Depending on the state your museum is located in, your camp administrators may be able to implement a voluntary vaccination policy for staff and campers. This voluntary vaccination policy template highlights all the items your camp should cover including the effective date, purpose, scope, procedures, and who to reach out to with any questions.

Remember to check your state laws before putting any vaccine policy in place.

Resources to Host a Family Vaccination Clinic

If your museum is not offering a camp this year but is planning other summer events, consider hosting a vaccination clinic for children and families. Download a free copy of HHS’ clinic and vaccination-event toolkit, which features superhero-themed posters, stickers, coloring pages, and other materials to help make vaccination fun for everyone.

Camp is where children go to play, make friends, and create happy long-lasting memories. Museums and camp administrators can play their part by using the above resources to educate parents and caregivers about the dangers of COVID-19 and the importance of keeping children up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines in time for camp. Together we can ensure kids have a fun and memorable summer with minimal disruption from COVID-19.

Learn more about the We Can Do This campaign and ACMs partnership by visiting: www.ChildrensMuseums.org/covid-19.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

New Hand to Hand: Communications 2022

The latest issue of Hand to Hand is all about Communications in 2022! Read each article on the ACM blog, and find the full issue PDF in the Hand to Hand Community on ACM Groupsite.

This issue explores the different approaches children’s museums take to get their messages out and stay connected to their audiences. From creating a communications plan, to curating social media content, to experimenting with new platforms, museums share success stories and new questions about maximizing efforts in uncharted and constantly changing territory. 

Read the issue! 

Communications 2022

In Search of Kindness: A Call to Action
Mike Yankovich and Gretchen Kerr
In January 2022, when the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus closed for ten days to support staff navigating guest anger over mask policies, the story went viral. Museum leaders ask, what role can children’s museums play in fostering kindness?

What Is a Communications Plan and Why Do I Need One?
Maureen Wolsborn
A communications expert shares the value of creating a communications plan to ensure your organization’s mission and message reaches your community, keeping your Goals, Audience, Messages, and Tactics front of mind.

Content Front and Center: Minnesota Children’s Museum Talks about Racism
Bob Ingrassia
Building on their strategic goal to “champion children’s healthy development,” Minnesota Children’s Museum’s Vice President of External Relations shares the importance of messaging that addresses the negative effects of racism and racial inequities on children.

Responding to Public Reviews: Dos and Don’ts
Kathleen Sandoval
In a time where everyone has an opinion and the opportunities to voice them are endless, how do museums respond to public reviews? San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum’s Marketing & Events Manager shares top dos and don’ts.

Macro to Micro: Developing a Cohesive Social Media Strategy
Mary Maher
This Q&A with Jenny Holland, Director of Digital Strategy, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, delves into how building an engaged community on social channels helps drive museum visits.

TikTok Talk
Keith Ostfeld and Henry Yau
Children’s Museum Houston has learned how to optimize TikTok to maintain connections with their audiences on this popular platform, including through their popular DeTok and Science Snacks series.

In Pursuit of an Online Audience: Using Stories to Cultivate a Community
Rebecca Tucker Nall and Molly Noah
Learn how the Mayborn Museum Complex expanded their organic reach on social media by embedding science content in stories about real people.

Social Media Communications Today: It’s the Wild West
Amanda Sobczak
With new social media platforms on the rise, children’s museums are faced with the challenge of content creation, distribution, and expectations for monetization. What does success look like?

Social Media: Successes, Challenges, Surprises, and Questions
Learn insights about social media from staff at Amazement Square, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, The Children’s Museum at Saratoga, Discovery Center Museum, Greentrike, The Iowa Children’s Museum, KidsQuest Children’s Museum, Mighty Children’s Museum, Mississippi Children’s Museum, The Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum, and Please Touch Museum.

Hand to Hand is the quarterly publication of the Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM). ACM champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

In Search of Kindness: A Call to Action

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Mike Yankovich and Gretchen Kerr, Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus

For nearly fifty years, the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus has been a gathering place where people in our community can share moments of wonder and joy. Our staff takes this mission seriously, and strives to help families create memories in a safe and welcoming environment.

The past two years have been trying for everyone, including our staff and the families we serve, and accomplishing our mission has become increasingly difficult. Our community has faced countless challenges, leading to uncertainty, fear, and anxiety. These emotions have spilled out in big, small, and unexpected ways, often affecting those around us.

In January 2022, as the pandemic continued and Omicron hit the scene, the museum continued to follow Denver’s public health guidelines, which included wearing masks in indoor public spaces. Regrettably, some guests who objected to the city-wide policy were inappropriately directing their anger toward our staff. With these incidents increasing in frequency and intensity, the museum made the decision to immediately close our doors for ten days to support our staff and bolster our policies with the hope of preventing this type of behavior in the future.

An email to our members and one social media post regarding the closure was all it took for the news to spread quickly through our community and soon, the country. In addition to the hundreds of comments of love and support that appeared on our post, phone calls and emails poured in from all over, many from children’s museums experiencing similar struggles. Unfortunately, the bad came in with the good—negative comments, indignant emails, and even cancelled memberships—all due to our call for kindness.

Disappointing, to be sure, but there was work to do. We met as a team to share the disheartening situations our staff experienced. The conversation was difficult, but vitally important to lay the foundation for the work ahead. Our staff voiced that they appreciated the time and space to work together to support each other and to develop strategies to make the museum a better place for our internal and external community.

As a part of this process, we reflected on our How We Play guidelines. These long-standing signs are posted throughout the museum and offer a simple reminder to share, be kind, and treat others with respect. We were looking for ways we could further embody this sentiment and encourage positivity and joy through all aspects of the museum.

So when we reopened, in addition to new and improved processes around guest orientation, de-escalation, and accountability, we employed some more playful options to encourage kindness. We installed a giant conversation heart at the entrance of the museum where guests shared simple acts of kindness they planned to engage in. Children and adults alike took part, and the ideas flowed: smiling at a stranger, helping an elderly neighbor, or calling mom… all small actions with potentially big impacts.

Next up for us: High Five Highway. Inspired by a similar activity developed by the Exploratorium in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, High Five Highway will live on our plaza and encourage strangers to interact and connect with one simple action.

Though the mask enforcement days are behind us (for the moment), something else has become abundantly clear: it was never just about masks. We live in a time where a little kindness can go a long way, although it seems many have lost interest in demonstrating this human-centered value. And unfortunately, as we learned from the conversations we had with our friends across the country, this is a shared issue that affects all of us, and acting alone won’t cut it.

As we look ahead, we ask the community of children’s museums for help answering the following questions:

  • • How can we support grown-ups in being positive role models for not just their child, but all children?
  • • What role can children’s museums play in fostering kindness in an increasingly divided and troubled world?
  • • How can the field of children’s museums boldly work together to support positive development in the children of our community?

The task at hand may feel daunting. But we are never stronger than when we are together. We look forward to working with you all to make the future a brighter, and kinder, place.

Mike Yankovich is president and CEO and Gretchen Kerr is COO of the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus.

What Is a Communications Plan and Why Do I Need One?

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Maureen Wolsborn, Hamilton Place Strategies

A communications plan is an organizational road map to ensure that your mission and message reach your community. While the initial creation of the plan takes time, it will pay dividends down the road as it provides the organization with internally agreed-upon processes and expectations. Outlining clear deliverables and timelines empowers your team to execute your messaging strategy while reducing the need for day-to-day oversight.

Developing a plan can seem daunting if you do not have a communications background. However, creating an effective plan is a simple matter of organizing and writing down what you already know about your organization and how you’re currently communicating about it.

Start by dividing the plan into the four integral parts: Goals, Audience, Messages, and Tactics:

GOALS: Define the why.

Why are we doing any of this in the first place? What is the purpose of updating the website? Why do we need to post about events on social media? This may sound pedantic, but going back to the beginning and defining what you are trying to accomplish is a vital step in the process. Below is an example from one of my plans created for a school district bond program.

Prove the value and impact of the 2018 bond measure through accurate, up-to-date, culturally appropriate, and easily accessible information and communications on bond projects and their long term-term impact on student experience and the greater community.

An example for a children’s museum’s goal could look like this:

  • • Educate our community on enrichment programs available at the museum.

Keep each goal to one or two sentences—brevity and clarity are paramount. While there can be multiple goals, remember that a dense message can be challenging to follow. The purpose of the “goals” section is to help everyone pull in the same direction.

AUDIENCE: Define the who.

Establishing your goals will help you understand who you need to reach to achieve them. If one of your organization’s goals is to expand access and visitorship amongst culturally diverse populations, then identify those groups. It is not about singling out one population, but rather ensuring you are creating communications that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for a specific audience.

Audiences can be as broad as “teachers at our K-12 schools” or “parents of children ages 0-18 in Denver.” If you get stuck on completely defining them all, start with a broad view and go back later to refine the list as your plan develops.

MESSAGES: Define the what.

Message creation can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Start with the obvious sources for inspiration: mission, vision, and strategic plan. Then jot down any commonly used phrases or terms specific to your organization. This will give you an idea of the consistent tone and voice your communications should convey.

Next, write a few key messages to guide the rest of your plan. Key messages don’t need to encompass everything you’re trying to say. They exist to ensure future team members understand how to write in your organization’s voice. Keep those goals and audiences in mind as you write. An example of a key message might be “the children’s museum welcomes children and families looking for fun ways to play and learn together.”

If there are specific audiences, events, or benchmarks you are trying to reach or accomplish with your communications, it’s a good idea to write a few key messages that are targeted to those needs. Think about your supporter base: getting an existing supporter to sign up for a new program offering (e.g., “Sign up now for the museum’s new and improved Summer of STEM!”) is different than trying to recruit brand new supporters (“Instill a love of science in your kids by exploring STEM at the museum!”). Goal-specific messaging should be tailored to each deliverable.

TACTICS: Define the how.

What are you already doing to get your messages out? Is it working? How do you know? It is tempting to jump right into tactics, but make sure you have tools set up to monitor your metrics and performance first (more on this later). Perhaps you’ve seen another museum do something cool—like a great TikTok post or YouTube video—and you want to do one too. It’s great to seek that creative inspiration, but before you take that leap, ask yourself if that new strategy will help meet your goals and reach your audience.

For example, let’s say you have new summer program offerings for kids:

  • • Why do we want people to know about it? Engaging kids and families is part of our mission.
  • • Who needs to know? Teachers, so they can spread the word; parents, so they can sign up their children; and kids, so they’re excited to attend.
  • • What do we want them to know? The details of when/where/how much, as well as what’s being offered.

Tactics include updating your website, posting to social media, and calling the local reporter who gives you column inches every spring to publish summer programming for families. Organize these tactics in a way that makes sense to you and that matches your organizational capacity. The easiest structure to follow focuses on each of your channels. Channels are the communications tools that you own and control: your social media, website, newsletters, etc.

Perhaps you need to update the website a certain number of times with camp registration information in order to reach that previously stated goal. In this case, that tactic would go under “website.” You can then attach any additional details—such as messaging, graphics, timeframe—to this category.

Time and resources are major limiting factors for any plan. Before you build out a lofty communications plan, think about how much time you and your team are able to put into executing it. If one person is able to spend four hours a week on it, be sure your plan reflects that reality. One person won’t have time to shoot, edit, and post six TikTok videos a week while also doing the other necessary functions of their job. Based on what you already know about which channels work best for which audiences in your community, establish work focus priorities. Setting realistic expectations gives your team the opportunity to succeed and the foundation to grow your skills as you become more comfortable in this work.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Navigate the changing landscape.

Every organization today wants compelling and engaging social media content to be a key component of its communications plan. But how do you get there? The most important pillar when building a social media presence is consistency. Working off a schedule of where and when you post and then assessing engagement will allow you to continually tailor your social media strategy.

Consider your audiences. What do you know about their interests in your organization? Where do they get their information? What messaging has been successful in the past? Answering those questions will lead you in the right direction.

The styles, content, and schedules of different social media is a topic too vast to sum up in a couple of paragraphs. However, a key attribute across the board is that social media should be interactive. Engage with your audience through direct messages, posts directed at your organization, and comment threads on whatever platforms you use. If someone tags you in an Instagram post about the fantastic experience they had at your museum, respond with a comment to say thank you. Conversely, maybe someone didn’t have a great time and chose to vent online; a sincere response from the organization may turn that feeling right around, or at least let the venter feel heard.

If you don’t have the time or know-how for any social media posting, turn to the users! Have a social media contest where people submit content for you to publish on your channels. Or consider an “Instagram takeover” on your account, handing the reins over to a social media user you trust who creates great content. For example, hand over the reins of your Instagram account to a media-savvy member of your floor staff for a day. They can post the sweet or funny things that happen while playing with kids in an exhibit. Or run an Instagram LIVE during a program launch.

NEWSPAPERS ARE NOT DEAD: Utilize print media and choose platforms.

Despite the current focus on social media, print ads and promotions are still popular and effective with many audiences. How people like to get their information changes constantly, and there are plenty of people out there who get overwhelmed by the noise on social media.

A community newspaper, for example, could be a great place to run a focused earned media piece. The better you understand your audience(s), the easier it will be to reach them with your communications. The myriad options can be intimidating, so test out different messaging and delivery methods to see what works best. You might be surprised at what you find.

SO, DID IT WORK? Measure success.

This part is hard. Start by determining how you define success for a campaign, what data you need to measure it, and how to get that data. This is where digital platforms provide the most insight. If your organization has the budget for it, use paid ads on various platforms with different messages and examine the performance analytics to determine what succeeds.

As a baseline, be sure your website and newsletter platforms have an analytics tracking component that allows you to go back and run reports on performance for specific time periods, campaigns, and audiences. These simple viewership numbers can provide insight into how your communications are performing and what items within your communication strategy are drawing the most engagement.

Last word

There are no silver bullets for any of this work. A communications plan provides a guiding structure for the organization, but it is a living document. Don’t hesitate to make changes. You’re going to learn along the way, so it helps to be adaptable. When in doubt, get some people in a room and try a good, old-fashioned conversation to start identifying your museum’s Goals, Audience, Messages, and Tactics.

Maureen Wolsborn has nearly a decade of experience in Colorado public policy, citizen engagement, and communications. She managed bond communications for Jeffco (Jefferson County) Public Schools and Denver Public Schools. She recently became a creative director at Hamilton Place Strategies, an analytical public affairs firm.

Content Front and Center: Minnesota Children’s Museum Talks about Racism

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Bob Ingrassia, Minnesota Children’s Museum

For more than forty years, kids and parents have appreciated Minnesota Children’s Museum as a playful place for fun, smiles, and laughter.

Millions of families have made joyful memories in our exhibits. Children who remember crawling through our mysterious ant tunnel have since grown up to watch their own kids confidently scale our four-story climbing tower and zoom down a giant spiral slide.

So why does our museum talk so much about the serious and challenging topics of racism and racial inequities? Shouldn’t we just “stay in our lane” as a place for family fun?

Here’s what our staff and board believe: Working toward racial justice is core to our mission and vision.

The organization’s strategic plan calls for us to “champion children’s healthy development.” We know there is no way to meaningfully advocate for the wellbeing of kids without acknowledging and addressing racial inequities that harm children in Minnesota—and everywhere.

So, yes, a children’s museum that speaks forcefully about racism—particularly its negative effects on children—and works toward a more just future is absolutely staying in its lane.

A Racial Reckoning in Minnesota

More than two years have passed since a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, touching off protests around the world. During this time, the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area has endured bouts of civil unrest, additional police killings of young Black men, tense trials of police officers, and a divisive election about the future of the Minneapolis Police Department.

The police violence against people of color sparked more urgency to finally take meaningful action to address broader racial inequities in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota—in housing, education, healthcare, and other areas.

Even before George Floyd’s murder, Minnesota Children’s Museum had joined other cultural organizations in a commitment to make progress toward becoming a more diverse and welcoming organization for visitors, staff, and volunteers. The museum has since doubled down on its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, work that museum President Dianne Krizan detailed in a previous issue of Hand to Hand.

Our staff and board members have also asked and started to answer a tough question about the museum’s responsibility outside our walls: What role, if any, should the museum play in the racial reckoning happening in our community?

Thankfully, we knew we would not be starting equity and inclusion work from scratch. During the museum’s forty-year history, we have earned a reputation as a joyful and welcoming place for all families to experience playful learning. The museum’s audience has grown to be at least as diverse as the region we serve, and often more diverse. We have a robust access program in which about 25 percent of our audience each year enjoys the museum through free or reduced-price admission.

Still, we understood there was much more we could be doing, and that remaining silent as the #BlackLivesMatter movement gained momentum in the Twin Cities was not an option. But we also understood that simply stating we supported the idea of combating racial injustice was not enough. The museum decided to map out a course to publicly engage in the work to combat racial injustice and to build a more equitable future.

Why Talk about Racism?

We considered the risks and acknowledged that speaking publicly about racial inequity and social justice might upset segments of our audience. Advocacy on issues as challenging as injustice and systemic racism would be new to the organization.

We also anticipated that we might hear the question: Why is the children’s museum talking about racism?

The answer we developed tied this work to the core principles and objectives in our mission, vision and strategic plan. The future we envision, one in which “all families thrive in a happier, healthier and more innovative community,” cannot happen when racial injustice holds children back.

Our answer leans on facts.

We found reassurance in a timely survey that showed substantial support among our audience for the museum working to combat racism. When a group of adults who visit cultural organizations were asked if Minnesota Children’s Museum should join efforts to fight racial injustice, 51 percent said they “strongly agree” we should and another 29 percent said they “somewhat agree.”

Taking Action

In the weeks following George Floyd’s murder, the museum publicly declared on our website our commitment to supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement, stating that “Black lives matter. They mattered yesterday. They matter today. They will matter tomorrow.”

In April 2021, just ahead of the anniversary of Floyd’s death, the museum hosted a panel event titled “Talking with Children about Racial Injustice.” More than 1,200 people registered and nearly 600 attended, with hundreds more watching the event recording.

In a post-event survey, many attendees said they appreciated the museum hosting such an important discussion and indicating they wanted more. One attendee stated: “That panel was outstanding: Direct, honest, specific, encouraging! I particularly appreciated the continual references to noting the historical context and legacy of race as well as the intentionality of conversations about race with children.”

The museum also collaborated with the panelists to create a one-sheet for parents and caregivers with tips for talking with children about race.

In November 2021, we hosted a second panel event about how play can help overcome inequalities. Three child development experts detailed the urgent need for action in addressing the negative effects of racism and inequality on children’s health. They made a case that playful learning, in the home and in the classroom, is a proven driver of every child’s growth and development.

We also continue to use our own channels, such as our blog and social media pages, to share resources and information that support this work. We’ve found that our followers and subscribers heavily engage with this content in meaningful ways. For example, in February 2022, the museum shared a blog post about how to celebrate Black History Month with children. The post was one of our most popular ever, getting more than 10,000 pageviews in just a few weeks and driving traffic to our website from all over the world.

Some of the museum’s other equity and access work includes providing free or reduced cost admission to income-qualified families. More than 4,000 families currently have a scholarship membership to the museum. In addition, nearly 12,000 people have visited the museum during the pandemic with steeply discounted day passes available to lower-income families.

Knowing that many families are either not able to visit or are still not comfortable visiting, the museum has provided free play kits to families in need. Using a state grant, the museum has packed and distributed more than 1,000 “tinker kits” featuring a variety of loose parts and materials.

Looking Ahead

Combatting systemic racism is difficult work. The museum has made strides toward becoming a more inclusive organization. We have publicly called out inequalities in Minnesota and taken initial steps to help erase them.

Still, we know that we are still establishing our voice and our path forward. We have not yet fully defined what it means when we say we want “ally” to be a verb, not just a noun—but we feel like we are on the right path.

We also know there will be more challenges ahead as marginalized communities press for equity and work to preserve rights that may come under threat.

Whatever lies ahead, we will remain committed to supporting parents in raising happy, healthy children, publicly advocating for the powerful role of play in growth and learning and furthering the movement for racial equity so all children thrive.

Bob Ingrassia has led the marketing and communications team at Minnesota Children’s Museum since 2014. He is a former journalist who lives with his spouse and two children in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Photos by Bruce Silcox for Minnesota Children’s Museum. 

Responding to Public Reviews: Dos and Don’ts

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Kathleen Sandoval, San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum

Thanks to cell phones and the internet, we are all connected in ways never before experienced. While the opportunities to engage with your favorite musician, actor, or brand are endless, it also means organizations are open to even more criticism through channels like Yelp, Google My Business, TripAdvisor, and more.

According to a Local Consumer Review Survey conducted by Brightlocal, 98 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses. This means your guests are researching you before deciding to step foot in your doors, and those reviews can make or break your museum’s image. The customer experience at your institution impacts your overall rating, so when a negative review appears, it’s important to respond. 89 percent of consumers are “highly” or “fairly” likely to use a business that responds to all of its online reviews. Your response could be one of the easiest ways to save your museum’s reputation.

How do marketing and communications professionals respond to the reviews posted about their institutions? From the good, to the bad, to the really bad, we break down the top dos and don’ts when acknowledging and responding to reviews left on public channels.

Rule #1: DO respond to every review

Whether the review is good or bad, take the time to respond to each and every one. Someone is taking time out of their day to share their experience. A good customer experience means that every customer feels valued and heard.

Rule #2: DO keep it short and sweet

Now is not the time to get into a debate or endlessly thank your reviewer. Responding is simply an acknowledgment of their kind words or feedback. There are plenty of ways to gather more information, if needed, without writing a novel. Try to keep it to two to three sentences for a positive review. We’ll dive more into negative reviews below.

Rule #3: DON’T get defensive

Someone once gave us a 3-star review because they thought our free, donated coffee was terrible. What?! People will always find reasons to be upset. It isn’t personal. Again, keep it short and sweet when you respond. If the matter is concerning or if you’d simply like to understand the reason for a low-star review, see Rule #4.

Rule #4: DO ask for more information and acknowledge feedback

Regardless of whether or not a reviewer’s feedback is legitimate, always acknowledge their concerns. The big complainers often just want to vent and have someone listen. You may need more information to determine what happened, so don’t be afraid to ask them to directly message you or email you at a general email like info@[museumname].org.

Rule #5: DON’T allow everyone to speak on the museum’s behalf

Just as guests have access to these sites, so do your employees and board members. It’s easy to get heated and want to defend your workplace. However, only a designated representative of the museum should respond to reviews or comments about the museum. It’s all too easy for an employee to misstep and create a mountain out of a molehill. A social media policy will keep employees from speaking on the museum’s behalf.

Rule #6: DON’T be afraid to report the review

Whether the reviewer got you mixed up with another museum, or misrepresented or downright lied about their experience, don’t be afraid to report the review. We once had a reviewer complain about our mask policy, but they openly admitted they hadn’t even come inside. Since their review wasn’t based on a legitimate experience at the museum, we reported it, and the review was taken down. Yelp, Google My Business, and many others allow you to report reviews. Assuming your report follows their guidelines, they’ll take it down. If they don’t take it down, refer to Rule #3.

Rule #7: DO have your employees’ backs

Mistakes happen. Once a reviewer said an employee told them we clean only with essential oils. Yikes. Other reviewers have taken interactions out of context, such as when a guest complained we tried to charge their family of four $40 for an hour (in reality, they had the entire day to enjoy the museum, but chose to leave early). Your employees are the backbone of your organization, so don’t throw them under the bus. Privately talk to your staff about the incident and take the steps necessary to resolve the issue before responding. Once you respond, acknowledge the feedback and briefly mention how you are working to resolve the matter.

Feel free to use these review response templates: positive, top; negative, bottom:


Kathleen Sandoval is the marketing and events manager at the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum in Escondido, California.

Macro to Micro: Developing a Cohesive Social Media Strategy

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.
Q&A with Jenny Holland, Director of Digital Strategy, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Mary Maher | Interviewer

Former reporter turned content marketer Jenny Holland has served as the director of digital strategy for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis for nearly ten years. In this role she leads strategy for integrated digital marketing campaigns for museum initiatives and exhibits, including the recently expanded and reopened Dinosphere®. Her work involves the development of social media campaigns with onsite and online components to boost social reach and engagement and increase attendance; developing lead email acquisition, engagement, and retention strategies for all museum departments; and spearheading lead generation and online sales strategies for childrensmuseum.org to maximize online revenue.

Prior to her work at the museum, she served as marketing communications specialist at Conner Prairie in Fishers, Indiana, and was a reporter/producer for WTHI-TV in Terre Haute. Jenny holds a degree in journalism/Spanish/telecommunications from Indiana University Bloomington. She is also a board member of Hoodox, Indiana’s first and only streaming service featuring nonfiction, Indiana-focused content that entertains while helping people connect to their community and create positive change.

How does the museum develop a social media strategy?

In the fourth quarter of each year, we work with our leadership team to understand the museum’s overarching priorities for the next year. Our marketing team then conducts a SWOT analysis to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that we foresee. These can include anything from how COVID uncertainty affects our dynamic pricing strategy to how we conquer the challenge of marketing an exhibit like Dinosphere®, which has more depth and complexity than a single ad or series of ads can include. We also look at applicable visitor survey data, content analytics from the previous year, and current socil media trends. Drawing on all this information, the digital team creates its strategic plan, which includes both organic and paid social media strategies, for the year as well as individual marketing plans for each new exhibit that will open. Social media is big part of our advertising spend for the year. Of our total advertising buy, which includes TV, radio, display ads, social, and search, 12 percent is spent on social media advertising.

Among several popular social media platforms, how do you decide what messages go where?

In 2020, we worked with an outside company to help us create a guiding document for our organic social media strategy. Organic social media involves posting content (text, photos, video, graphics, stories, etc.) for free on social media platforms hoping to engage audiences.

The bones of our plan stay the same each year, but we revisit the goals, strategies, and tactics annually. We adjust as needed based on the changing platform landscape, analytics from previous years, information we’ve gleaned from our constituents, and priorities of the museum.

One section of that strategy document includes channel differentiation. What is the mission, role, and audience of each of our social media channels, and what kind of content works best for each? To determine this, we use what we know about the overall demographics of each social platform coupled with analytics data around content performance from previous years. This tool not only helps us do a gut check when we are creating our campaigns, but also helps us educate other departments on what channel might work best for their particular event or content idea.

To determine our optimal social platforms, we surveyed our audience asking them which platforms they use. We combined these results with historical engagement data from our channels. For example, our data shows that 75 percent of adults surveyed use Facebook and less than 5 percent use TikTok. If we just went off the survey data, we would have overlooked TikTok entirely. However, after investing some time into testing that channel, we saw incredible engagement results and the potential to reach a new audience. TikTok has become a priority channel for the museum over the past year. We take our time when deciding to invest in or add a new channel. We have a small team, so we want to make sure we are not spreading ourselves too thin.

Walk us through your social media strategy for the recent opening of the newly expanded Dinosphere® exhibit?

Since 2004, Dinosphere® has taken visitors back in time to the Cretaceous Period, when the last dinosaurs walked the Earth. The new Dinosphere® digs even deeper into the prehistoric past, presenting two massive new sauropod fossils from the Jurassic Period, amazing aquatic creatures of the Mesozoic Seas, and a Dino Art Lab that pairs science and creativity.

Reopening Dinosphere® included lots of layers of marketing, public relations, digital, and overall communication strategy. The campaign, which lasted more than a year, had several phases. During this time, we closed the original exhibit while the new one was being completed, and continued digging for new fossils at our site in Wyoming. Here are a few of the tactics from each of those phases.

  • • Phase 1: Keep dinosaurs top of mind for our visitors during year-long closure of Dinosphere®.

— Updated all of our communications (web, email, and social media) to make it clear Dinosphere® was closed.
— Created an online Dino Hub, embedded with a 360-degree tour of the old exhibit with hot spots to some evergreen dino content.
— Sent a monthly dino e-newsletter to all of our members.
— Created a Dinos A to Z video series that we shared bi-weekly on our social channels.

  • • Phase 2: Maintain excitement and anticipation of building the new exhibit.

— Posted a weekly Fossil Friday behind-the-scenes moment to show exhibit progress.
— Went to the dig site and covered the dig with live and in-the-moment content across social channels.
— Created a mini-documentary to show the full backstory of the exhibit from dig to preparation to display.

  • • Phase 3: Create buzz to drive ticket and membership sales.

— Began our social advertising campaign, including a two-month membership campaign on Facebook and Instagram followed by a campaign to drive spring break ticket sales on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
— Hosted an influencer preview party to generate social chatter.
— Conducted a city-wide dino egg hunt.
—Worked with our mayor to declare it Dinosaur Day in Indianapolis.
— Mounted a huge sound and light show downtown in our city center that made it feel like dinosaurs were taking over the city.
— Created a thunderclap moment by having all of our staff, influencers, sponsors, and partners post the same graphic and copy at the same date and time.

Each of these tactics played out differently across each of our digital communication platforms, but layered together to create a cohesive campaign that reached all of our audiences. As the campaign continues, we have moved into sharing visit tips, user-generated content, and deeper information about what you can learn, see, and do in the new experience!

What is the goal of your social media strategy? Is it online engagement, or do you want it to lead to actual involvement with the museum, e.g., in-person visits, memberships, donations, camps/program enrollment?

All of the above, but it depends on the piece of content. We want to build an engaged community on our social channels, provide extraordinary customer service, and ultimately drive people to visit the museum. We do post some content where the goal is pure engagement or amplification; other content is pure promotion (e.g., buy tickets to an event) and some content is both. It’s important to strike a balance.

On the paid social advertising front, the goal of almost all of our content is to drive online ticket, membership, or event sales.

How do you know if your communications are hitting the mark? How do you measure success?

It depends on the post. We measure engagement, amplification, reach, and transactions from our social content. However, we don’t necessarily measure all of those for every single post. While we have had a few posts go truly viral, ultimately this didn’t drive the uptick in ticket sales you would expect based on the online engagement we saw. Other posts have seemed to do poorly engagement-wise, but the click-through and transaction numbers were through the roof. It all depends on what the goal of the post is.

For our paid ads, we also measure total transactions (total number of completed sales), conversion rate (transactions divided by clicks), cost per conversion (campaign spend divided by transactions), revenue (total money earned from sales), and return on ad spend (revenue divided by campaign spend).

Online media is a rapidly changing environment: new apps and platforms emerge and existing ones abruptly change how they work. Audiences can be fickle. They might love your Instagram posts for a while, then that love vanishes.  How do you stay nimble?

This is one of the most frustrating and exciting parts of this job. We review our social media strategy quarterly. It’s a fluid document, so if it needs to change based on content we see performing well or not performing like we thought, then we make that change. We don’t wait a whole year to react to what we are seeing. We also have a pretty flat approval process. If we want to change our content strategy or try a new trend, we don’t have a lot of layers for approving the move. We aren’t afraid to try something and miss.

Bad news and tough topics: How does the museum use its social media platforms to deliver important but not fun news? For example, pandemic-related information over the past two years (and ongoing)—closures/mask/capacity policies?

We try to be honest, transparent, and keep an open line of communication. Our small department is not making decisions in a vacuum. The museum has a large team of people who approach decisions and messaging from a lot of different angles and viewpoints to make sure we are thinking through all of the scenarios. When it came to the pandemic, we saw very quickly that there were some topics that were going to be incredibly polarizing. We did our best to remind people that we are human, and we are looking out for safety of visitors and staff. We also hid or deleted comments that did not follow our community guidelines.

We also tried to couple our information with resources for parents. We created content around tips for helping your child get comfortable wearing a mask, social narratives to prepare families for the changes at the museum, and live Q and A’s with health experts.

How do you handle negative online reviews or social media posts?

We used to reply to every single bad review and comment. In the past year, as we’ve seen commentary get more and more divisive and at times unproductive, we have been much more liberal with shutting down those conversations, banning people, and deleting/hiding comments if they do not follow our community guidelines. We do, however, reply to every legitimate bad review when it is relevant. We find that sometimes you can take what is perceived to be a terrible experience and turn it around just by showing the person that you are listening. We’ve had many examples of turning complainers into promoters by letting them know they were heard.

Does the museum use any printed communication materials anymore?

Yes, we still send very targeted direct mail communications. A few examples include renewal notifications (in combination with email and text reminders), lapsed member postcards, and our member magazine.

Communications 2012 vs. 2022: What has changed? Where do you see it going in the future?

Social media has become more and more dominated by the use of video. I also think content, especially video, has become less polished (not to be misconstrued as sloppy). When we first started our TikTok channel, for example, I had a very hard time with how raw the video was and how the copy we were using wasn’t 100 percent grammatically correct. Same with our first live video! But I think the trend of authentic, unpolished content will continue. I also think social media platforms will start putting emphasis back on more meaningful engagements. I hope this means we will see more genuine conversations and connections with the community.

From the advertising perspective, social media has gone from being fully organic to being a key player in our ad mix receiving 12 percent of our overall ad buy in 2022.

What are some overlooked avenues of communication?

These may not be overlooked by everybody, but these are some areas where we’ve seen success.

  • Influencers: We have a large group of local and regional micro/nano influencers we have built up over the years. When each new exhibit opens, we invite them to tour the exhibit before it opens to the public. We provide dinner and an exhibit-themed gift, and they help us spread the word! For our Dinosphere® event we had more than 400 social posts in one night.
  • Word of mouth/UGC (user-generated content): We use a service to aggregate all of our user photos and streamline the process for asking for permission to use them. We’ve used these photos in e-news, social posts, testimonials, and on the website to show a more authentic museum experience directly through the eyes of our visitors.
  • Employees: For several recent campaigns we put together social media kits for staff to help them feel more comfortable sharing information on their social channels. We have a staff of nearly 400, plus volunteers, board members, and a guild consisting of 100 volunteers who create a Haunted House on our property. Given the right tools, this huge group of promoters, who already love the museum, can help amplify our message. We provide them with approved copy and images custom-sized for each platform.

What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to effectively communicate with their audience(s)?

One of the biggest challenges is trying to step away from the content—what you are trying to communicate—and see it through the eyes of the different people you are trying to reach. We tend to be so close to the topic that we may overlook something obvious that needs to be clarified in the messaging. I also think it’s important to observe or assume various roles throughout your museum so you can better understand the pain points visitors might be having. It’s one thing to hear about a struggle or a miscommunication from the customer service team; it’s another to see it happen with your own eyes.

What is your biggest social media success story? What is your biggest communications hurdle/challenge?


This is from a while ago, but I still consider it one of the best campaigns we have ever done. Back in 2014, when Dinosphere® was turning ten, we decided to throw a birthday party for our Spring Break experience with very limited dollars and resources. We ended up crowdsourcing a ten-day dino birthday party with a new user-generated idea featured each day. Each person who suggested a winning idea got to come to the museum with their family and experience it in person. One little girl suggested we turn our dino dome into a giant dino-sized birthday cake, so we did! Another child suggested we have carnivore and herbivore pizza, so we handed out free pizza in our café. We ultimately drove a ton of engagement and excitement around the birthday party and got to celebrate the creativity of some of our amazing community members. On top of that, we engaged other museums around the globe to wish Dinosphere® a happy birthday on their social media channels. We ended up with some really wide-reaching, creative mentions from our colleagues around the world.

Ongoing challenge:

Too many exciting things to talk about and not enough resources or digital real estate to cover it all!


Digging deeper into our strategy document, the core areas include:
  • • Challenges for the year countered with our strategic response.

Example from 2021:
Challenge: The world has changed because of the COVID pandemic.  There will be varying levels of comfort with returning to cultural institutions.
Strategic response: Ensure open lines of communication on safety across channels.

  • • Goals and objectives for the year

Example from 2021: Recapture general attendance

  • •  Messaging priorities for the year

Example from 2021: The museum provides a safe and FUN experience. Provide resources to prepare for your visit; show the ways we are keeping people safe; share testimonials from visitors.

  • •  Content Pillars (exhibits, events, community, and impact) and the percent share of voice they will be given.
  • •  Cross-channel voice, tone, and lexicon
  • • Channel differentiations (mission, role, audience, and content broken out by channel).
  • • New Initiatives for the year

Examples from 2021: Building our TikTok audience; increasing focus on Pinterest to drive a bigger virtual audience; redefining our influencer strategies.

TikTok Talk

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Keith Ostfeld and Henry Yau, Children’s Museum Houston

For years, Children’s Museum Houston has been using social media to reach our audience for announcements, special deals, silly puzzles, and especially fun videos and livestreams. Like most children’s museums that use social media, our focus has been on engaging parents and caregivers, who are the primary users of social media, with content they can also share with their kids (at least until the kids get savvy enough to demand the videos themselves). Facebook, YouTube, and, more recently, Instagram have served us very well in reaching our audience. But then things changed…

Why TikTok?

We first became aware of TikTok back when it was still called Musical.ly, which began in 2014 and changed to TikTok in 2018. Back then, the demographics of users skewed heavily into the teens—not our core audience. But we kept an eye on it, figuring that, much like younger parents were choosing Instagram over Facebook, as TikTok’s users aged, it may become a popular social media choice for young parents.

And then…well, you know. During the first quarter of 2020, while we were all trapped in our homes and hungry for entertainment, TikTok had the biggest quarter of any app ever with over 315 million downloads. It currently boasts more than 138 million monthly active users in the U.S., of which 29.5 percent are 20-29 and another 16.4 percent are 30-39—the userbase aged up quickly!

A little sooner than expected, it was time to get onto TikTok. And while it was uncharted territory, the Children’s Museum Houston, driven by our passion for discovery and lifelong learning (and fueled by coffee), loves to delve into new experiences. We quickly discovered that TikTok has some unique quirks that make it very different from other platforms. Our challenge lay in how to produce the videos to optimize the platform.

The TikTok Challenge

First and foremost, TikTok is a mobile-first platform. Many social media platforms started with content shared through computers, so horizonal video formats worked well on computer monitors. Over the years, as how we consume content has shifted towards mobile devices, vertically formatted videos—like the videos on TikTok—have become more popular. The popularity of this format on TikTok has led other platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Google, and even Netflix, to add mobile-first options.

In addition, while many of our videos that we shared on Facebook and YouTube could be lengthy, TikTok videos had to be short, snappy, and visually engaging. Most TikTok users decide whether to continue watching a video in the first three seconds, plus there is typically a time limit to the videos. In addition, TikTok users also tend to skip videos that look too professional; a homemade feel is more popular.

With this in mind, we restructured our shooting formats. First, we made sure that we shot clips vertically, often opting to use a mobile phone for the shoot. Second, we started planning and scripting our videos differently, aiming for a quick visual grab and shorter timeframe. Finally, we started using a different style during production, opting for less structure and encouraging more free-form movement of the camera.  The result were videos which both aligned with our programming and how TikTok audiences consume content.

Our TikTok Experiences

We first ventured into creating content for TikTok to tap into a new audience base in the summer of 2021, during our post-pandemic reopening. We had hired two amazing young interns who were already regular consumers of TikTok and familiar with its trends. Since we were launching, we gave our interns the liberty to explore different types of formats to see what would work best to create views while remaining in line with our brand.

Some of their first explorations involved “tiny mic interviews,” where they would interview our staff and visitors with simple questions about current trends like superhero movies. While these interviews were fun to produce, we didn’t get very consistent viewership.

Next, they tried “museum exploration” videos, where they explored different exhibitions, sometimes focusing on a few exhibits, as a way of “touring” visitors through the museum experience. These videos created consistent viewership, but not huge numbers of viewers.

However, the third type of videos they created, which included TikTok viral trends, was more successful. (You can see what’s trending on TikTok under their sounds option. “TikTok Viral” includes a current list of widely used tracks.) They would look for trending styles and challenges that were in alignment with the museum’s brand and riff off those. These by far produced the most views, into the thousands.

DeToks – We search out videos on TikTok showing science experiments, based on scant or incorrect facts, being done at home. We either prove and explain them (e.g., dipping a spoonful of cocoa powder into a bowl of milk will cause a film to form around the cocoa which can be “popped” using a toothpick) or debunk them with an explanation (e.g., proving that toothpaste will NOT dissolve an eggshell).

By the end of that summer, we established that there was both an audience for and interest in what we do on TikTok. With this information in hand, we went back to the education team to begin developing a plan in sync with our other video work to create TikTok-specific content. This effort resulted in two main standouts:

  1. 1. Science Snacks – Very short science experiments and projects in the style of Tasty, the world’s largest food network, and similar videos, with little speaking and far more visuals.
  2. 2. DeToks – We search out videos on TikTok showing science experiments, based on scant or incorrect facts, being done at home. We either prove and explain them (e.g., dipping a spoonful of cocoa powder into a bowl of milk will cause a film to form around the cocoa which can be “popped” using a toothpick) or debunk them with an explanation (e.g., proving that toothpaste will NOT dissolve an eggshell).

With this success, we have started exploring other ways to adapt our existing video work for TikTok, including creating shorter and/or sped-up versions of previously recorded videos and new styles of video content that take advantage of current TikTok trends.

But we aren’t doing any #stupidchallenges.

Keith Ostfeld is director of educational technology and exhibit development and Henry Yau is director of communications at Children’s Museum Houston.

In Pursuit of an Online Audience: Using Stories to Cultivate a Community

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Rebecca Tucker Nall and Molly Noah, Mayborn Museum Complex

Children’s museums are in a unique position on social media.

Our direct audience is not there.

How do we communicate our museum’s value and create a robust online community? Let’s talk about how children’s museums can successfully advocate for their experiences and build a strong social community with their indirect audience—parents.

At the Mayborn Museum Complex at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, we use storytelling techniques to encourage parents to choose the museum as a resource to supplement learning and fuel a love of science. Our storytelling begins with our brand values—creativity, curiosity, and collaboration—and then considers our audience’s needs.

Who Is Your Potential Audience?

Attracting the attention of potential visitors on social media is a privilege, and museums must earn that to create genuine trust and credibility. But who are they? Everything starts with research. At the Mayborn, we dig into who our audience is and is not. Through our participation in ASTC’s COVES initiative (astc.org/impact-initiatives/coves/), we know a fair bit about who walks through our doors—and how our experience resonates with them. For example, we know our audience is composed of mostly college-educated, young families who want high-quality experiences and the opportunity to learn something new. For our digital visitors (anyone who visits our website, social channels, or opens an email), we study user analytics and in-app insights to create user profiles. After exhaustive research, we know who they are and that they want safe, hands-on, and awe-inspiring experiences for their family—oh, and a new experience each time they visit! Now that we know their needs, we can create social media content that we think they want.

So, What’s the “Story”?

Mayborn Museum is the leading center for youth science and education in Central Texas. While some members of our community remain skeptical of science, everyone can relate to our brand values of creativity, curiosity, and collaboration. When visitors walk through our doors, fact-based science is presented with a sense of wonder. We recreate that same sense of wonder and trust on all of our marketing materials, including each of our social channels. We want the audience to see us as the place to be if they want their kids to be creators, inventors, makers, or researchers.

Why Use Storytelling as a Framework?

One of my favorite sayings is, “information comes in casual conversation.” Children’s museums can package their brand values and marketing messages while also meeting their audience’s needs by creating original content around something people are already talking about—other people’s stories.

Black History Month, one of the most important months of the year, offers an incredible opportunity to tell the stories of the contributions of Black Americans to science and museums. While our institution had in-person engagement opportunities focused on Black history throughout the month, our marketing team took the opportunity to feature local, Black scientists and museum professionals who embody our museum’s values like curiosity and collaboration on our social media channels. We brought them to the museum for a tour and an informal photoshoot, building content that would go in our newsletter and on all our social platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Dr. Bessie Kebaara

We met Dr. Bessie Kebaara, a scientist who believes yeast holds the key to understanding human RNA, in 2021 when she went through our Portal to the Public program, an Institute for Learning Innovation collaboration that connects our audiences with current science through conversations with Baylor University scientists. Normally Dr. Kebaara would bring her yeast canisters and research presentation to the museum and catch wandering visitors for a quick talk about RNA’s transformational qualities. But for Black History Month, we invited her to come to the museum for a photoshoot and an informal interview. We wanted to hear about her work and what drove her to become a scientist, in the hope that she could inspire future scientists here in Central Texas. You can read her interview here.

Scientist Dr. Bessie Kebaara believes yeast holds the key to understanding human RNA.

Brandice Nelson

Brandice Nelson is a public historian and the Director of Engagement at National History Day, a nonprofit that engages middle- and high-school students around the world in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. Nelson graduated from the Mayborn’s Museum Studies program in 2016 and now lives between Waco and Austin, Texas. We invited Nelson to “take over” our social media accounts to show a day in her life. She walked our audience through her morning routine, said hello to her hamster, and watched her prepare for a big National History Day Fair coming up soon. Our audience caught a glimpse into life as a public historian. You can view her takeover in our Instagram story highlight “Brandice Nelson” on our Instagram profile.

Public historian Brandice Nelson invited our social media audience to walk through her day as she prepares for the National History Day fair.

Stories Mean Shares, and Shares Mean Social Media Gold

We’re grateful to Dr. Kebaara and Brandice Nelson for sharing a bit about their lives with our audience, and we hope their stories inspired Central Texas parents to bring their children to the museum to explore a career in science or history. We found success through embedding our science content in stories about real people. These features received double the organic reach of our regular posts and triple the shares! Shares are the incredible currency on social: they tell you who is connecting to your content while also signaling to the algorithms that this is high-quality content. The higher quality of the post, the higher it will rank in the feeds. Now we have more eyeballs on our museum—and our mission! While social media algorithms change, one thing does not, and that is the value of time. Each app wants the audience’s eyeball for as long as possible and they will reward creators who can keep an audience for a long session.


One of my favorite marketers, Allie Wassum, global director, social & integrated media at Jordan (Nike) said, “In paid social, you make a brand promise. In organic, you deliver on it.” If you work in social, then you know that organic reach is disappearing on Facebook and Instagram. Hashtags are questionable in efficacy, and the algorithms change all the time. It is challenging work to stay in front of your audience. We keep a targeted, paid ad on our social channels to make sure we stay in front of the right audience. Our paid ads are visual reminders of the value of a Mayborn experience and always include a powerful call to action. In our ad below, we show two children embracing in front of our T. rex, Stan, with their t-shirts saying, “I love the Mayborn.”

We attracted more than 3,000 new followers during our paid campaigns in November and December 2021. Once you follow us, we make a promise that the stories we are telling are worth your time—brand marketing married with awareness. Our social channels are a place you can spend a lot of time. This is a good thing, because social media algorithms prioritize your content based on how much time people spend looking at it.

Invest in Original Ideas

Parents do not follow museums on social media so they can see our calendars of events or exhibit upgrades. They follow us to be entertained, educated, and learn how to spend quality time with their family. Developing original, creative storytelling may seem time-consuming, but investing time and social real estate in original content is where you deliver on the promise you made in your paid advertising. It’s a powerful one-two combination. We know that people are hungry to build a real community online. Through powerful storytelling, children’s museums can be part of that online community while successfully advocating for their experiences.

Rebecca Tucker Nall, currently assistant director of exhibits, communication, and visitor services at the Mayborn Museum Complex in Waco, Texas, has served in various roles at the Mayborn since 2007, overseeing the museum’s marketing and front-of-house staff for the last five years.

Molly Noah is the marketing coordinator at the Mayborn Museum Complex. With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and master’s degree in museum science, she has been working in social media within the museum field for the past four years.

Social Media Communications Today: It’s the Wild West

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Amanda Sobczak, Betty Brinn Children’s Museum

In the early spring of 2020, it’s likely that we all shared a similar feeling. Unlike many other businesses and institutions, most children’s museums could not accommodate the developing and rapidly evolving recommendations for combating COVID-19. Children don’t social distance and they want to touch everything. Plus, mask wearing was a very new concept in the United States. I vividly remember Betty Brinn Children’s Museum‘s CEO, Brian King, solemnly saying, “This isn’t going to be just a few weeks.” And he was right.

First Responses

By April 2020, the majority of the U.S., and even the world, was in shutdown. After the initial shock, children’s museums began to regroup and reimagine communications without a facility open to the public. With only limited means of connecting with our audiences, many of us were forced to develop a communications plan that made sense in a suddenly new environment that didn’t. What information would be helpful? What would keep us relevant? While these questions are always at the forefront of marketing and communications, many of us were not prepared for a lengthy pandemic, or the changes it brought to communications in general.

Initial, post-shutdown online content from our peers included simple activity videos, messages of encouragement, and reminders that our industry needed help to survive. If, like me, you spent a good amount of time on social media, you were able to see which museums were able to adapt quickly. Soon, online content became more sophisticated. Videos were polished and well-branded, activity and programming prompts became more elaborate, and donation appeals popped up left and right. Suddenly, with no intentions of ill-will, online messaging became extraordinarily competitive. It was hard not to be envious of larger children’s museums with specialty functions like theater departments. At the same time, it was hard not to feel distraught the first time I saw a social media post about a children’s museum announcing they were closing their doors for good (although, amazingly, very few did). The day-to-day anxiety kept many of us going.


Present day, the world is itching to return to a state of normalcy. At Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, we took the steps to reopen, with evolving best practices for health and safety guidelines, including masking. I cannot begin to describe the mixed emotions behind photographing children’s smiles after two years. What started as a crash course in crisis communications ended with a more gradual transition back to what feels familiar, although colored by new trial-by-fire learning. I doubt any of us will be able to shake the lingering thought of future pandemic experience. That worry might stay with us for the rest of our careers.

So here we are. Open and growing. Undoubtedly, many institutions are still rebuilding their teams. Shout-out to the one-or-two-person departments. Shout-out to all the marketing professionals who orchestrated triumphant communications plans to reopen with as much umph as they could manage. As the excitement of an industry rebirth settles, we are all faced with the challenge of our new plans.

New World Communications

As we all know, no matter what the environment, there are some marketing and communications principles that do not deviate much. We monitor reach, growth, and KPIs, but marketing strategies have always changed, and they always will. We try to keep up, but also use our experience to anticipate where we think we are headed. Who else has recently had the discussion about the efficacy of printed marketing materials? Does location-based advertising through cell phone data make anyone else a little uncomfortable? Audience acquisition and marketing resources will continue to develop and become more refined. In tandem, people will continue to rely more and more on their smartphones and computers. And, like it or not, marketing departments, in turn, will continue to track and plan for that.

In the expansive world of social media, video content continues to serve as the most popular means of engagement. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok have made creative video construction achievable for anyone with a smartphone or tablet. Balancing our need for advertising with general entertainment among multiple platforms means curating a substantial amount of content. A recent marketing recommendation suggested 30 percent of social media posts should be focused on event or other promotional advertising and the rest of it—70 percent—should be about everything else. Audiences will expect a children’s museum to post information about membership and a link to a purchase page. For interested families, this is a quick and easy way to access pertinent transaction details. But connections to audiences can also be made with no call to action at all. Videos of our museum mascot or an April Fool’s Day post about installing a waterslide in our climber exhibit have been very popular. When more serious topics have presented themselves, such as conversations around social justice in summer 2020, it was imperative to reiterate our support for equality. In addition to being the voice of the museum, social media posts offer opportunities to show its soul.

When The Weeknd performed at the 2021 Super Bowl, some children’s museum social pages were quick to equate his chaotic visuals with how it looks when a child plays in the museum. One caption read, “When the museum closes in 15 minutes and your kid needs to see everything one more time.” It was clever, and if you were one of the first to share the post, you may have reaped the benefits from your audience. Applause and appreciation to the originator. It was relevant, relatable, and quickly created—three concepts that lead to social media success, in my opinion.

There is certainly no lack of ideas for content, but marketing professionals sometimes wonder if oversaturating their online platforms really aligns with and advances the organization’s mission. In inevitable bouts of frustration, I find myself questioning if it is really worth interrupting a guest’s experience to add one more post to a social story. I doubt the three-year-old will do the little dance again if I ask. They don’t really realize what they did to begin with. How often are we committing to being present to capture those click-worthy moments that pass so quickly? When to jump in? It’s difficult to make hard and fast rules about when to approach visitors for photos. I make sure to approach when it just feels right, such as if a parent is taking a photo, or if someone makes eye contact with me or acknowledges me.

Most nonprofit organizations face the same budget constraints, and we all know click-through rates don’t necessarily equate to a profit. Just because a user follows your page, it does not mean that they will support your content. Some posts, no matter how strong you felt in development, just won’t yield the results we hope for. Facebook and Instagram have created exceptionally unpredictable roadblocks for the success of organic content. I have a hunch (supported by numerous online media articles) that pauses in social media activity can be beneficial in fighting algorithms meant to suppress impressions. But the pattern is loose. I have seen spikes in numbers a few times after a pause. But the parameters have been very specific: the post has to yield impressions through organic interaction before a pause yields the attention you’re hoping for.

With online resources and new platforms on the rise, children’s museums are faced with the challenge of content creation, distribution, and hopes for monetization. What does social media success look like? Of course, it all depends on the goals of each post, but if we all understood the alchemy behind getting a lot of likes, shares, and comments, we would all be using the same template. If we could go viral every day, the concept wouldn’t be as sought-after. It really is the Wild West: new territory where children’s museums continue to build their social media skills and understanding, hoping that their follower counts build along with it.

When The Weeknd performed at the 2021 Super Bowl, some children’s museum social pages were quick to equate his chaotic visuals with how it looks when a child plays in the museum. One caption read, “When the museum closes in 15 minutes and your kid needs to see everything one more time.” It was clever, and if you were one of the first to share the post, you may have reaped the benefits from your audience.

Amanda Sobczak serves as the director of marketing and communications for the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Social Media: Successes, Challenges, Surprises, and Questions

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.

We posed four basic questions around the use of social media among children’s museums around the U.S.  Responses from the museums listed below left reflect the new and ever-changing territory navigated daily by staff charged with communicating in an increasingly and pandemic-accelerated digital world.


Amazement Square (Lynchburg, Virginia)
Morgan Kreutz, Vice President

Brooklyn Children’s Museum (New York)
Winston Williams, Manager of Communications

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose (California)
Joey Sanchez, Director of Marketing & Communications

The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (Dover)
Neva Cole, Communications Director

The Children’s Museum at Saratoga (New York)
Ben LaPoint, Digital Media Coordinator

Discovery Center Museum (Rockford, Illinois)
Ann Marie Walker, Director of Marketing

Greentrike (Tacoma, Washington)
Rolfe Bautista, Communications Manager, and Rebecca Schrack, Communications Coordinator

The Iowa Children’s Museum (Coralville)
Amanda Thys, Director of Marketing & Communications

KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue, Washington)
Melissa Berger, Digital Marketing Manager

Mighty Children’s Museum (Chillicothe, Ohio)
Kelcie Pierce, Executive Director

Mississippi Children’s Museum (Jackson)
Clara Williams, Digital Media & Website Coordinator

The Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum (Illinois)
Jada Culberson, Community Engagement & Marketing Manager

Please Touch Museum (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Amanda Mahnke, Director of Marketing & Communications



Amazement Square
Over the last two years we have exponentially increased our social media presence and audience and have “found our groove” with content that resonates the most with varied audiences.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum
In winter 2021-2022 we opened our rooftop ArtRink: a synthetic-ice skating rink meets winter wonderland meets visual arts exhibition. A little out of left field from our typically offerings, this complex concept also faced a well-established competitor with both a polished message and faithful audience.

First, we designed it to be as visually appealing as possible, with strategic branding placement throughout the experience to increase word-of-mouth when shared.

Opening into the headwinds of Omicron, we also invested in collateral advertising and doubled down on targeted advertising on social. Rather than launch it as the big holiday experience we originally envisioned, we positioned ArtRink as a safe, smaller-scale opportunity for families to play outside and where children could learn to skate. To emphasize the “wow” factor of the physical space, we hired an agency to produce a couple of high-impact videos including some drone footage of the rink with the NYC skyline in the background.

It was a huge hit. Thousands of families from Brooklyn and beyond came to the museum just to experience it during its three-month run; plans for a bigger, better 2.0 version are slated for the end of this year.

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
Our year-end performance on social, and in particular, Instagram. Two giveaways that included museum tickets and a family membership generated significant excitement, engagement, and follower growth. It was so successful that we plan to integrate giveaways into our quarterly strategy. We’ve also seen a lot of success with photo carousels and user-generated content on our social media pages.

The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire
With a robust YouTube page and educators willing to make videos, since March 2020, we have created 155+ educational videos that have been viewed across all our platforms (Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram) a total of over 225k times (as of January 2022)! This growing library of videos makes excellent social media content throughout the year.

The Children’s Museum at Saratoga
Spending more time developing and making consistent posts as well as making efforts to increase engagement, our social media analytics have shown positive growth.

Discovery Center Museum
For Discovery Center Museum’s 40th anniversary in 2021, we had anticipated a huge celebratory public event, a private event for donors, an event for members, as well as other happenings. Then COVID hit. With Illinois’s COVID restrictions and locally high case numbers, for months our capacity was limited to 50 guests. Large events were out of the question, but we still wanted to share this milestone and feel the gratitude we had for our members, guests, and supporters over the years. Through a social media campaign, we solicited photos, favorite memories, and testimonials from the public with fantastic results. Through social media and our website, we shared user-generated content and created an anniversary video. Connecting with current members and volunteers as well as many from decades past, we now have a wonderful collection of digital images and testimonials to use in the future as well!

Over the last six months, we have integrated a variety of scheduled updates. The regularity and transparency of these communications have built expectations among our audiences for what kind of information and resources they can expect us to provide.

The Iowa Children’s Museum
Our education and exhibits team created a puppet version of our mascot, Pete the Turtle, which provided new social content and opportunities to collaborate with community partners. In the last six months, ads, giveaways, and special discounts for memberships have been crucial to rebuilding our membership base post-pandemic.

KidsQuest Children’s Museum
Reaching out to patrons to ask them to submit names for our two exhibit animals, a sheep, now called Lady Baba, and a cow named Mooriah. Fun and playful, comments and likes were up more than 50 percent.

Mighty Children’s Museum
Capturing 10k followers in roughly fifteen months through our story, which began on Facebook and then expanded into other platforms (Instagram and TikTok).

Mississippi Children’s Museum
Our announcement that the museum had won  the 2021 National Medal for Museum and Library Service organically reached over 2 MILLION people on Facebook!

The Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum
Experimenting with contests, videos, staff stories, and sharing mission-related posts from other sources, the staff stories and mission-related posts seem to be doing best.

Please Touch Museum
The name recognition alone of our next traveling exhibit, The Wizard of Oz Educational Exhibit, guaranteed excitement. But we were still surprised when our Facebook announcement post reached 23,475 people, with 131 likes, 62 comments, and 53 shares! Our highest reaching post in the past two years.


Amazement Square
Getting our constituency to commit to attending events. While we have an abundance of interest and “virtual confirmations,” the translation to physical attendance has been difficult.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum
Communication of multiple goings-on across many channels on a tight budget with a team of limited bandwidth. It’s a constant balancing act to maintain a consistent message and presence.

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
Having enough capacity to create new content for the website/blog, which can then be repurposed and promoted on social. With programs moving from all virtual, to hybrid, to all in-person, the pandemic also provided a whole new set of challenges in representing content visually. Masked vs. unmasked photography of our activities made a big difference in the way our audience perceived us. Gauging their comfort level to return was difficult, and we took—and continue to take—a lot of criticism from the anti-mask side.

The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire
Switching to an online registration/pre-payment system, which we love, but communicating the ins and outs of that system is still prone to misunderstanding. From finding the right ways to spell out reservation steps to ensuring that the process doesn’t actually prevent people from visiting is a big concern. We try to mitigate any difficulty by making sure guests can reserve their spots quickly and easily over the phone. We also offer a $0 option to simply reserve a date and time online and then pay at the door upon arrival making the museum more accessible to people using EBT cards or free passes.

The Children’s Museum at Saratoga
Money. Social media basically costs time and is accessible to everyone, but content can easily get lost in the ocean of posts, especially ones with broad and popular appeal. Utilizing other forms of communication, such as radio ads that better target our core demographics would be great, but many of them are out of our price range. We have explored the idea of geofencing, but again, the cost of initiating and running both options long enough to gauge response is an investment outside a budget focused on the more immediate needs of our audience, donors, and sponsors.

Children’s Museum at Saratoga

Discovery Center Museum
Internal: Training new staff and keeping them up to date as our policies change. Several key staff positions vacated during COVID have not been filled. It has been challenging for our small staff, often taking on new duties, to get the communication they need to be effective and feel well connected to the organization.

External: With a reduced budget, maximizing communications to help rebuild our membership base, communicate changing mask, capacity, and reservation policies, and marketing classes and events.

Reaching new audiences in an increasingly crowded digital communications space. We have revitalized existing communications methods and launched new systems, but new audience growth is happening at a slower pace than pre-pandemic levels.

The Iowa Children’s Museum
Sharing our nonprofit mission and looking for more ways to communicate all the ways we serve our community. Many local residents see the museum as more of an “indoor playground in the mall” and are unaware that we provide accessible, educational play opportunities in our museum and outside our walls.

KidsQuest Children’s Museum
KidsQuest is much more than just a physical space so it’s tough to keep our followers up to date on all we have going on—from in-museum programs, to outreach, to our work in the community and with community partners—without confusing or overwhelming them with messages.

Mighty Children’s Museum
Attracting new visitors! We hear the phrase “I didn’t even know this place was here” far too often. In a small town, this comment makes us wonder how we can attract (and keep) our online visitors, but we would like everyone who is liking or following our pages to step foot inside our doors!

Mississippi Children’s Museum
With so much happening at the museum, it can be difficult to find the line between keeping our followers informed and overwhelming them with too much content.

Mississippi Children’s Museum’s announcement that the museum had won the 2021 National Medal for Museum and Library Service organically reached over 2 MILLION people on Facebook.

The Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum
Staff time. We are only seven years old and lots of people in our community don’t know we are here, or even what a children’s museum is!

Please Touch Museum
Keeping up with changing social media algorithms. Right now, Instagram Reels are important for engagement, but will they be in six months? Reels require significantly more work to create than photo-driven posts, which formed the majority of our previous posting plan.

Getting engagement on our posts, particularly when we ask viewers to share something in the comments. We have a significant follower count on our platforms, but they are not active commenters, which hurts our organic reach.


Amazement Square
We monitor our social media posts and catch problems before they go too far, but it is so easy for messages to be taken out of context and publicly disseminated to hundreds at the click of a button.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum
You have to give people what they want—and quickly—or they move on. At the beginning of COVID we experimented with digital-only programming, including short videos for YouTube and public broadcast television. As wonderful as these experiments were, it showed us that our biggest fans aren’t looking for that, at least not from us. They want one-of-a-kind programs and performances they can experience in-person to form lasting memories and be exposed to entirely new ideas and ways of life. Reopening to visitors and resuming regular hours and live cultural festivals reminded us how essential it is to align all of our content—in-person and online—with our audience’s desires. Don’t fight uphill battles—focus on giving people what they want.

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
We are more resilient than we thought we could be with reduced staff. Different kinds of content can work well on organic versus paid. For example, text graphics don’t typically do well on our organic social, but event text graphics do very well on paid social.

The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire
Spending more time crafting content doesn’t always translate to more views. Don’t be afraid to be silly and human. Not in a million years would I have predicted having to defend a museum health and safety policy like mask wearing. We learned when to respond to comments, when to let extreme opinions sit without response among more balanced opinions from other followers, and when to turn off comments if things get out of hand!

The Children’s Museum at Saratoga
How much tracking of an individual’s habits and locations takes place. Useful from a marketing standpoint, but it really opened my eyes to just how much information about you is out there.

Discovery Center Museum
How TikTok has grown and been utilized by museums.

Although social media has been a primary vehicle for organizations to self-promote and share information for the last decade, the ways in which different age groups engage with it remains incredibly varied. For some, following organizations to stay in the know is second nature, while others need to be directed to our social media accounts by other means, such as televised promotions and word of mouth.

The Iowa Children’s Museum
The quick shift to video content! We have a lot of work to do in order to keep up with this new emphasis on TikTok/Reels videos.

KidsQuest Children’s Museum
Our followers are invested in the community and engage particularly well with posts about Black Lives Matter and BIPOC-focused stories about individuals or organizations.

Mighty Children’s Museum
How accessible we can be. We can post changes to programming and daily experiences virtually; we can even convert programs to solely online offerings through Facebook live or posted videos if we need to. The pandemic accelerated our skills in using online platforms to deliver both messages and content.

Mississippi Children’s Museum
How much things change in such a short amount of time! Staying up-to-date on social media trends is a challenge in this digital age.

The Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum
The posts that you think would do really well aren’t always the ones that do. Sharing pictures from programs doesn’t do well. Sharing from other sources does (but not reliably). We shared a Cuddlebug post that did really well.


Amazement Square
How can we secure nonprofit donor status for our Facebook page so that we can build a donation page? We have provided the necessary information but we keep getting rejected and can’t reach anyone to figure out why.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum
What’s next (besides TikTok)? How to succeed in a digital world that is becoming more privacy-minded, where users are allowed to opt-out of analytics?

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
Any tips on the fastest and most efficient ways to create blogs and other longer-form content? So worth it, but so time-consuming.

The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire
Is it really worth the money to advertise consistently on Facebook and Instagram? Should it be worked into your annual budget or can you get away with “here and there” event-related boosting?

The Children’s Museum at Saratoga
What is the best way to monitor how social media posts impact real world results? How can I find out how many people came to an event because of our social media posts?

Discovery Center Museum
For small marketing departments with limited staff and resources, which social media platform(s) should we focus our attention on?

With social media platforms maturing from purely social networks into ones geared towards monetization, what are your predictions and recommendations for platforms yielding the most organic audience growth, brand content growth, and audience engagement with museums?

The Iowa Children’s Museum
Given the ongoing shifts in social media platform usage, especially for younger generations, what are the most effective ways to reach today’s parents of young children?

KidsQuest Children’s Museum
How to continue to grow our followers and up our engagement with them in an authentic way.

Mighty Children’s Museum
How to reach more followers and keep our news on the top of social media pages. The current algorithms make it incredibly difficult to continue to see up-to-date info.

Mississippi Children’s Museum
Which social media platform do you think is the best to invest in as a children’s museum?

The Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum
How does social media marketing translate to getting people in the door? How do you know/track this?

Please Touch Museum
With so many social media platforms and limited staff bandwidth, is it better to go wide—maintaining a presence on many platforms with fewer posts—or to go deep—creating a lot of good content for fewer platforms? What platforms are on the horizon to reach young parents that we aren’t thinking about yet?

Museum Resources for Talking about Tragic Events with Children

Traumatic and tragic events in the news can deeply affect the children and families our field serves. As community resources and advocates for children, children’s museums serve the critical function of helping to build socioemotional supports for children and those who love and care for them.

In the words of Kansas Children’s Discovery Center President and CEO Dené Mosier, “It is our duty as a community to make sure our children are given a peaceful environment in which to heal and connect to community resources.”

Read on for resources from children’s museums on talking about and processing tragic events.

Talking With Children About Tragic Events
Boston Children’s Museum (MA)
“Some activities in the Boston Children’s Museum activity library are specifically aimed at promoting healthy coping mechanisms and self-expression during stressful times, which may be relevant for your family right now.”

Coping with Traumatic Events
Children’s Creativity Museum (San Francisco, CA)
“Parents and caregivers play an important role in helping children recover from the exposure of traumatic events. For a young person, coping with death and loss can be difficult, so we’ve assembled some trusted resources for how to talk with your child(ren) and family.”

Tips for Helping Children Cope with Tragedy
Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose (CA)
“No matter what age or developmental stage the child is in, you can start by asking your child what they’ve already heard. Most children will have heard something, no matter how old they are. After you ask them what they’ve heard, ask what questions they have.”

Resources for Parents During News of Tragic Events
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (IN)
“We believe in the power of children to help change the world. The Children’s Museum is a place where all children and families can learn from one another—regardless of our differences. The core of our mission at The Children’s Museum is to help transform the lives of children and families. We hope these resources can be a starting point. Let’s partner with our children and help to make the world a better place.”

Community Resources
The Doseum (San Antonio, TX)
“Navigating tough topics with our children can be difficult—especially after a tragic event.  Your support and care can go a long way in creating a positive impact in their lives as well as those around you. Our commitment is to continuously seek and share valuable resources to educate and assist the Community during these trying times.”

Helping Children Cope: Talking with Kids About Violence and Tragedy in the News
Minnesota Children’s Museum (St. Paul)
“When violent acts dominate the news, it can be hard to know how to talk to kids about such tragedies. The instinct for many adults might be to shield children from the scary or upsetting news.

“But kids are often more aware than we realize, picking up on body language and physical cues from grownups and absorbing information from their peers and surroundings. This can leave them scared and confused.

“It’s important for parents and caregivers to proactively talk to kids about tragic events when they happen. Adults can help kids put traumatic events into perspective in an age-appropriate way so that kids can understand and process the messages they are hearing. Having these conversations also helps establish a sense of safety while allowing children to work through emotions they are feeling.”

Resources and Letter from the Executive Director
National Children’s Museum (Washington, DC)
“At National Children’s Museum, our mission is to inspire children to care about and change the world. We truly believe that children can affect lasting change. Throughout history, children have been at the forefront of progress, and they are valued citizens who have inspired action. We encourage you to empower the young learners in your life to make their voices heard.”

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

Museums and Pediatricians Are Key Partners on COVID-19 Vaccine Education

We Can Do This logo for blog

By Dr. Michael Yogman

I may be a pediatrician, but it doesn’t take a doctor to know the last two years have been profoundly challenging for our nation’s children. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all areas of children’s lives, including canceled playdates and school closings—all exacerbated by prolonged delays in vaccine eligibility for my youngest patients. Many children have lost caretakers and other family members and faced severe illness themselves.

Today, I write to the Association of Children’s Museums as part of the We Can Do This campaign—a collaboration among the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other organizations committed to the health and wellness of our nation and its children—that seeks to increase public confidence in and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines while reinforcing basic prevention measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The Association of Children’s Museums and its members are key partners in this effort. As the past board chair of the Boston Children’s Museum, I believe strongly in the vital role of museums in the effort to educate families about COVID-19. Museums promote hands-on, playful learning and discovery; cooperation; collaboration; and concern for all our fellow citizens. The work the association does is more important than ever, and I am grateful for our ongoing partnership.

COVID-19 and Kids in 2022

The impact of COVID-19 on kids has been devastating. As of April 2022, one in six children under age 18 have been infected with COVID-19. Contrary to what some believe, children are not immune to the devastating effects of this virus. Over 100,000 have been hospitalized, and over 1,500 have died. It’s hard to fathom that scale of loss—the equivalent of 30 school buses full of kids. We are also concerned about the symptoms of long covid in children.

However, those numbers alone do not adequately illustrate the impact the pandemic has had on children’s health. One of the most alarming outcomes has been the mental health crisis that continues to unfold. In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in children’s mental health, writing:

As health professionals dedicated to the care of children and adolescents, we have witnessed soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating the situation that existed prior to the pandemic.

Fortunately, thanks to the tireless work of medical researchers, children ages five and older are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe, effective, and freely available for all families. The pediatric COVID-19 vaccine has been rigorously reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversaw the participation of thousands of children in clinical trials and continue to monitor the safety and efficacy of the vaccine as we surpass 27 million vaccinated kids. Hopefully, the vaccine for younger children will be available soon.

To move past the pandemic, it is crucial that as many children are immunized against COVID-19 as possible. That requires us to concentrate our efforts on vulnerable populations by working together to reach them and supporting the immunization of all our citizens. This will not only prevent severe illness and death, but it will also help to keep classrooms open, allow kids to socialize with significantly lower risk of contracting serious illness, and help to protect children’s caretakers who may be in a higher risk category for severe illness and death from the virus.

Vaccinating children—along with deploying other basic prevention measures as needed—will protect their health and allow them to fully engage in all the activities that are so important to their health and development. As pediatricians, we are working directly with families to educate them on the importance of protecting kids from COVID-19.

The Role of Museums in Fighting COVID-19

Each of us has a role to play in protecting children against COVID-19. Museums are particularly important partners in this effort. Museums support education, promote empathy, and support caregiver–child relationships—all critical to buffering stress and promoting resilience. Despite being one of the hardest-hit institutions during the pandemic, museums and the work you do are more important than ever.

When museums were forced to close at the beginning of the pandemic, you did not abandon your mission to educate the public. Museums across the country, including the Children’s Museum Houston, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, and my very own Boston Children’s Museum, began building out digital resources to provide accessible, free educational resources for kids. By inspiring curiosity in our children, museums are shaping a generation of young minds who can make informed choices, solve tough issues, and critically evaluate sound scientific advances. This is key to not only helping us move past the COVID-19 pandemic, but also preparing a generation to intervene in future public health crises.

Museums are also crucial in promoting empathy and concern for all our fellow citizens. When we wish to learn about other cultures, museums are often one of the first places we go, because they provide insight into the past, present, and future of ourselves and each other. Developing empathy and respect for one another is vital, especially when dealing with a public health crisis. For children, it helps them understand the sacrifices we make to protect others and reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness when times are tough.

Finally, museums provide a necessary space for introspection. Amid a mental health crisis, museums provide children and adolescents with a place to think, reflect, and develop informed opinions. Whether it’s reflecting on history or appreciating the beauty of the natural world, museums provide perspective and peace in a nonstop world.

The gifts that museums provide are timeless, but they are particularly invaluable as we work to respond to COVID-19 and to protect our kids. As a pediatrician, I urge museums across the country to continue prioritizing education, empathy, and introspection. You can help us in our work by continuing to innovate on delivering virtual learning opportunities for families and providing COVID-safe physical spaces for children to learn. It takes all of us together to prioritize children’s health and well-being during such an uncertain time.

Museums are key allies in the work we do, and we are grateful for their partnership as we work together to create the next generation of educated, informed citizens. Check out WeCanDoThis.HHS.gov for resources museums can use to help with your COVID vaccine education and outreach.

Click here to hear more from Dr. Yogman about the relationship between museums and the fight against COVID-19.

Dr. Michael Yogman is a leading Boston area pediatrician, Immediate Past Board Chair of Boston Children’s Museum, and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Children’s Museum Leaders Play the Long Game at InterActivity 2022


The Association of Children’s Museums will convene hundreds of leaders from children’s museums and supporting organizations to share knowledge and advocate for the field during its annual InterActivity conference, returning to an in-person convening for the first time since 2019. Hosted by The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum at St. Louis Union Station Hotel from May 16-18, InterActivity 2022: PLAY The Long Game will explore ways that children’s museums can adapt to today’s dynamics while simultaneously preparing for the future to remain viable and relevant for generations to come.


May 16–18, 2022


St. Louis Union Station Hotel
St. Louis, MO 63103

All programming will be held at St. Louis Union Station Hotel unless otherwise noted.


The InterActivity conference brings the industry together in support of ACM’s mission to champion children’s museums worldwide. Started in 1962, ACM is a professional member organization for the children’s museum field now celebrating its 60th Anniversary Year. ACM member museums and professionals are dedicated to early childhood play, and play-based learning, the starting point in the continuum of lifelong learning.


The United States Department of Health and Human Services is the signature sponsor of InterActivity 2022: PLAY The Long Game. Major sponsors of this year’s conference are Bill and Sally Canfield and Blackbaud.


Monday, May 16 & Tuesday, May 17
ACM MarketPlace – May 16, 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. and May 17, 7:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. CDT: InterActivity’s signature expo hall shares the latest in products and services supporting the children’s museum field. More than 60 exhibitors share inspiring ideas, creative products, and ready-to-rent exhibitions.

Tuesday, May 17
Plenary and Keynote – Maxine Clark, 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. CDT: Maxine Clark is the founder and former chief executive of Build-A-Bear Workshop®. In her keynote address, Maxine Clark will share insights on how children’s museums can plan and evolve in strategic and heartfelt ways to meet the needs of their audiences, drawing on her unique background in entertainment, education, and merchandising.

Wednesday, May 18
Plenary and ACM Great Friend to Kids Award, 9:00 a.m.–10:15 a.m. CDT: ACM presents its 2022 Great Friends to Kids Award to PBS KIDS for its outstanding impact on the lives of children, building knowledge, critical thinking, imagination, and curiosity. The award will be accepted by David Lowenstein, Senior Director of Ready to Learn at PBS KIDS. The ACM Great Friend to Kids Award is presented annually at InterActivity and honors those who have made significant contributions to strengthen education and advance the interests of children.


Reporters interested in covering the conference should contact Alison Howard at Alison.Howard[at]ChildrensMuseums.org.

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. With more than 470 members in 50 states and 16 countries, ACM leverages the collective knowledge of children’s museums through convening, sharing, and dissemination. Learn more at www.ChildrensMuseums.org.

Parents & Caregivers Preferences for Virtual Programming

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 5.2, the second report in the fifth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology.

For this ACM Trends Report, we invited Scott Burg from Rockman et al to write about his team’s research during the pandemic around parents and caregivers’ preferences for virtual programming by children’s museums. Scott was a speaker at a discussion forum with ACM members focused on virtual programming in October 2021 (See ACM Trends Report 5.1 for details).

ACM Trends Report 5.2

Due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, museums had to make critical decisions about conditions for opening and closing as well as virtual programming based on limited evidence. This shift left children with limited options to engage socially with peers and an increased reliance on parents and caregivers to manage school activities and after-school opportunities. One outcome of the pandemic was an increase in online museum offerings, many of which were targeted at children.

Most museum studies during the pandemic focused on health and safety concerns and returning visits (e.g., mask wearing, social distancing, capacity levels, etc.). This report focuses on results of a study of the potential value of continuing to offer virtual learning activities following the physical reopening of museums. Researchers at Rockman et al (REA) wanted to learn what parents and caregivers felt about children’s museums’ virtual programming, and the types of virtual programs that children’s museums could develop to address families’ needs, interests, and concerns.

In the fall of 2020, REA collaborated with the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco to survey northern California Bay Area children’s museums. The survey collected parent and caregiver feedback on the types of virtual programs they would like to see for their children. Following the first wave of data collection and validation of the instruments, a second wave expanded the research opportunity to other institutions in the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) network (https://bit.ly/REA-ACM_Blog). In total, 13 different children’s museums across the country distributed the survey to their members and mailing lists.

Background on the Survey

The REA study focused on understanding the types of virtual programming that parents and caregivers want from children’s museums. Their preferences for types of virtual programs might be influenced by a child’s school or care situations, child age, amount of screen time, cost, and other factors. Each participating museum received real- time access to aggregate study findings as well as their own museum’s individual data through customized digital reports.

Between November 2020 and January 2021, REA gathered more than 1,200 responses from museum patrons. Not all survey respondents answered every question. The bulk of respondents were parents or caregivers of children aged 2-7 (Figure 1). School and care situations varied among participants’ children, spanning those attending school or daycare in person; and those attending virtually either in a hybrid solution (in-person and remote) or being homeschooled or cared for at home (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Percentage of Respondents by Child’s Age (n = 941)

Findings from the Survey

We found that parents and caregivers’ interest in virtual programs was mixed. About half of all respondents said they had “no interest” or “slight interest” in virtual programs. The other half expressed “moderate” or “high” interest (Figure 2). One overriding concern for participants was the amount of screen time their children were already exposed to. One in five respondents reported that their child spent more than three hours each day on a computer or digital device. Surprisingly, more screen time did not coincide with less interest in virtual programs. These findings suggest that everyone’s threshold for screen fatigue is different.

Figure 2. Percentage of Respondents by Interest Level (n = 945)

Our survey showed a correlation between parents and caregivers’ interest in virtual programs, and the type of schooling or care their child was receiving at the time of the survey. Parents and caregivers of children who attended school or daycare in-person were less interested in virtual programs than those whose children were being home-schooled, attended school online or were in a hybrid situation (Figure 3). A child’s age was not related to their parent or caregiver’s interest in virtual programming, suggesting that these issues are based on values rather than a common consensus on developmental concerns.

Despite concerns about screen time, the survey results showed that many parents and caregivers wanted to reconnect with their local children’s museum. They also wanted to replicate museum experiences either at home or in a remote environment.

Figure 3. Parent & Caregivers’ Interest in Virtual Programming by Schooling Type

Parents and caregivers prioritized museum approaches in both virtual and in-person settings that:

  • • Provide greater socialization opportunities for young children;
  • • Promote enhanced creative and critical thinking skills;
  • • Facilitate more kinesthetically oriented experiences; and
  • • Offer activities that promote independent learning while also furnishing time for caregivers to learn alongside their children.

Parents and caregivers also indicated an interest in programs that offered the kinds of experiential learning that children’s museums succeed at. These included programs that actively engage participants (e.g., science, art) vs. activities that are more passive (e.g., read alouds, learning study skills). Parent and caregivers were not interested in activities that duplicated virtual school lessons. Nearly three-fifths of respondents said they would consider paying for virtual programming.

Most parents and caregivers preferred virtual programming scheduled on weekends. They indicated a slight preference for weekday virtual programming that allows independent child participation (Figure 4).

The survey did not reflect the many opportunities for children’s museums to educate parents and caregivers on methods to regulate and participate with their child’s virtual learning activities. Research suggests that when parents and caregivers participate and scaffold their children’s activities (asking questions, extending play), this results in higher retained learning (Takeuchi and Stevens, 2011).

Figure 4. Parents & Caregivers’ Interest in Virtual Programming by Time and Day

Anxiety over prolonged screen time can undermine this type of support. What it means to be an effective ‘digital parent’ can be perceived as contradictory, as parents and caregivers try to minimize the negatives of screen time while benefitting from the affordances of the technology.

Parents and caregivers need support to better understand the content of what their children watch and do on screens, the context of where they watch and do, and the connections they make (or do not make) while watching and doing (Livingstone et al, 2017).

This integrated approach provides more insights into the positive or negative impact of digital media use than a simple measure of time. Parents and caregivers need to be encouraged to think critically about how to support positive uses and minimize negative consequences. This is where children’s museums can play a valuable role.

Looking to the Future

As the pandemic restrictions are lifted, the needs and expectations of museum audiences will evolve. This survey provided insights into the minds of audiences during the fall and winter of 2020, and but cannot predict what else may change as schools and museums continue to reopen. These data provide some insights that can support analysis and monitoring of how virtual programming is valued in the future.

Key Takeaways

To put these findings to work, virtual programming offered by children’s museums can respond to these key takeaways:

  • • About 85% respondents expressed some degree of interest in virtual programming offered by children’s museums. For children’s museums considering investments in virtual programming as a core institutional activity, this finding suggests that such investments may be worthwhile;
  • • Some respondents were willing to pay for virtual programming. This indicates that parents and caregivers believe virtual programming can promote a child’s educational and social-emotional growth and are willing to invest in those activities;
  • • Parents and caregivers value virtual programming but are concerned about the amount of screen time children experience. Children’s museums are well positioned to help them think critically about how they can support positive uses of screen time and minimize negative consequences; and
  • • Parents and caregivers preferred virtual programs that actively engaged their children, like science and art activities. They were less interested in more passive activities such as read aloud sessions.
Next Steps

Are parents and caregivers tired of virtual programs, or has remote learning become a mainstay of education? Is virtual programming enabling visitors to form a new kind of relationship with children’s museums? Can museums use virtual programs to extend their reach to underserved audiences, increase access to diverse communities, or add value to their institutions as trusted sources of information and learning? Where could collaboration between children’s museums or between museums and school districts strengthen both the informal and formal education landscape? What role can researchers and evaluators play in facilitating this discussion?

To answer those questions and build on this study of virtual programming that parents and caregivers want from children’s museums, the researchers hope to expand the number of institutions involved in any future studies to ensure the data are representative and determine if regional variation or museum size influence perceptions. Ideally, future research will recruit a more inclusive sample of community participants including parents and caregivers who may not visit children’s museums regularly or do not have access to virtual programming.

We also hope to encourage the development of research- practice partnerships, which can serve as a critical tool for generating actionable data that children’s museums need to navigate the post-COVID world


Field, S., Fraser, J., Thomas, U.G., Voiklis, J., & ACM Staff (2022). The Expanding Role of Virtual Programming in Children’s Museums. ACM Trends 5(1). Knology & Association of Children’s Museums.

Takeuchi, L., & Stevens, R. (2011). The new coviewing: Designing for learning through joint media engagement. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Livingstone, S., Lemish, D., Lim, S. S., Bulger, M., Cabello, P., Claro, M., Cabello-Hutt, T., Khalil, J., Kumpulainen, K., Nayar, U. S., Nayar, P., Park, J., Tan, M. M., Prinsloo, J., & Wei, B. (2017). Global Perspectives on Children’s Digital Opportunities: An Emerging Research and Policy Agenda. Pediatrics, 140(Suppl 2), S137–S141.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramKnology produces practical social science for a better world. Follow Knology on Twitter.

PBS KIDS Named “Great Friend to Kids”

–Honor awarded during the Association of Children’s Museums’ annual InterActivity Conference–

ARLINGTON, VA (May 5, 2022)—The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) is thrilled to announce PBS KIDS as the recipient of the 2022 ACM Great Friend to Kids Award. The award will be accepted by David Lowenstein, Senior Director of Ready To Learn at PBS KIDS, on Wednesday, May 18, during ACM’s InterActivity 2022 conference in St. Louis, MO.

“ACM is proud to honor PBS KIDS as our 2022 ACM Great Friend to Kids Award recipient for its outstanding impact on the lives of children, building knowledge, critical thinking, imagination, and curiosity,” said ACM Executive Director Arthur Affleck. “By involving parents, teachers, caregivers, and communities as learning partners, PBS KIDS helps to empower children for success in school, work and life.”

Lowenstein manages the Ready To Learn Initiative for PBS KIDS, leading a cross-disciplinary team, in partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), responsible for the research, development, and distribution of educational media and resources for young children and their families. He is a regular speaker on the role of public media in improving early learning outcomes and community-based initiatives.

Since 1991, the ACM Great Friends to Kids Award has been presented annually at the InterActivity conference and honors those who have made significant contributions to strengthen education and advance the interests of children. Recent recipients include Temple Grandin, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, The Junior League, and Geoffrey Canada.

Returning for the first time in person in three years, InterActivity 2022 will be hosted by The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum in St. Louis, MO from May 16-18. Hundreds of children’s museum leaders, staff, and stakeholders will gather to explore this year’s theme, PLAY The Long Game, share knowledge, and advocate for the children’s museum field.

To cover ACM’s InterActivity conference, contact Alison Howard at 703.224.3100 x102.

About ACM

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. With more than 470 members in 50 states and 16 countries, ACM leverages the collective knowledge of children’s museums through convening, sharing, and dissemination. Learn more at www.ChildrensMuseums.org.


PBS KIDS believes the world is full of possibilities, and so is every child. As the number one educational media brand for kids, PBS KIDS helps children ages 2-8 learn lessons that last a lifetime. Through media and community-based programs, PBS KIDS wants children to see themselves uniquely reflected and celebrated in lovable, diverse characters who serve as positive role models, and to explore their feelings and discover new adventures along the way. Families can stream PBS KIDS for free anytime, no subscription required. A large collection of mobile apps and pbskids.org provide accessible content that spark kids’ curiosity. PBS KIDS and local stations across the country support the entire ecosystem in which children learn and grow – including their teachers and caregivers, parents, and community – providing resources accessible anytime and anywhere. For more information, visit pbs.org/pressroom, or follow PBS KIDS on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Six Ways Museums Can Help Build Broader COVID Vaccine Confidence

ACM is proud to partner with We Can Do This, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 Public Education Campaign, to share critical information about the availability of COVID vaccines for children. In addition to the resources from the We Can Do This website below, ACM is providing potential funding opportunities for childrens museums to support programs, events, and exhibits developed to build broader vaccine confidence. For more information, visit www.ChildrensMuseums.org/covid-19.

From hosting a vaccination clinic to installing a poster, below are six ways your museum can help increase vaccine confidence by sharing the facts about COVID vaccines and children with parents and caregivers.

Interested in any of the steps below? ACM wants to support your work! Let us know by contacting Maureen Devery, Project Manager.

1. Get the Facts

Museums are trusted organizations within their communities. Before preparing your museums outreach plan, review the facts about COVID vaccines and how to communicate with parents and caregivers about eligible children getting a COVID vaccine.

You can also catch a recording of the recent We Can Do This Summit featuring conversations among leading doctors, medical professionals, and community leaders about COVID vaccines.

2. Send a Message

If your museum frequently sends newsletters to parents and caregivers, consider including a reminder that free COVID vaccines are available for everyone ages five and older. You could also send a dedicated email newsletter using this template as a guide.

3. Host a COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic

Is your museum interested in hosting a vaccine clinic but dont know where to start? Check out the We Can Do This Family Vaccination Site Playbook for step-by-step guidance on organizing an event, including planning checklists, staffing considerations, and more.

4. Offer Activities for Children

Kids love to color! If your museum is hosting an on-site vaccination clinic, print out this fun, super-hero-inspired coloring page for children to engage with before or after vaccination.

5. Engage Your Visitor Services Team

Familiarize your public-facing employees and volunteers with these frequently asked questions from parents and caregivers about COVID vaccines as part of their ongoing training. One answer can make a difference!

6. Install a Poster

Place one of these posters in your museum common spaces (bathrooms, hallways, education rooms) to encourage visiting parents and caregivers to protect their children by having them get a COVID vaccine.

Learn more about the We Can Do This campaign and ACMs partnership by visiting: www.ChildrensMuseums.org/covid-19.

The Expanding Role of Virtual Programming in Children’s Museums

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 5.1, the first report in the fifth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology.

Volume 4 of the ACM Trends Report series, Museums in a Pandemic, reported findings from regularly conducted surveys by Knology and Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the children’s museum field. Museums closed their doors to the public in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. More than 70% of ACM member museums were offering virtual programming by June 2020. Last year, museums slowly began reopening for in-person visits and had reached 61% by March 2021. The Spring 2021 ACM COVID impact survey suggested that about two-thirds of museums (n = 43 out of 67) were interested in continuing to offer virtual programming or engaging with communities online even after pandemic restrictions lifted.

In October 2021, Knology and ACM launched the first in an annual series of discussion forums that aim to address emerging questions from the field. Each forum features a panel of external experts that share recent research that might be applicable to the work of children’s museum operations. Presentations are followed by breakout sessions where museum professionals can consider the implications of that research to their practice, and explore their perspectives on the theme more broadly.

Based on the results of the impact survey, this first discussion forum focused on virtual programming. It is important to note that by October 2021, when the discussion forum took place, 91% of ACM members had reopened for in-person activities. We invited leaders and educators from ACM members to share their perspective about virtual programming. A total of 39 leaders and educators from museums across the United States attended the discussion forum. They represented museums that had offered virtual programming during the pandemic, and museums that had not done so. For this conversation, we defined virtual or online programming as programming or exhibits that require at-home or on-the-go screen time. This definition of virtual programming included activity kits if they offered a virtual or online engagement component.

ACM Trends #5.1

For the October 2021 discussion forum, we invited four experts to present their research. ACM Trends Report 5.1 focuses on the discussions that followed those presentations. During those conversations, the attendees explored the role of virtual programming as part of their institutional missions and culture, as well as their impact assessments of that programming.

The forum discussions included meeting attendee polling, and a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) exercise with attendees based on their own experiences and institutions. This was followed by a general discussion about the future of virtual programming and possible needs to make that vision a reality.

Polling Results

We conducted live polling during the discussion forum, which helped to benchmark attendees’ opinions to support the discussion. These polls are not considered representative of the entire field. Rather, they represent the attendees’ perspectives.

Most attendees reported that they had either expanded or started virtual programming in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (n = 21). A little over half said that they planned to continue offering virtual programming in future (n = 16). We also asked museums to select the types of virtual programming they have done from a list generated from data gathered from the Spring 2021 COVID impact survey. The most common offering was take-home activity kits that included a live or pre-recorded virtual activity led by museum staff. This was followed by a virtual story time, and other pre-recorded and live videos on social media. Other activities that museums provided included free-play prompts, interactive games, and virtual museum tours.

SWOT Analysis Results

The SWOT exercise aimed to better understand museums’ experiences with and perceptions of virtual programming. We asked all attendees to participate whether they offered virtual programming or not so that we could get a mix of perspectives.


During the pandemic, many museum educators were tasked with filming virtual education programming for their institutions. As a result, museums invested in infrastructure and systems their staff needed to create and deliver these programs. This allowed museums to build up a library of virtual resources that they can provide to different audiences and share with other institutions. For example, one attendee said that, after participating in the museum’s virtual education programming, some parents of homeschooled children were interested in in-person learning experiences with their children at the museum.

Virtual programming has had other benefits for children’s museums, including increased accessibility. Many respondents said it helped make their programming more accessible to families. Some respondents also shared that the pandemic was an opportunity for their staff to develop new skills in support of virtual programming.

Lastly, many respondents said that working on virtual programming helped them strengthen existing partnerships, particularly with schools and educators. For example, one museum developed a website that showcases content from their exhibits, which they shared with local educators.


The limits of virtual programming meant the museums had to think creatively about how to engage with families in their communities. Feedback from museum staff and leadership indicated that some felt that switching to virtual programming took away many of the elements of play they curated for their in-person visitors. Some respondents indicated they struggled with creating programming because virtual learning pedagogy was unknown or unfamiliar to them. Museums also had to consider the trade-offs and benefits to children’s learning between pre-recorded and live virtual sessions.

Museum staff described challenges with developing the skills needed to provide virtual programming. Some staff described difficulties with forming connections online audiences. Not all museum educators were comfortable with presenting content in an online format. Because of these experiences, some museum staff wanted resources about best practices for providing programming in virtual environments.

Museums either released or furloughed on average between 40 – 55% of their staff (ACM Trends Report 4.12). We heard from several participants that as a result they lacked the time and resources to produce high quality virtual programming. Some museums chose not to produce any virtual programming. Also, a few museums charged a fee, which may have prevented some families from accessing their programming.


Several attendees said they needed resources to help them continue providing virtual programming. One suggestion was to develop a platform where museums can exchange curriculum, media assets, and other resources related to providing effective virtual programming. Some museums have already taken steps to begin sharing resources. For example, one attendee said their institution was working with a consortium of other museums in California to collaboratively develop five activity kits that include video components they would share equally as a resource. By pooling their resources and working collaboratively on the content, these museums created higher quality kits and videos for their communities, while limiting costs and burdens on museum resources.

Some museums described opportunities for continuing virtual programming in partnership with local schools. These partnerships help extend the museum experience beyond in-person interactions to include learning in other contexts. One museum, which created a website with lesson plans for educators during the pandemic, now works with the local teachers. They are now developing targeted field trips that have a classroom component and an in-person or virtual experience.


The primary threats to continuing virtual programming in children’s museums are time, energy, and return on investment given the variability in attendance. Creating virtual programming can be a strain on both staff capacity and museum resources. One museum leader said they would need to staff a department dedicated to virtual programming to continue providing this type of service. Another museum leader said their pandemic virtual programming was necessary, but likely beyond their means when the museum returned to full operations due to staffing and budget constraints.

Many attendees felt that the return on investment was not sufficient for staff to continue virtual programming at their institutions. Concerns included the lower revenue from virtual programming when compared to live in- person programming. A few mentioned they were redirecting resources from virtual programming back toward reopening activities. One attendee said their museum’s partnership with Amazon Affiliates had helped to reduce their spending on virtual programming and enabled them to provide free or low-cost activity kits to families. But most leaders said that continuing to provide this kind of programming may not be sustainable without additional sources of funding.

Another critical concern raised in this session was Zoom Fatigue, the sense that interacting on screens had become overwhelming for working families and school age children. Attendees observed that many parents and caregivers who were responsible for supporting their families and helping their children with formal online learning seemed less inclined to engage in additional virtual learning with museums.

Virtual Programming in the Future

During the pandemic, museums reimagined their operations and service, and this has affected the staff. As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, many museums have re- opened their doors to in-person visits. As of March 2022, 92% of ACM members globally are open the public (up from 91% when the discussion forum took place in October 2021). This has implications for the future of virtual programming in children’s museums. Museum staff shared their perspectives based on their experiences during the pandemic, and their thoughts on continuing to provide online content in future.

Museum staff said that virtual programming offered during the pandemic was most successful when it was done in partnership with local schools and educators. They also said that partnership was the most sustainable way to continue offering virtual programming in future. However, they noted that there was a lot less demand for virtual programming now that children’s museums and schools have re-opened for in-person activities.

Most attendees reported that they were re-assigning staff and resources from virtual programming back to their traditional in-person activities. Several mentioned the limited staff time available to keep offering virtual programming, even though they felt it was valuable extension of services. Some children’s museum staff reported developing a backlog of virtual content they could roll out slowly over time, but most had no plans to develop new virtual content once full operations resume.

Overall, attendees were reluctant to continue with virtual programming without financial sponsorship. They reported that the funding for virtual programming during COVID-19 restrictions came from grants, but even that was relatively minimal. They suggested that hiring additional staff who would be responsible for fundraising, planning and executing virtual programming might allow these programs to continue.

Key Takeaways

There are a few important takeaways from the responses to the polling questions and the outcomes of the SWOT exercise:

  • • Education was the primary focus for most virtual programming during the Many museums became education partners, providing content and space that could be used by both educators and parents;
  • • Virtual programming has helped museums support and serve new audiences in their communities;
  • • Some museums have formed partnerships with local schools and/or nearby children’s museums to collaborate on creating and providing virtual programming;
  • • Children’s museums would be open to an online exchange platform to help them build customized and branded virtual programming in collaboration with others;


  • • Museums said they would require additional funding or new revenue streams, staff, and training resources to continue providing virtual programming in future.

Flinner, K., Field, S., Voiklis, J., Thomas, U.G., & ACM Staff (2021). Museums in a Pandemic: Personnel & Rebuilding Teams. ACM Trends 4(12). Knology & Association of Children’s Museums.

Association of Children’s Museums. (2021, March 18) Reflecting on One Year of the Pandemic for Children’s Museums and the Communities They Serve. https://bit.ly/3jhxmJF

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramKnology produces practical social science for a better world. Follow Knology on Twitter.

ACM Partners with HHS’s We Can Do This Campaign

ARLINGTON, VA (March 22, 2022): Today, the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) announced its partnership with We Can Do This, the COVID-19 public education campaign of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

An international membership organization with 470 members in all 50 states and 16 countries, ACM will collaborate with children’s museums and related organizations across the U.S. to share critical information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccines for children.

“As the foremost professional society advocating on behalf of children’s museums, we are committed to the health and wellbeing of children and families,” said Arthur Affleck, Executive Director of the Association of Children’s Museums. “We are excited by this opportunity to partner with the Department of Health and Human Services to support children’s museums across the U.S. in sharing critical information with parents and caregivers about vaccine availability for young children.”

As part of this partnership, ACM will share HHS resources with museums across the United States, and will also support programs, events, and exhibits in children’s museums to build broader vaccine confidence. ACM will also create and disseminate a four-panel exhibit sharing critical information about vaccines with parents and caregivers, available for free to museums to download and print. For more information about these resources and potential funding opportunities for museums, visit www.ChildrensMuseums.org/covid-19.

About ACM
The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. With more than 470 members in 50 states and 16 countries, ACM leverages the collective knowledge of children’s museums through convening, sharing and dissemination. Learn more at www.childrensmuseums.org.

New Hand to Hand: Children’s Museums and Climate Change

The latest issue of Hand to Hand, “Children’s Museums and Climate Change” is now available! Read each article here on the ACM blog, and find the full issue PDF in the Hand to Hand Community on ACM Groupsite.

This issue delves into how children’s museums are exploring climate-related issues experienced by the communities they serve. Pieces share ideas and strategies around how our institutions can help children and caregivers learn the facts in age-appropriate ways while developing the skills needed to adapt to a changing world.

Read the issue! 

Children’s Museums and Climate Change

Talk, Act, Hope: Pushing Together to Save Us from the Effects of Climate Change
A Conversation with Katharine Hayhoe, PhD, along with Jonathan Patz, MD
In this interview led by Brenda Baker, Madison Children’s Museum, leading climate experts discuss the challenges that prevent climate action, and how using your voice and focusing on health and wellbeing can help mitigate these challenges.

Building a Climate of Hope
Lisa Thompson
The Natural History Museum of Utah utilized research, expert advice, evaluation, and exhibit prototyping to create their forthcoming exhibit, A Climate of Hope, which will empower visitors to take meaningful climate action in their communities.

Science from the Past and for the Future: Learning from Indigenous Knowledge for Climate Change Adaptation
Lauren Butcher and Rachel Zollinger
Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum is developing at-home STEM activity cards that highlight local Indigenous peoples’ Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), showcasing how traditional practices effectively utilize science and engineering principles.

Seeing the Future and Taking Steps to Get There
Neil Gordon
After first articulating its commitment to environmental sustainability in 2007, Discovery Museum has worked to “walk the talk,” with a framework of sustainability commitments, and turn its vision into reality, using data to develop concrete goals and actions.

How to Engage a Community in Fire Season Education
Chris White
The Discovery in Reno, Nevada, is utilizing its Spark!Lab Smithsonian gallery to teach families about fire season while engaging them through play, with support from community leaders and resources.

Learning from Nature, Not Only about It
A Conversation with Billy Spitzer and Al DeSena, interviewer
In this conversation, former National Science Foundation program officer Al Desena interviews Billy Spitzer, executive director of the Hitchcock Center of the Environment in Amherst, Massachusetts, about how children’s museums can engage with the domain of climate change. A recording of this live interview is also available.

Building Sustainability, Inside and Out
Lance Cutrer
With a commitment to sustainability solidified in its 2020-2025 strategic plan, the Museum of Discovery and Science has hired an environmental sustainability manager, created educational programming focused on sustainability and resilience, and more.

When to Begin? Early Memories Build the Foundation for Environmental Learning
Charlie Trautmann, PhD
By understanding the basic elements of how human memory works, museum professionals can design for the types of memories they want children and families to have when developing experiences related to climate science topics.

For Our Children, the Planet, and Our Budgets: Museums Learn to Manage Energy
Stephanie Shapiro and Sarah Sutton
The co-founders of Environment & Culture Partners share how Culture Over Carbon, a new research project to improve the museum’s field understanding of energy use, will help museums plan for the future.

Climate Action Heroes in the Museum, Online, and Soon at Dulles Airport
Langley Lease and Paige Childs
With input from educators and experts, National Children’s Museum’s Climate Action Heroes framework empowers young activists to defeat climate “villains” while exploring the science behind climate change.

Rebounding through Making and Tinkering
Rachel Daigre, Cate Heroman, and Alexandra Pearson
As a regional hub for MakerEd’s Making Spaces program, Knock Knock Children’s Museum uses making and tinkering experiences to support the emotional needs of children during traumatic events and help deepen their knowledge and understanding of weather-related events.

Hand to Hand is the quarterly publication of the Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM). ACM champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

Talk, Act, Hope: Pushing Together to Save Us from the Effects of Climate Change

This article is part of the “Children’s Museums and Climate Change” issue of Hand to Hand.
Click here to read other articles in the issue.
A Conversation with Katharine Hayhoe, PhD, along with Jonathan Patz, MD
Led by Brenda Baker, Madison Children’s Museum

Noted atmospheric scientist, writer, teacher, communicator, and researcher Katharine Hayhoe studies climate change.  She is the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy and a Horn Distinguished Professor and the Political Science Endowed Chair in Public Policy and Public Law in the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University.

As an undergraduate, Katharine studied physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto and later earned both master’s and PhD degrees in atmospheric science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In 1997, she founded ATMOS Research to bridge the gap between scientists and stakeholders and provide relevant, state-of-the-art information on how climate change will affect our lives to a broad range of nonprofit, industry, and government clients.

She frequently gives public talks and interviews on climate science, impacts, communication, and faith. Her TED Talk has close to 4 million views. Her book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, was released in September 2021. With her local PBS station, KTTZ, she writes and produces a PBS Digital Studios short series, “Global Weirding: Climate, Politics and Religion.”

Katharine’s list of publications, affiliations, appearances, and honors is lengthy.  Why does she do it all? “When just one person tells me sincerely that they had never cared about climate change before, or even thought it was real: but now, because of something they heard me say, they’ve changed their mind.  That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

Jonathan Patz, MD, MPH, is director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the Tony McMichael Professor and the John P. Holton Chair of Health and the Environment with appointments in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Population Health Sciences. For fifteen years, Jonathan served as a lead author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the organization that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

Patz is committed to connecting colleagues around the world to improve health for all. He is continually striving to integrate his research into teaching for students and communicating to policymakers and the public.

He has written more than 200 scientific papers, a textbook addressing the health effects of global environmental change, and co-edited both the five-volume Encyclopedia of Environmental Health (2011), and, most recently, Climate Change and Public Health (2015, Oxford University Press).

Jonathan has served on scientific committees of the National Academy of Sciences and was the Founding President of the International Association for Ecology and Health.  He is double board-certified, earning medical degrees in both Occupational/Environmental Medicine and Family Medicine from Case Western Reserve University (1987) and his Master of Public Health degree (1992) from Johns Hopkins University.

Brenda Baker is an artist and and vice president of exhibits, facilities and strategic initiatives at Madison Children’s Museum, where she has worked for more than thirty years.

BRENDA: Katharine and Jonathan, thank you very much for joining us. I’ve known Jonathan for a couple of decades and have been following your work, Katharine, for as long as I can remember.  You’ve both been inspirations to me. Katharine, your new book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, is all about hope and healing. What are the main challenges that keep people from acting on climate change? What makes them feel overwhelmed or less than hopeful in the first place?

KATHARINE: When it seems like people aren’t worried about climate change or aren’t doing anything about it, we often assume they lack information, so we just dump more scary scientific facts on them. But that just makes the problem worse. Because the vast majority of us are already worried: 70 percent of all people in the US are worried; 83 percent of moms are worried; and 84 percent of young people are worried. So, why are we not acting? Because we don’t know what to do. Fifty percent of us feel helpless, hopeless, and don’t know where to start. What we lack is something that social scientists call “efficacy”—a belief that what we do will make a difference. We have this global crisis that could spell the end of civilization as we know it, and most of us think we can’t make a difference. But it’s not about saving the planet—the planet will be orbiting the sun long after we’re gone—it’s about saving us. That’s why I called my book Saving Us.

We’re told we need to do things like change your lightbulbs and eat less meat—don’t get me wrong, those are good things to do—but we know they are not sufficient to fix a global crisis. Jonathan knows this; that’s why, for so long, he’s spoken at venues from Davos to TED about why climate change matters and what we can do to fix it.

Using our voice to talk about what we can do at our schools, where we work, in our buildings, or in whatever organization or church we might be part of, to advocate for climate action, is the single most powerful thing we can do. My book is full of stories of ordinary people who have made a profound difference by talking from the heart about why climate change matters and what we could do about it. Today, that’s exactly what the young people of the world are doing. If they can use their voice, why can’t we? As one of my students said, “You know, the biggest thing I’ve learned in this class is that the most important thing we can do to help fix climate change is to use our voice—and it’s free!” Installing solar panels costs a lot of money. But every single one of us has a voice and it’s free.

BRENDA: Jonathan, what scares you the most about what you see in the data?

JONATHAN: The fact that there are multiple exposure pathways through which climate change affects human health really scares me. It is not just one toxic agent or a few infectious agents to avoid. There are multiple insults from many different factors that affect our health. And it’s no longer in the future. It is already happening, faster than we expected; the acceleration of change is alarming.

I am also scared about the disregard for science that we have seen during the pandemic. The science is clear on climate change and its current and future impacts. There is no question about what is happening and what we need to do as a society. Given the current misrepresentation of facts and the conspiracy theories that abound, even though we have the best scientific information, we still have difficulty coming together and changing behaviors. In the face of overwhelming evidence, there is an alarming lack of response. This is where we need to bring in social science and other experts to help.

BRENDA: Do either of you have any stories about someone who was unconvinced that climate change mattered? What did it take to change their mind?

KATHARINE: There’s a simple formula for engaging with people on climate change: begin with something they already care about. Don’t begin with what you care about and try to convince them to care about it, too. Begin with something they care about, and then connect the dots to how climate change affects it, bringing in positive, constructive solutions that they can get on board with. Although not a Rotarian myself, a number of years ago I was asked to speak at our local Rotary Club. I wondered where to begin. What did we have in common? Well, we all live in West Texas, so I’m going to start by talking about what we can see happening right here: our heat waves are getting stronger, and our summers are getting longer, and how that affects our home energy bills and how it affects our local farming community.

When I walked into the hotel ballroom where they were meeting, I saw this giant screen showing the Four-Way Test, which Rotarians use to evaluate all of the decisions that they make. 1) “Is it the truth?” Is climate change the truth? Absolutely. 2) “Is it fair?” Absolutely not. It disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable people, primarily through their health. 3) “Would it build goodwill and better friendships?” Yes, fixing climate change definitely does that. Finally, 4) “Would it be beneficial to all?” Yes, climate solutions help us all.

So, while everyone else was eating their lunch, I sat in the corner of the ballroom and rearranged my whole talk around the Four-Way Test. As I began my presentation, I could see people who were not paying attention, or had their arms folded like, “Who invited the climate scientist here? This isn’t what we normally have.” But as I started to go through the Four-Way Test, I saw people’s arms unfolding, people leaning forward, and heads starting to nod. They saw their values reflected in what I was saying. I was showing them how they were the perfect people to care about climate change because of who they already are—Rotarians. Caring about and acting on climate change would allow them to have an even more genuine expression of the Rotarian values they already held. In the book, I talk about a local banker, who I had met a few times and who had always been cordial but distant. He came up to me afterwards with the most bemused look on his face and said, “You know, I never thought too much of this whole climate change thing,” which of course is a polite Texas way of saying “I thought it was a load of crap.” “But it passed the Four-Way Test, so I have to agree.

JONATHAN: Katharine, I have a similar story with the Madison Rotarians. Except the first time I spoke to them, a member already very familiar with climate science told me, “You can talk about your stuff, but don’t say the words ‘climate change’.” Well, that’s easy, I’ll just talk about extremes, like flooding, and resulting sewage backup and how they affected people’s health. Six months later, the same guy said, “You know what? Now you can talk about climate change.”

BRENDA: Many children’s museum professionals feel that they can’t use the words climate change in their board rooms or with donors because it’s become so politically charged. How might we reframe the conversation so that it’s first and foremost about health and wellbeing of children?

KATHARINE: Begin the conversation from the heart with something people already care about—and what is closer to the heart of any parent than the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of their child? We would move mountains to save our children from anything that threatens or harms them. Today, climate change is firmly in that category.

Climate change exacerbates air pollution, which contributes to childhood asthma. It increases our high temperatures to the point where one of my colleagues, a fellow “Science Mom” who lives in Arizona, had to wake up her children before dark this summer so they could go play outside before it got too hot. Children’s sporting events and practices are rescheduled to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Another colleague puts monitors on children playing outside in playgrounds to see how much energy from the sun and heat they’re exposed to and whether they’re getting dehydrated. Another colleague in Nevada couldn’t let their children outside to play for three weeks this past summer because of the terrible wildfire smoke. We have to worry about our children’s health today in ways that we never had to before. Climate change is no longer a distant threat. It is right here, right now, and it is affecting the health of those most precious beings, our children.

JONATHAN: According to the World Health Organization, 88 to 90 percent of the effects from climate change affect children.

Multiple physical health threats currently affect children in the US due to hot temperatures and extreme hydrologic cycles. Behind the elderly, infants are second most vulnerable to overheating, which can cause all sorts of problems. Warm temperatures also exacerbate pre-term labor. Climate change is affecting air quality, with stagnant air masses and increased air pollution, resulting in higher incidences of asthma in children, greater aeroallergens, and higher counts of ragweed pollen, along with a longer pollen season. Mold also greatly exacerbates childhood asthma. With more extreme weather events, flooding in the basements of homes and apartment buildings results in a perfect environment for mold growth, which has become a real problem, especially for disadvantaged communities that were formerly redlined; these neighborhoods are more prone to flooding and are at higher risk.

Hot temperatures also mean bigger and more intense wildfires. The Journal of Pediatrics recently reported that the particulates from forest fires like we’ve seen out West this past year are ten times more harmful to children ages zero to five than other particulates.

We have also seen a strong relationship between gastrointestinal issues in children and heavy rainfall, which results in more combined sewage overflow events, especially in areas reliant on well water. There are increased risks of recreational exposure for children swimming at a beach after an extreme rainfall event, for example, which increases bacterial loads for e coli.

Aside from physical threats, climate change also inflicts mental health impacts, which we are seeing now, on children, including young children. Known as “eco-anxiety” or “climate anxiety,” these crippling worries about the future, or the post-traumatic stress experienced after disasters like recent hurricanes, forest fires, and floods, disrupt children’s lives. Many more people are taking a serious look at these issues. It is so important for children to avoid hopelessness, because it is so paralyzing. We need children to have hope that inspires them to act.

BRENDA: Children’s museums’ primary audience are kids eight and under. Many of us in the field hold closely to the principles put forth by environmental educator/activist David Sobel, who basically says no tragedies before fourth grade. Instead of frightening, doom-and-gloom warnings, we should instead focus on providing opportunities for young children to be delighted by—and not worry about—the natural world. How can we best support very young children and their caregivers in understanding their role in creating sustainable communities?

KATHARINE: With young people it is even more important to emphasize how they can make a difference. Awareness of the issue wakes us up, but if we don’t know what to do about it, fear and anxiety set in. Many young people today already suffer from anxiety and stress because of the threat of climate change and the perception that people aren’t doing enough to fix it. I started to hear this so often that a few years ago in my YouTube series “Global Weirding,” I decided to make an episode called, “I’m just one kid, what can I do?” I found so many kids doing so many amazing things. Kids are creating $5 inventions that charge people’s cellphones using solar and wind energy. One girl created an algae biofuel lab under her bed until her mom found it and made her move it into the garage—and she won a national science fair prize for it. Children are leading the Children’s Climate Strike and suing their federal governments, not just the US, but Canada, Germany, and other countries, for the right to a better future. Children and young people are engaging with cities and corporations. When I was at COP26 (the 2021 United Nations climate change conference) in Glasgow, I was really encouraged to hear from entities as disparate as the United Arab Emirates government, IKEA, and Nestle that they were forming youth advisory councils and it was mandatory to consider their advice when making major decisions on climate.

Kids are using their voice to make a difference in their school, with their classmates, in their neighborhoods, and online, where many children are engaging these days. I don’t think we should shelter our children, saying “everything’s fine” until they get to a certain age and they find out it’s not. Age-appropriate awareness and conversations that acknowledge the fact that yes, there is a problem, but here are examples of people who are working on it in our city, state, or country, or maybe in our own family, are the way to go.

BRENDA: As climate scientist parents, did you talk about climate change with your own children when they were young, or did you just encourage them to get out and get excited about the natural world around them?

KATHARINE: When my son was in third grade, I forgot to give him his lunch one morning. So, I ran over to school to put it in his locker. As I was walking down the hallway on this January morning, right after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, looking to see which one was his locker, I noticed that all of the kids had posted an “I have a dream”-themed essay on their locker doors. I knew I got to the right one when I spotted the “I have a dream that we’ll fix climate change” essay. It started with “I have a dream that we’ll fix climate change because here’s what it’s doing to the world,” but very quickly moved to solutions: here’s what people can do about it, and here’s what’s already happening, and here’s why it’s a good idea to fix it. Although my son has listened to some of my talks and interviews, I’ve never sat him down and lectured him on climate change. It melted my heart that he got that it was important, but he also got that there were solutions. He was concerned but hopeful—and that’s what we want for all of us.

JONATHAN: We did lots of camping, just being outside and appreciating nature. We had a unique opportunity to build a log cabin in Montana that happened to be very close to the cabin of Charles D. Keeling, the famous climate scientist who discovered the effects of the carbon cycle on climate (the controversial Keeling Curve of CO2, “a standard icon symbolizing the impact of humans on the planet”). I remember having drinks with him on the porch and later telling my then eight-year-old son, “This is the guy that discovered climate change.” But mostly, I’m just leading by example. Riding my bike to work (luckily, I live in Madison), composting, recycling, installing solar panels on my roof, etc.

BRENDA: Traditionally, museums have been considered neutral ground. Numerous studies have shown that people trust them. Now, many museums are doing more advocacy work and taking a stand on issues like social justice and climate change. Katharine, as a member of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s Advisory Board, you are well aware of this changing dynamic. How can museums remain trusted institutions while also taking a bolder stance on climate change and action?

KATHARINE: Well, a thermometer is not Democrat or Republican. Telling people that the climate is changing, that humans are responsible, that the impacts are very serious, and that the faster we act the better off we’ll all be, are not political statements. They are neutral scientific facts, which over the last twenty years have been deliberately politically polarized by those who don’t want us to act. But if we tacitly agree with that politicization, we’re agreeing that a thermometer somehow gives different answers to different people. It does not.

The reason we care about climate change is not because we come from the left, the right, or the center of the political spectrum, it’s not because we live in the north or the south or the central part of the country. It is because we are all human beings living on this planet, which we depend on for everything we need: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the resources we use to make everything we have. It all comes from this planet. I didn’t call my book Saving the Planet, because it is not about saving planet, it is quite literally about saving us. Climate information matters to every single person on the planet. If we believe we have a duty to inform people of facts that are directly relevant to their lives and pose an immediate threat to their wellbeing, then climate change today is at the very top of the list of what museums need to be informing people about, because this science has direct implications for people’s lives, for our future, and for our children.

BRENDA: In our recent experiences with COVID, despite sound medical advice, many people have rejected scientific data that showed that vaccinations would help not only themselves, but the larger community. How might we revive a sense of the common good in the climate change fight where we need everyone on board to win?

KATHARINE: The biggest challenge with climate change—similar to our country’s approach to COVID—is not that we aren’t aware of and worried about the problem, but the majority of us still don’t think that it matters to us here and now in relevant ways. When you ask people across the United States, “Is climate change real?”, three-quarters of them say yes. When you ask, “Is it going to affect people in the future?” everybody says yes. “Is it going to affect people who live in developing countries?” Yes. “Is it going to affect plants and animals?” Yes. “Is it going to affect me personally?” The numbers plummet. That’s called psychological distance. Humans are very prone to seeing risks as distant in time, space, or relevance. So, climate change is an issue for the future, not now. Or it’s an issue for people who live over there, but not here. All of these aspects of psychological distance come into play with climate change. That’s why when we talk about climate change, it is so important to bring it here, to bring it now, and to show that climate change is not an isolated, localized issue.

We also tend to think of climate change as a separate issue, competing for our interest. People may be worried about their child’s health, or their job, or the safety of their home, or poverty or justice. Life is a set of buckets and we only have so much time, effort, and attention to put into each one. Along comes this new bucket of climate change and we just don’t have much left over for it. Well, climate change is not a separate bucket—it is the hole in every single other bucket: our children’s health, the safety of our home, the health our local economy, and issues like justice and poverty. When we can show someone how much they already care about the other buckets, and how those buckets are all being affected, they can see that they are already the perfect person to care about climate change. Then they can make the connection to understanding why climate action matters to all of us—because it affects every single one of us.

BRENDA: How do you keep yourselves inspired, and, as professors, how do you keep your students inspired to make their own life changes and find new solutions?

JONATHAN: I tell my students, okay, this is serious, but look at all the things that can be done. They have to know and understand the problems in order to begin to address them. In my classes, we spend 30 percent of our time focusing on the dire impacts of climate change on global health and the other 70 percent learning about solutions. Like Katharine, I like to focus on the fact that we already have most of the solutions we need. We just need to scale up. Today we are lucky that we don’t have to wait for new technology. Even though our politicians are not moving quickly, the private sector is moving faster. Everyone is realizing that fossil fuel is yesterday. People all over the world are stepping up and making changes.

On a personal level, there are many things you can do to contribute to a collective impact. Change your diet. Ride a bike for transportation. Most importantly vote. Speak up. Join others to fight for policy change. As author Bill McKibben says, and Katharine mentions in Saving Us, the best thing you can do as an individual, is to be less of an individual. Joins groups, talk to others, engage people in conversation and action. My own soapbox pitch is that the more we talk about climate change through a human health framework, the better. Because it is both a human health crisis and a human health opportunity at the same time.

KATHARINE: I take on two new personal sustainability habits each year, and I keep the old ones, too, because that gives me more to talk about. About two years ago I realized how much indoor air pollution gas stoves produce, creating indoor air pollution levels that are many times over the EPA recommended level. In fact, children are much more likely to develop asthma if they live in homes with gas stoves. In the interest of good cooking, I had a gas stove, but this year I swapped it for an inductive cooktop. I also decided to take plastics out of the bathroom, switching all of our shampoos and soaps to bars instead. We tried out a few to see which ones we liked best and then I shared the ones we liked best on social media.

The year before I decided to reduce food waste, a big source of heat-trapping gas emissions. I changed the way I shop and got rid of the freezer. (As a win-win, I used the space for clothes drying racks.) We eat a lot more fresh vegetables and seafood and a lot less meat. Every little action counts. But again, when we use our voice to talk about what we can do together and why it matters, that’s the biggest thing we can do.

BRENDA: In terms of climate change, what gives you the most hope?

KATHARINE: Over the past five years, no matter where I am or who I’m speaking to, that’s the biggest question I get and why I wrote my book. Action gives us hope—our own action and seeing others act. We often picture the giant boulder of climate action sitting at the bottom of a steep hill with only a few hands on it trying to push and it isn’t even budging. If we add our hand, we think it won’t make a difference. But when we realize that boulder is already at the top of the hill, and we see millions of hands—children, young people, parents, grandparents, students, businesspeople, people who work for government—on it, already pushing it down the hill in the right direction, that gives us a very different picture. Adding our hands makes a little bit of a difference, but using our voice to encourage others to add their hands, too, will make an even bigger difference. What gives me hope is recognizing how many hands are on that boulder.

I engage in a practice called active hope where I consciously look for good news stories—stories of people who are making a difference, who are changing minds or inventing new technology, or helping cities be more resilient or working with poor communities to expand their ability to grow food—and then I share them on social media because I know other people want to hear them, too. Recognizing that the boulder is rolling downhill in the right direction gives us hope. It just needs to go faster. And to make it go faster, every single one of us needs to act, beginning with using our voice. To quote Greta Thunberg, “There’s one thing we need more than hope and that’s action. Because when we act, hope is all around us.”

Building a Climate of Hope

This article is part of the “Children’s Museums and Climate Change” issue of Hand to Hand.
Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Lisa Thompson, Natural History Museum of Utah | University of Utah

A Climate of Hope is the working title we’ve adopted for a new exhibit on climate change under development at the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU). Like our colleagues at natural history and science museums around the world, NHMU is shifting away from an older, more data-driven approach to climate change exhibits (also known as the “doom and gloom” approach—largely focused on the dire nature of the crisis). As our working title suggests, our goal is to create an exhibit that inspires hope and empowers visitors to take meaningful climate action in their communities.

This article highlights a few of the “guiding principles” shaping the content and design of our exhibit that we have learned from research on effective climate communication, consultation with wonderful advisors, front-end evaluation with visitors, and evaluation of a full-scale cardboard prototype of the exhibit. Although our exhibit is not aimed specifically at young children, we hope some of these ideas will be useful in exploring how children’s museums can create hopeful, empowering experiences that support children and families.

Welcome Visitors through the Side Doors

Some inherent challenges come with tackling climate change in an exhibit. Even a title mentioning climate change could turn away visitors whose political identity tells them, “This exhibit isn’t for me,” as well as people who are worried the exhibit will add to the anxiety and stress they already feel about climate. In contrast, other audiences may not have strong feelings about climate change or perceive its personal relevance because it seems remote in time and distance, a problem for other people far away in the future.

One key idea that emerged from our initial dive into the rich body of climate communication research was the importance of “side doors.” When tackling a polarized issue like climate change, side doors frame the issue in ways that aren’t clearly marked as belonging to one partisan group. They focus on shared values that resonate across groups with diverse perspectives and create a space for taking action together. Talking with local organizations working on climate solutions and our visitors in a front-end evaluation helped us identify some of the side doors that resonate with Utah audiences.

At the top of the list is Utahn’s deep concern about the impact of the poor air quality in many parts of the state on their health. While the greenhouse gases that cause climate change and the particulates and ozone that damage our health are distinct, they are often emitted by the same sources. For example, focusing on how measures that improve Utah’s air quality can also reduce greenhouse emissions offers a side door to climate action. Other side doors that resonate with our audiences include concern about the decline of Utah’s famous snow that supports our ski industry, a strong tradition of emergency preparedness that could carry over into creating climate resilient communities, and the opportunities for Utah to benefit economically from developing and implementing climate solutions.

Keep It Local

The local nature of these side doors reflects another key idea that emerged from our research—the power of telling local stories to make climate change immediate and relevant for our audiences. While melting glaciers and rising sea levels seem remote to many Utahns, stories that demonstrate local climate impacts in relatable ways made a big impression on visitors in our prototype exhibit. For example, one story in the prototype that visitors often discussed illustrated Utah’s warmer, shorter winters with a historic photo of ice skaters on a well-known park pond that rarely freezes today. The prototype also offered visitors a chance to share their own observations of local climate impacts and what they mean for them at a talk-back station.

Stories about the many existing, feasible climate solutions already being implemented in communities around Utah also connected with prototype participants. They expressed excitement, surprise, and pride upon discovering the numerous efforts underway in Utah along with some of the innovative ideas in development. Focusing on solutions is another key principle of effective climate communication. Solutions, after all, offer hope and inspiration. Stories about people implementing effective solutions also serve to counter common misperceptions our visitors expressed in our front-end evaluation—“Nobody is doing anything” and “Solutions don’t exist yet”—which serve to discourage and disempower.

Don’t Ignore Emotions

Our front-end evaluation with visitors provided important context for developing our exhibit. When we asked participants how thinking about climate change made them feel, they predominantly expressed discouragement, fear, anger, confusion, and other negative emotions. Their responses reflect the growing number of people who report experiencing climate anxiety or climate grief. However, according to research in psychology, fear and uncertainty can shut down our ability to act.

A growing number of climate communication researchers emphasize the importance of acknowledging the powerful emotions climate change evokes, helping people understand how their emotions impact their ability to act, and emphasizing that taking action can lead to feeling more hopeful. This approach presents hope as a practice to be cultivated, not something you can obtain simply by wishing for it. As Dr. Katharine Hayhoe explains: “Hope doesn’t come to me if I just sit there waiting for it to show up.”

In A Climate of Hope, we are seeking ways to explicitly address the emotional component of climate change and give visitors a chance to share their feelings through an interactive, which will have a therapeutic or cathartic quality. The exhibit will also introduce visitors to the idea of hope as an outcome of action. One idea we are considering is a set of short “TikTok” style videos of community members responding to the prompt, “What gives me hope…” with a description of the action they are taking.

Reimagine the Future

Both the front-end evaluation and exhibit prototype showed that visitors were extremely interested in knowing what actions they could take to reduce climate change. In fact, in the prototype it was clear that visitors expected—almost demanded—to learn about what individual actions they could take in their daily lives in an exhibit about climate change. While individual actions can be a good start, climate science indicates that they aren’t sufficient for addressing a problem that requires systemic change. Plus, placing the onus of addressing climate change on individuals—especially through their consumer choices—fosters “climate guilt” and is inequitable to those who can’t afford those choices.

A Climate of Hope will seek to provide visitors with a different set of tools for taking meaningful action. We envision opening the exhibit with an immersive interactive that engages visitors in imagining a future where humans and nature thrive in a changing world. Many visions of the future related to climate change in our culture are dystopian if not apocalyptic. Several climate communication scholars are emphasizing the need for new cultural stories that help us know what we’re aiming for and envision paths to getting there. Even the very low-tech version of the interactive we created for the prototype was compelling for visitors, and many reflected on the content of the videos during their wrap-up discussion.

The prototype also included a Venn diagram that provided visitors a framework for thinking about how they could take action at the community level—a level at which actions have more possibility of affecting systems change. Our goal is to encourage visitors to take the next step beyond individual actions to actions in their networks that still feel personally relevant and achievable. The three circles of the Venn diagram contained a set of questions visitors could answer to identify ways they could act:

  • • What groups are you part of?
  •    What groups could you join?
  • • What are you good at?
  •    What do you enjoy doing?
  • • What is the climate work that needs
  •    doing? What challenges is your community facing? What do you care about?

We realized that this framework would be a significant shift from the messages focused on individual actions most visitors are accustomed to receiving. We were pleasantly surprised that many prototype participants called others over to the Venn diagram to discuss it and mentioned it in their conversation with evaluators.

The prototype also included a Venn diagram that provided visitors a framework for thinking about how they could take action at the community level—a level at which actions have more possibility of affecting systems change. Our goal is to encourage visitors to take the next step beyond individual actions to actions in their networks that still feel personally relevant and achievable. Image credit: Dawn Renee Farkas Prasad


Big Changes Start with Small Talk

One individual-level action the exhibit will highlight is talking about climate change with family and friends—not to persuade or debate, but to listen and share. Surveys from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication indicate that more than 70 percent of Americans are worried about climate change, but only 35 percent talk about climate change even occasionally. Talking about climate change is critical for processing our emotions, imagining and telling new stories about our future, and finding and building networks for community action. Climate communicators have developed great resources outlining how to have a constructive climate conversation.

While visiting the prototype, several parents asked for resources on talking with their children about climate change. We are just beginning the process of developing family resources for the exhibit. We are considering the approach of encouraging families to focus on building the social and emotional skills we all need for being resilient, such as empathy, talking about our feelings (especially when we’re worried), and working together to tackle big problems. Because children’s museums excel at creating experiences that foster the development the social and emotional skills for resiliency, they are already doing important climate solutions work.

Other climate communication approaches align well with the strengths of children’s museums and could even be worked into existing exhibits and programs. For example, stories about local people and organizations working to implement climate solutions fit naturally with exhibits about the people who make our communities safer, healthier, and stronger. Activities that invite children and their caregivers to imagine the future of their community could include challenges for designing new kinds of climate adaptations. And children’s museum could host activities or partner with other organizations to connect families with opportunities to take action in their community, such as planting trees or community gardening.

Children’s museums are well-situated to play an important role in building a climate of hope that empowers children and their caregivers to take meaningful climate action and develop the resilience and empathy we’ll need to navigate climate change. We’re excited to see how you do it.

Lisa Thompson has worked as an exhibit developer at the Natural History Museum of Utah at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City since 2013. Prior to this, she managed Public Programs teams at NHMU and Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Building A Climate of Hope Resource List

A short and by-no-means-comprehensive list of climate communication resources to get you started.

Organizations with great research and tools:

Voices for hope:

Climate Communication in action:

Science from the Past and for the Future: Learning from Indigenous Knowledge for Climate Change Adaptation

This article is part of the “Children’s Museums and Climate Change” issue of Hand to Hand.
Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Lauren Butcher and Rachel Zollinger, Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum

How can we equip our children for climate change? One way is to look to long-established knowledge of climate and place. Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have made their homes in New Mexico’s arid lands, experiencing climate events such as extreme drought and devastating wildfires. At Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum, we are developing at-home STEM activity cards that highlight local Indigenous peoples Traditional Eco-logical Knowledge (TEK) around water conservation, forest management, and living within arid conditions. The cards showcase how traditional practices have effectively utilized science and engineering principles—and continue to do so.

One exemplar STEM activity card focuses on waffle bed gardening. This water conservation technique arose independently in cultures living in arid lands around the world, including in the Southwest, where Diné (Navajo), A:shiwi (Zuni), Zia, and Laguna peoples use waffle bed gardening to grow corn, beans, squash, and other crops. The card provides instructions on how to construct a simple waffle bed by digging out a small square of earth and building walls around the edges. The bottom of the square is filled with gravel, sand, or mulch to prevent evaporation. Water is poured directly inside the square. The activity fosters science and engineering practices by asking children to meet challenges and test different variables: what would happen to the damp soil in the square if the walls were taller or the square was deeper? How might more gravel, sand, or mulch affect the evaporation? What soil composition makes the strongest wall?

One exemplar STEM activity card focuses on waffle bed gardening (above). This water conservation technique arose independently in cultures living in arid lands around the world, including in the Southwest, where Diné (Navajo), A:shiwi (Zuni), Zia, and Laguna peoples use waffle bed gardening to grow corn, beans, squash, and other crops.

STEM activity cards are a way to share education resources on a range of topics for at-home learning, a pathway Explora has utilized for reaching individuals and communities outside the museum. Climate-focused cards invite young children to play with ever-fascinating water, soil, and rocks in the new context of positive climate change solutions. They provide an arena for family conversations by promoting an interactive play experience. The cards encourage children and their families to expand their conversations to include local knowledge holders such as traditional gardeners, farmers, and elders. Climate change is a community concern, and the cards prompt families to look to community assets to address it. The Southwest is projected to experience more intense drought and storms as a result of climate change. Proven agricultural and land management techniques developed in response to extreme natural weather patterns are especially effective for adapting to the region’s future.


Explora - Squishy Soil Activity Card

STEM activity cards are a way to share education resources on a range of topics for at-home learning, a pathway Explora has utilized for reaching individuals and communities outside the museum.

Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum will continue to work with community partners across New Mexico to develop STEM Activity Cards that highlight both conventional and indigenous science-based climate mitigation strategies so the next generation will continue to adapt and thrive. We would like to acknowledge our funding from IMLS Planting Seeds of STEM, the NISE Network Earth & Space Project-Based Professional Learning Community, and the IMLS Howtosmile At-Home Activities project for the development, printing, and translation of the cards.

Lauren Butcher is school and community programs manager and Rachel Zollinger is an educator at Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Seeing the Future and Taking Steps to Get There: Discovery Museum Acts on Its Commitment to Sustainability

This article is part of the “Children’s Museums and Climate Change” issue of Hand to Hand.
Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Neil Gordon, Discovery Museum

The news about climate change, the environment, and the state of our planet is frightening and discouraging. In the face of it all, how do we create hope? John Fraser, noted conservation psychologist, has stated that a focus on solutions and actions can reduce fear and increase hope. And hope, Fraser says, “is a targeted way of seeing the future and taking steps to get to that future.”

Children’s museums are all about hope for the future, but actions to fight climate change that are environmentally positive have not been a focus for many of them. I share the experience of the Discovery Museum in the hope that any insights it yields will help us all take more action and inspire our visitors to do the same.

Building on a Foundation of Environmental Focus

This year we are celebrating Discovery Museum’s fortieth year. Over the last decade, we have grown from two small museums into one large museum with pre-pandemic attendance over 200,000 and a $2.7 million budget. The museum has a strong focus on science and nature, with 4.5 acres of accessible, outdoor exhibit space adjacent to 180 acres of town-owned, wooded trails that we program. Connecting kids and families with nature and operating sustainably have long been important goals for us.

Discovery Museum first articulated its commitment to environmental sustainability in 2007. Asserting that “we are keenly aware of the interrelationships of humans and the natural world and our obligations to be good stewards of that world,” the organization adopted a vision statement to become “a premier community museum that embodies discovery learning and environmental stewardship.” Formal goals included becoming a “green” organization and encouraging others to take responsibility for the environment. Two years later, in 2009, a new Master Plan for Campus Expansion included a concept for building a new Environmental Discovery Museum featuring photovoltaic panels, a windmill, a composting area, and an aquifer recharge zone. Unfortunately, the 2008 recession forced the museum to focus almost exclusively on shoring up finances and building our audience. It was not until 2013 that the museum was in a place to contemplate a future campus renovation and initiate a capital campaign to fund it, this time with a focus on accessibility—by then, a pressing capital need and programmatic focus.

Over the last decade, our environmental work focused on the goal of connecting kids with nature, both to raise awareness and promote the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor play. In 2015, we hired our first Outdoor and Environmental Educator. The following year, we opened Discovery Woods, an award-winning, one-acre, fully accessible nature playscape and treehouse. With a goal of encouraging “every kid, every day, outside to play,” we also deepened our Backyard and Beyond program series to offer a range of year-round outdoor experiences for children of all ages and levels of comfort with outdoor play. Coinciding with the opening of our expanded and renovated, accessible building in 2018, we also changed our longtime tagline, “Hands On, Minds at Play,” to “Science. Nature. Play.” This change reflected our programmatic evolution, elevating our message that getting kids outside is a first step to developing an appreciation for the natural world and a sense of responsible stewardship of its resources.

We have also taken steps to advocate publicly for these values, including signing the We Are Still In (WASI) pledge, a joint declaration of support for climate action, signed by more than 3,900 CEOs, mayors, governors, tribal leaders, college presidents, faith leaders, health care executives, and others; joining America Is All In, a coalition to develop a national climate strategy; supporting the Town of Acton in declaring a climate emergency; becoming a member of the Acton Climate Coalition; and presenting programs addressing environmental topics through our Discovery Museum Speaker Series.

Walking the Talk

We have increasingly wrestled with how to take concrete steps to be visibly and demonstrably sustainable in our own operations as a key strategy for inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.

Our actions—how we operate and what we model for the world around us—are as important and maybe even more so than what we strive to explicitly teach as a museum. W.E.B. Du Bois said, “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” The environment we create, and what kids and families take from that, is an influential tool. The goal is to motivate families to adopt more sustainable viewpoints and practices at home, and support environmentally sound public policy. We wanted to more visibly “walk the talk” as a critical element of our educational approach.

Recognizing this, we knew we needed a plan.

One of the first things we decided to do was look for advice and guidance. We had lots of questions about scope, level of detail, what kinds of goals we should have, and even how we should define “sustainability” for our organization. Luckily, we had some prior experience working with Sarah Sutton, who helps places like ours through her organization Environment & Culture Partners. She provided positive feedback on our goals, an invitation to join with other cultural institutions as part of We Are Still In, and some great links to useful resources.

One especially useful resource for us was the WASI list of commitments. Sarah noted that others had used this list as a framework for creating their own sustainability plans. A white paper from Museums Australia had a very similar list. Based on a review of these examples, it made sense for us to follow their approach.

Our framework was built around a set of “commitments”:

  1. 1. Commit to increased use of renewable power
  2. 2. Commit to understand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  3. 3. Commit to reduce materials consumption and waste
  4. 4. Commit to reduce the impact of transportation
  5. 5. Commit to reduce water usage
  6. 6. Be publicly committed to sustainability
  7. 7. Commit to education and communication
  8. 8. Integrate climate change into portfolio analyses and decision making

The process for developing our plan was relatively simple and streamlined. Given our long commitment to environmental education, little discussion was needed about whether to formalize our goals and objectives. We moved straight to researching and producing a plan focused on action steps. Key to this was establishing the museum’s baseline environmental impact, which we did with the tremendous support of a skilled intern who self-described as a “sustainability geek.” With her help, we found answers to a range of questions. How much energy do we use, and in what ways? What level of greenhouse gas emissions do we produce? What does our water consumption look like? How many miles are we driving? How many deliveries do we get? How much waste do we generate? What are our cleaning supplies and the materials in our exhibits and programs made of? In what ways do we talk about the environment? And many more.

For some of these questions the data was readily available. Our utility company is very good about keeping track of our electricity, oil, and natural gas usage. Our water company was a bit trickier, as they do a poor job in regularly reading the meter. In some areas, no real good data source existed. For example, the waste collector empties the dumpster on a regular schedule, whether it is full or half empty.

Turning Our Vision into Reality

There are a number of models that can estimate greenhouse gas emissions based on energy usage or miles driven; our goal was to find one that was relatively simple to use and easily available to us. The model used by our intern produced easy-to-understand visual representations of our greenhouse gas sources. This was useful for discussing our action steps with staff and the board, as it made the priorities much clearer.

One interesting data point stems from our being a suburban museum with effectively no public transportation option. Everyone (mostly) drives here, so we used visitor zip code data to come to a pretty good estimate of miles driven by our visitors. As it turns out, this is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions for the museum, and as you would expect, not the easiest to address.

We recognized that our data collection efforts were not perfect, but we decided rather than devote lots of time and resources to get perfect data, we would create objectives for filling in the blanks later. Even though our measures of progress would be less than precise, we were moving forward.

Our analysis of this imperfect data became the platform for the development of concrete goals and actions, and what we hoped were reasonable timeframes for accomplishing them. We also committed early on to implementing our plan transparently and allowing for flexibility as we make progress and learn along the way.

The most visible part of the plan is our project, to be completed in mid-2022, to produce solar electricity onsite to meet 100 percent of our campus energy needs—and then some. The plan also outlines our approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and becoming carbon neutral; reducing water usage; minimizing waste generation; investing sustainably; and advocating for climate action. All of this will support an environmental education effort that will connect kids and families with nature, help them learn in partnership with the natural world, and inspire them to advocate for sustainability—all in the fun, hands-on Discovery Museum way. The final plan includes 29 action steps, spanning all areas of museum operations, to be taken over the next several years. These actions include discrete tasks such as replacing pavement with permeable surfaces and redirecting stormwater to groundwater recharge. The plan also outlines goals for ongoing action, such as investing sustainably, building community partnerships to advance our environmental work, and advocating publicly for our values.

A Commitment to Flexibility and Progress

Implementation of our plan is now underway. We have created a Sustainability Plan Team made up of staff members throughout the museum who have primary responsibilities for one or more of the action steps articulated in the plan. The team meets monthly to review progress on each of the steps, share ideas or concerns in moving steps forward, and identify new or modified actions that we might take. In this way we have peer support and peer accountability for the plan, making sustainability more of an organizational norm.

The Sustainability Plan Team holds regular discussions on our progress, providing a good tool to address the built-in imperfections of the plan itself. For certain action steps, better ideas have emerged from the work together. The team has become comfortable with the idea that we are both implementing the plan and improving the plan at the same time.

A good example of this approach centers on our ideas about visitor vehicle emissions. The plan calls for the museum to implement a system of visitor-purchased carbon offsets as a means of mitigating the emissions, not eliminating them. The plan anticipated a mandatory approach as well as a significant visitor education component. The team realized, however, that the logistics of promoting, educating about, and collecting offsets would be challenging. We will likely need to implement the plan on a targeted basis first, such as to members, to work out the kinks. Efforts to address this biggest source of our greenhouse gas emissions continue.

Importantly, we also want to model external accountability. We engaged outside voices to review our plan drafts, adding perspective. The current version has been published on our website and shared across our audience with a request for feedback. The Board of Directors has formally approved and adopted the plan, and we have begun to recruit for an external Sustainability Advisory Group, which will conduct an annual review of our progress and report on recommendations for improvements and changes.

We recognize our vision will take time and resources and are honored that many have stepped up to help support our work. Most notably, the Sheth Sangreal Foundation has committed $1 million over the next five years to activate our sustainability and inclusion goals, and has challenged the community to match their investment in our plans. We will be asking everyone to join them in helping us leverage our culture of play-based learning to inspire families to help sustain our world.

It’s also important to note that we are approaching our sustainability work with full knowledge we must also be engaged in its intersections with racial and social justice. We know that the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation disproportionately affect people with low incomes and people of color. And we know that access to the outdoors and nature-based learning experiences are less available to many. To us, becoming more sustainable is about more than just leaving our children a planet with adequate resources. It is also about achieving greater harmony in the present between the environmental, economic, and social outcomes—both locally and globally—of our choices and actions. We are therefore committed to pursuing our sustainability objectives in ways that also promote equity. In many ways, all of this is integral work for the museum. In other ways it is new and fresh, because we’ve made a renewed commitment to sustainability, made urgent by the world around us. We are energized and motivated and we hope others in our field will join with us, with combined, greater effect on both our communities and the natural world.

Neil Gordon has served as CEO of the Discovery Museum in Acton, Massachusetts since 2009.

Financially Sound Solar

Once you decide that solar electricity is the right thing for your organization, the question quickly turns to: does it make financial sense? In the Discovery Museum’s case, we were pleasantly surprised by the financial sense that an investment in solar made.

We started with a very simple model in mind: we would fundraise for the cost of installation and use the annual electricity savings to support our environmental education programs. Thus, we would describe the investment in solar as an endowment of the programs. This idea made some sense pre-pandemic, but quickly looked silly in the face of needing to raise funds just to stay open. That led us to understand the economics in much more detail.

We quickly identified several companies that specialize in working with nonprofits on solar projects and chose to work with Resonant Energy, based in Boston. Resonant was able to show us a model of solar financing that involved “selling” the federal tax credits (obviously, we would not be able to use them directly), estimating our energy savings, selling excess electricity to other nonprofits at a discount, and maximizing other incentives (in our case, solar incentives offered by the state of Massachusetts). The access to the federal credits is a bit complicated and you’ll want a lawyer for that work, but it results in a 12 to 15 percent “savings” right off the top. Resonant was able to show a 25-year financial model that accounts for decreased production over time (we were surprised to learn that panels wear out), operating costs such as maintenance, changes in electricity rates, and so forth. To support our analysis, we put together a Solar Task Force of board and non-board experts that reviewed the modeling and evaluated our options.

The Solar Task Force was able to recommend to our board that the museum finance this project. With low interest rates and a good bank, we put in place a loan that should be paid back in about eleven to twelve years. The projected cash flow is positive in year one, thus actually meeting one of our original goals to support programs using the sun!

How to Engage a Community in Fire Season Education

This article is part of the “Children’s Museums and Climate Change” issue of Hand to Hand.
Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Chris White, The Discovery

When I first moved out to Nevada from Maryland to join The Discovery team, one of the first phrases I had to get used to was “fire season,” the time of year when fires naturally occur in the drier parts of Nevada and other western states. Over the past few years, these fires have become more common, more intense, and more devastating.

Fire season is evolving faster than normal, and it’s drier now. We either get no rain or dumped on. Sometimes if there is no rain at all in the fall, we have to wait for winter snowfall to provide moisture. Fire season used to run for about three months, starting at the end of August; now it runs five to six months, starting end of June and going late into fall. The cycle is out of whack.

Fires happen often in remote mountain areas. Some are due to natural causes, such as lightning strikes, but some result from human activities, such as shooting, campfires, and cigarettes. In 2021, the Portola, California, fire burned just fifty miles away. Reno sits in a bowl—once smoke comes, it settles in for weeks. We can wait for a “Washoe wind” (a strong, late-day summer wind that blows from the west to southwest) to blow it away, or just sit tight until it dissipates. But in 2021, school was cancelled due to poor air quality, and people were warned to stay indoors and keep windows shut. Not everyone has air conditioning; it became a social issue.

Fire season isn’t all bad. It is a crucial part of the region’s ecosystem. The West wouldn’t be as beautiful or environmentally diverse without these fires. However, the fires are getting bigger and more destructive. According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, over the past two years, California and Nevada have lost more than 6,000 square miles of land. For comparison, that is 80 percent of New Jersey’s landmass. As a science museum, our responsibility is to provide useful information about this climate-related change to our community while engaging and empowering them with that knowledge.

To that end, we have developed a three-part plan to help us create a vibrant and dynamic collaborative space within our existing Spark!Lab Smithsonian gallery, in which half of the gallery’s footprint will be dedicated to teaching families about fire season while still engaging them through play. Visitors will be able to meet community members to whom fire season matters most—instructors and graduate students from the University of Nevada, Reno, local firefighters (if they aren’t fighting fires…), and members of the Bureau of Land Management—and learn how they respond to this increasingly longer time of year.

We are also working with these key community members to create easy-to-understand infographics that visually convey what happened in past fire seasons compared to what is happening now. Infographics that not only describe what is happening, but why will be placed throughout Spark!Lab and in some parts of our Nevada Stories exhibition. For our family audience, messages will be directed primarily to parents in an effort to get them involved in the education process with their kids

The second part of the plan involves the creation of interactive, collaborative activities in which visitors work together to solve fire-related problems. The first will be a firefighting game where up to three visitors will assume the roles of community leaders tasked with managing assets affected by fire season. By pulling connected strings, they can work toward extinguishing as many fires as possible in the time allotted. Also under development is a tile-based, firefighting board game, similar to Catan (a popular electronic seafaring discovery game). In our game, one player is the wildfire, and the other player(s) try to contain the spread while each tries to fulfill roles within the community.

The final pillar of the plan will bring community leaders and stakeholders most involved in protecting our community during fire season to the museum for a “meet and greet.” We want our visitors to put a face to the heroes in our community who choose to take on this yeoman’s work. Visitors will hear firsthand the issues affecting our hometown and what these frontline experts think we can do to mitigate and manage what is happening.

It is hoped that fire season content, launched in Spark!Lab and periodically distributed among existing exhibits at The Discovery, may eventually become a portable exhibit available for outreach events or temporary installations in other community organizations and businesses.

Fire season is an integral part of what makes the West special. But for many reasons, the fires have begun to take more than they previously provided and more than we can replace. It falls to us to educate ourselves and our community if we hope to pass the beauty of living in this spectacular environment on to future generations.

Chris White is The Discovery’s Spark!Lab Smithsonian Coordinator. Prior to joining the team at The Discovery, Chris worked at the original Spark!Lab in Washington, DC, which is part of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation located in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.


Learning from Nature, Not Only about It

This article is part of the “Children’s Museums and Climate Change” issue of Hand to Hand.
Click here to read other articles in the issue.
A Conversation with Billy Spitzer, executive director of the Hitchcock Center of the Environment in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Al DeSena, interviewer

Billy Spitzer, executive director of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst, Massachusetts, is a member of the coordinating team for the Action for Climate Empowerment National Strategic Planning Framework and a member of the leadership board for the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network. Before coming to Hitchcock Center in August 2021, he was vice president for learning and community at the New England Aquarium in Boston, where for more than twenty years he applied learning and social science research across education programs, exhibits, visitor experience, and community outreach. He served as principal investigator for numerous informal science education projects funded by the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Institute for Museum and Library Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency. These include a series of projects focused on public engagement on climate change, including the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation. With more than thirty years of experience developing and implementing science education programs, exhibits, and materials, he has been recognized by the White House as a Champion for Change for engaging the next generation of conservation leaders.

Al DeSena retired in 2019 after fourteen years at the National Science Foundation, where he was a program director in the Advancing Informal STEM Learning Program.

Listen to a recording of this live interview!

ACM · Learning from Nature, Not Only about It

AL: For years, children’s museums have provided experiences for children and their families pertaining to nature, the weather, the earth, the environment, etc.  But now, given the considerable global attention to climate change, worldwide loss of biodiversity, a green economy, and environmental justice, many children’s museums have been considering what opportunities they should be providing for their audiences to improve the knowledge and skills that affect their individual lives and humanity in general.

What are the overarching questions behind the important decisions that children’s museums are wrestling with on this topic? How are these decisions affected by the implications of the last two years of the pandemic as museums move forward?

BILLY: Having worked in the science education field for a long time, my interest has always been: How do we give people in a participatory democracy the scientific understanding, tools, and ways of engaging that are critical to enabling us as a society, not just as individuals, to make good decisions and pursue the right courses of action? About twelve years ago, at New England Aquarium, we were wrestling with the most important issues facing the ocean. Climate change kept coming up as a major issue in the zoo and aquarium world, which I think went through what the children’s museum and science museum world is going through now: if we really care about the future, what issues do we need to address in our public programs and exhibits?

We realized that we needed to start working with other aquariums and zoos to figure out how to talk about climate change. We started with the fundamentals: trying to understand the science—and the communication science—better, and then looking for what kind of interventions would make sense. Should we be developing educational materials? New exhibits? What would be the most effective way to get going? We settled on exhibit interpretation as the place to start. It’s harder to change physical exhibits, but it’s a lot easier to work with staff. We started a collaborative program to help educators and interpreters at aquariums and zoos talk about climate change in a way that was true to the science, but also reflected what we know about effective communication. Over time this collaboration grew into a national network that exists to this day with about 400 highly-trained climate communicators in thirty-eight states across the country who have, in turn, trained about another 40,000 informal educators and other communicators in the last ten years. Children’s museums are at an interesting point now: new issues are impinging on child development—climate change being one, and the pandemic and related health issues being another.

AL: How does your work at the Hitchcock Center—and previously at the aquarium—relate to children’s museums that primarily serve families with younger children?

BILLY: The Hitchcock Center started almost sixty years ago as a traditional nature center. Committed to focusing on sustainability, in 2016 they built what’s called a “living building,” and also committed to working on climate change and environmental justice. That new direction drew me out here last year. Like a lot of museums, the center is focused on education, particularly for children. We do programs for adults, but we have a really strong set of programs for kids from preschool to high school, along with afterschool and homeschool programs, summer camps, and leadership programs for teens, including a climate summit program. A lot of our programs are analogous to what you’d find at a children’s museum. We have a small nature exploration center inside the physical facility. So, in many ways, this place looks and feels like a lot of children’s museums.

AL: How might children’s museums define or frame the actual domain of climate change and what activities it entails?  Should they be thinking about it as a way to develop systems thinking in children?  What does it mean to learn from nature instead of about it?

BILLY: I think dealing with climate change is about shifting our perspective from thinking of it as a science or environmental issue to thinking of it as a societal issue, a social challenge. You can think about it as a crisis of public health, as an issue of social and environmental justice, as an issue related to developing a future workforce and building healthy and resilient communities. All of those perspectives are important to consider when framing the subject of climate change and a museum’s role in relation to it.

Once you start diving into climate change as an issue, it becomes not so much about learning climate content, but more about developing the skills, habits of mind, attitudes, and behaviors that will enable us collectively to find a path forward in terms of what we need to do to both mitigate and slow down climate change and also adapt to it. Systems thinking is a great example of that approach. Young kids are natural systems thinkers; educators can cultivate that skill. Kids are also very natural problem-solvers. And we need creative and hopeful problem-solvers to help us work our way through all that we need to do to respond to climate change.

At the Hitchcock Center, we’ve been focusing on moving from learning about nature to learning from nature, using the principles of ecological design, like those we used to design our living building, to help us design better human systems.

AL: Many children’s museums are wondering whether they should engage in the climate change domain at all.  What are some of the major factors that are important to consider when museum leaders are deciding whether their organizations should get into it?

BILLY: Start with your organization’s mission: what does it tell you? A lot of museums, and a lot of children’s museums in particular, have strong community-based missions. What are your community needs in relation to climate change? Who is already working on this issue that you could talk to, learn from, and partner with? What do you know about what’s going on in your own community around climate? What are public attitudes? What is the general level of knowledge people have? Where are the gaps?

The Yale Project on Climate Communication, a great resource, offers a wealth of data on public knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors around climate. People are often surprised by the fact that the vast majority of the public understands climate change is a problem, is looking for help in figuring out what to do about it, and often look to places like museums for those answers.

Understanding the readiness levels of both staff and your board is also really important. If you’re facing a lack of readiness in either group then you need to figure out how you’re going to work on that.  But again, there are probably a lot of good resources in your community already, including community organizations or public health agencies. Many cities and towns have climate action plans. Figure out what’s already happening and where can you connect to it.

AL: How can children’s museums customize their programs based on what they know about their audiences?  Visitors of different ages, knowledge, abilities, interests, skills, cultural backgrounds, etc.?

BILLY: There’s a mantra from environmental educator David Sobel, “No global disasters before 4th grade.” Years ago, kids learned about the rainforest before they learned about their own backyards. You have to start with where your audience is already in terms of environmental education—what kind of prior experiences do they have, what are they interested in, what kind of questions are they asking—and respond to that. In the case of climate, you don’t want to start with, “Well, here’s what’s happening to the planet.” Instead, “Here’s what’s happening that you can see and observe.”

You can introduce systems thinking at many different ages or levels of sophistication and depth. For example, if you’re talking about a squirrel, how do you help kids understand that it’s not just about a squirrel, but it’s also about the acorns and the trees and the forest, and what other animals are like squirrels. How do squirrels relate to chipmunks? What do squirrels eat, and what eats them? Where do they fit in the big picture? Using that perspective to look beyond an individual animal or phenomenon and think about the bigger system, is the skill you need eventually to understand what’s happening with the climate system and how it interacts with ecosystems and with us.

Finally, what worldviews are your audiences coming with? They might not be all come from a western scientific or cultural worldview. What cultural backgrounds are your audience coming from, and how do you incorporate these different perspectives? These aren’t new ideas to people working in children’s museums: the same principles that apply to good child education in general apply to climate education.

AL: In your programs at the Hitchcock Center, what different approaches do you use for preschool kids vs. kids who are nine years old, for example?

BILLY: At all age levels, but particularly at younger levels, we incorporate a multi-sensory approach, combining experiential and tactile learning with social and emotional learning. For really young kids, it’s important to foster physical comfort in the natural world. An affective connection and appreciation are really, really important ingredients to build on. But if you’re working with older kids who haven’t had much experience with nature or environmental education, you need to start there.

AL: Are there particular experience formats that might be more appropriate to children of different ages or cultural backgrounds? The Hitchcock Center’s tagline is “Education for a Healthy Planet.” What kinds of learning experiences relate to that basic idea?

BILLY: Things often overlooked are the aspects of an experience that you provide that are not necessarily what you consider formal parts of the program. Take our building’s composting toilets, a wonderful example of how nature never wastes anything. Kids—especially young kids—are incredibly fascinated by them. They often go home and when their parents ask, “well, what did you do today?” that’s what they talk about first. Kids who spend a lot of time at the center end up taking it all for granted. Of course, you get your energy from the sun and your waste gets recycled, and that’s just how things work.

In our programs, the games may change depending on the age level, but the concept of play and using the arts as a form of expression are common threads all the way through. Although language abilities and attention spans differ by age, kids’ interests are quite similar. Activities that we’ve done with young kids come back in a slightly different format with older kids. Maybe the program is a bit longer and the level of depth is a bit greater, but some of the same program formats work across a wide range, whether it’s an afterschool format or a summer camp format. As kids get older, we emphasize learning and applying their learning to some kind of community action. As kids get into the teen years, we focus on programs that develop leadership skills. We participate in the Youth Climate Summit, where we bring teams together to learn how to create climate action plans and programs and projects in their schools. So, staff-led preschool programs eventually lead to youth-led work.

AL: At what age do you think that the approach should align with what kids are hearing on TV or other media about climate crisis? There are reports of many kids experiencing anxiety about it.

BILLY: Unfortunately, there have been more and more reasons to figure out how to help kids process really scary and difficult things, from terrorist attacks to school shootings, pandemics, climate change, disasters and so on. Often, the first thing kids want to know is, “Am I safe? Is my family safe? Are we going to be OK right now?” Usually the answer is yes, and it’s really important to provide that reassurance.

And then listen to what kids are asking about rather than just dumping a lot of information on them. They’re not necessarily asking about the same things that are on an adult’s mind. From educators, to interpreters, to visitors—kids and adults—fostering hope and self-efficacy are the keys to keeping people motivated and involved. The idea isn’t to ignore the problems, but to understand that collectively we have the power to change things. We can be creative problem-solvers and come up with collective solutions. If we see things in the world that we don’t like or don’t think are right, we have the power to change them. That’s really a critical attitude to cultivate in people of all ages, but particularly young people.

AL: Are there strategies you might suggest to children’s museum professionals for how they might make timely adjustments to the conditions of our fast-changing world, and in particular to challenges their communities and regions might be facing?

BILLY: First, understand which things aren’t changing quickly. What is enduring? The kind of values you want to help promote in people, the kind of skills and habits of mind you want to develop and encourage, tend to be more durable than the latest crisis. Second, you should do this work alone. This is an opportunity to work with other organizations in your community that have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening—people working on public health, social justice issues, poverty alleviation or racial and environmental justice. People working at the grassroots level, who see people facing daily challenges, and who are very focused on responding to those challenges. This gives you a very good perspective on which of today’s concerns are really important in the community around you.

AL: Circumstances are going to be quite different for different institutions at different locations and points in time, whether a hurricane has just gone through a region, or whether fires or a drought are dominant issues, as well as how active individual communities are in terms of being responsive to such things.

BILLY: There have been some wonderful examples of museums responding in times of need or crises, whether serving as physical places of refuge for people in the aftermath of natural disasters, or as places for COVID testing and vaccination clinics. There are all sorts of ways in which museums can participate in community and civic life which helps build trust and familiarity that can be really helpful the next time a crisis or controversial issue comes up.

AL: Ideas about climate change have evolved.  Are we engaged in crisis mitigation or adaptation? Some geoscientists think we’re probably beyond the possibility of humanity to mitigate.  We’re just going to have to learn how to adapt. How do you deal with local/global adaptation/mitigation issues?

BILLY: To mitigate or adapt is not a choice. We need to do both, and there are actions that meet the criteria for both. As people learn about what we need to do to prepare and adapt to all of the consequences of climate change, their reaction is, “Oh, my god, how are we going to do it? Is there anything that we can do to make it easier?” And then you start getting into mitigation: “Well, if we start shifting where our energy comes from and become more efficient, then we will have less to adapt to.”

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “the best time to plant a tree is fifty years ago, but the second best time is today.” There is not the time for delay. This is a time for doing everything we can. We need a big transformation in how we operate as a society, as an economy. But a lot of the technology and resources we need are there—what’s not there is the political will. And that’s where public engagement is so critical.

We also need to work at a scale that’s bigger than the individual but smaller than the whole planet. Working at a community scale, where people have the strongest sphere of influence and can actually see change happen, feels doable. You can take advantage of the social diffusion of innovation and knowledge that tends to happen among people who have some kind of a connection, whether it’s a town, a neighborhood, a faith community, a school, a workplace, etc. And you can build from there—from local to regional to global. If you start with the global it tends to be really, really overwhelming and puts people off. It doesn’t enable you to cultivate that sense of self-efficacy as effectively.

AL: In the beginning of this discussion, you talked about staff training. Do you have any thoughts about the role of staff training and the best approaches to it?

BILLY: Education staff at museums—even more than exhibits or programs—are an incredible resource to help effectively engage the public. Because they can have the responsive and adaptive conversations, whether it’s with kids or adults, needed  to develop human relationships. Educators can be very, very skilled at reading their audience and responding to their questions and interests. But to do that effectively on an issue like climate, you need to understand what effective communication looks and sounds like and develop the skills to do it.

In a project with the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation, originally funded by the National Science Foundation and now continuing with funding from NOAA and other sources, we developed an effective training model for acquiring these skills. The training program, which originally took about 100 hours, is now available as a “crash course” that takes about 25 hours and can be done online. We’re happy to partner and share that work with children’s museums.

But it’s not just about training, it’s also about building a supportive community of peer professionals, at your institution and at other institutions, so that when issues come up you can share resources, problem solve together, and give each other emotional support in what can sometimes be very challenging work. The network worked a lot with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Association of Science and Technology Centers to advance the state of the art in climate communications. Organizations like ACM can play a really important role in the same way.

AL: Some children’s museum they might say they don’t have sufficient in-house expertise to work successfully in the climate change domain. What recommendations do you have about possible collaborations that could bring the required expertise to the table to maximize their impact?

BILLY: Start locally: who can you work with? It could be another museum, your public health department, a university, or another community organization. If museum leadership is ready and willing, think about what kind of role you want to play. A museum can directly engage and educate the public, but it can also be a place for conversation, a forum for deliberative discussions to engage the public. Think about how you want to demonstrate sustainable practices at your institution. Or about how you want to partner with community organizations to help strengthen community resilience, which could be about climate, or it could also be about building social capital and social cohesion. Think about working with youth organizations to help cultivate youth leadership and advocacy in some form.

More broadly, think about how you want to work regionally and nationally, whether it’s with other children’s museums or other organizations to be part the larger public engagement movement around climate change. Over the past couple years, I have been working with what is now called the US ACE (Action for Climate Empowerment) Coalition, which focuses on a part of the Paris Agreement that’s focused on promoting public engagement, and not just reducing carbon emissions. We’ve started building a nationwide coalition of non-government actors who are involved in that kind of work to join those on the government side. There are a lot of opportunities for coalition building and collaboration at multiple levels.

AL: In seeking climate education collaborations, aside from the public health entities you mentioned, what other folks in the community should we be paying more attention to?

BILLY: Think about community organizations that are working on issues that you might not immediately think are climate-related. A lot of artists and arts organizations are interpreting climate issues. In my work at the Hitchcock Center, I’ve been talking to folks who are doing different kinds of community work—health, housing, economic opportunity, or food security. They’re really interested in the intersection of their work and climate and partnering with other groups like us to explore that. Children’s museums have some incredible assets as places that focus on holistic wellness and child development, and those are important resources to bring to the table. Once you start stating your interests and intentions, you find more and more people interested in exploring partnerships. Every time you talk to a potential partner, ask them, “Who else should be I talking to?” The number of contacts starts to grow exponentially. Cast a wide net.

AL: How does the issue of environmental justice factor into the work that you do?

BILLY: The intersection of climate and environmental justice issues is becoming more apparent. Who is disproportionately impacted by environmental issues, climate and other economic disparities, social risk factors, health risk factors? They’re all interconnected, and folks in the public health world really see that intersection systematically. A population with some vulnerability is likely to have multiple vulnerabilities in multiple areas. At the Hitchcock Center, we used Census data to identify populations facing a predominance of risk factors—economic, social, and health—and then overlaid them with the environmental and climate risk factors to help target who’s most important to reach first in terms of programming and partnerships. The unfortunate fact is that the populations who tend to bear the brunt of climate-related issues are the ones who can least afford to deal with it, and have done the least to contribute to the problem.

AL: Final thoughts?

BILLY: It’s clear we’re facing some really, really big challenges around climate, and as a society. This is the time for all of our institutions to think about stepping up to the plate and understanding how critical education is to a healthy and effective democratic society.  This is our opportunity to think about how the work we do is so necessary and can become even more impactful. We have a high hill to climb but we can do this together.  I’ve seen so much progress in the last few years in the aquarium and zoo field. Climate has gone from an issue that was rarely talked about to the norm. The children’s museum field can take heart in that and really get excited about working together.

Listen to a complete recording of this live interview.

Building Sustainability, Inside and Out

This article is part of the “Children’s Museums and Climate Change” issue of Hand to Hand.
Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Lance Cutrer, Museum of Discovery and Science

The Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has embarked on a journey to claim our position in the community as a leader in sustainability and resiliency. Our vision is to create a hub for learning, planning, and community discussion focused on tackling issues related to climate change. This comprehensive approach, built upon decades of environmental education and science-based learning, began at our founding in 1977 (when we were called the Discovery Center). In 1992, we opened our current location and took another step toward environmental education with the introduction of our EcoScapes exhibit. Still open today, an updated EcoScapes carries museum guests through the various ecosystems of South Florida to highlight the importance of a healthy natural environment.  Our next step, in 2011, allowed us to enter the world of green building when we opened a 25-million-dollar expansion called the EcoDiscovery Center. The center, which doubled our public space, was designed to meet LEED Silver designation under the U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating system.

In 2019, CEO Joe Cox and the board of trustees built upon this long history and solidified our commitment to sustainability with our 2020-2025 strategic plan. Along with early childhood learning, health and wellness education, and physical science education, the strategic plan now incorporates environmental sustainability as the museum’s fourth content pillar. The new pillar has led us to take numerous industry-first steps. In addition to hiring our first ever environmental sustainability manager, MODS has begun the design process for a new permanent exhibit focused on addressing climate issues. We have also implemented new internships designed to educate youth on resiliency issues, and taken steps toward lowering our own resource footprint. To fulfill our vision to become a community hub for resilience and sustainability, MODS is joining forces with dozens of local partners and experts to bring the community together and show that large-scale action can show real results when addressing climate change.

Why Focus on Sustainability and Resiliency?

Being more sustainable, focusing on more efficient building processes, and seeking green energy alternatives is not new. Many institutions have successfully undertaken such initiatives, often to great success. Like many others, we believe we must become good stewards of the Earth and address many issues to ensure that future generations inherit the same, or better, living standards currently available. These issues include carbon pollution, sea-level rise, extreme heat, more extreme weather events, environmental degradation, resource scarcity, and environmental justice. Our South Florida location is ground zero for negative outcomes related to all these issues. Hurricanes are predicted to become stronger, sea levels have already begun to rise, and extreme heat will put our most vulnerable stakeholders at risk. So, becoming more sustainable and resilient is an easy decision.

However, MODS is not embarking on a stealth or siloed operation. Leveraging our long history of institutional sustainability and green building practices and building on society’s trust in museums, we will actively involve as many stakeholders as we can to bolster the whole community. According to the American Alliance of Museums, people believe that museums, and especially science centers, are a highly credible source of information (Merritt, 2019). In addition, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences found that people trust science news from museums more than any other institution or news outlet (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2019). MODS wants to be a good steward of that trust and make positive change not only for the museum, but for the entire community. Through various education initiatives, the museum will focus on solutions to address the effects of climate change and lead museum guests, employees, and outside stakeholders to action.

Luckily, we are not starting from scratch. The City of Fort Lauderdale and, more broadly, Broward County, have already started research and policy implementation on a number of issues related to sustainability and resiliency. MODS is partnering with government and business interests to educate the community on climate issues and the solutions being implemented and developed, including the Broward County Resilient Environment Department and its Chief Resiliency Officer, plus the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. This work is guided by the Broward County Climate Action Plan; a multi-disciplinary and inclusive document that focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emission and making sure communities are equally adapted to the changes coming through a warmer world.

Programs and Initiative Highlights   

Despite a global pandemic, with the creation of the new strategic plan in 2020 and the support of new and existing funders, MODS began several new sustainability initiatives.

  • Environmental Sustainability Manager

In the summer of 2021, MODS invested in creating a new staff position, Environmental Sustainability Manager (ESM). Because of our education-first mindset and our mission to connect people to inspiring science, the position is appropriately housed in the education department. The ESM creates new educational programs and curricula focused on sustainability and resilience issues. They are also charged with incorporating these principles into existing educational offerings.

Along with educational goals, the ESM is also responsible for helping museum leadership manage the museum’s overall sustainability plans. From aiding in the design of a new resilience exhibit, to creating a Sustainability Action Plan, the ESM’s role at MODS crosses boundaries into exhibits, building operations, and procurement departments.

Because environmental sustainability is one of the museum’s four core pillars, a cross-departmental perspective and interdisciplinary cooperation are essential to create a good sustainability action plan. To this end, the museum has adopted a philosophy from the sustainable business world: the Triple Bottom Line (TBL), is an accounting framework that measures an organization’s success not only in terms of monetary success but includes positive outcomes in the environmental and social realms. To put it simply, the Triple Bottom Line endeavors to drive positive change for people, planet, and profit. As MODS continues to evolve toward higher levels of sustainability and resiliency, we plan to incorporate the TBL philosophy more and more into every day and strategic planning.

  • Educational Programming Focused on Sustainability and Resilience

Since starting in the summer of 2021, the ESM began implementing educational programs centered on sustainability and resilience, the first being the Everglades EcoExplorer Internship, a paid internship intended to motivate high school students to become Environmental Ambassadors. EcoExplorer interns learn about the environment of South Florida, namely the Everglades, and how the natural resources of the community contribute to social health and prosperity. The students then become museum ambassadors, taking the knowledge they gain from field excursions and classroom experiences and delivering it to museum guests. This supports the internship program’s   goal to help students develop their work readiness by teaching them professionalism and public speaking skills.

In addition, the ESM, with help from museum leadership and several community partners, has begun a monthly guest speaker series focused on careers in resilience. Through this series, interns gain valuable insight from professionals in the sustainability and resiliency arena and learn about a number of possible career pathways, including careers in public policy with local/state government or private consulting firms, careers in engineering and architecture specializing in building resilient infrastructure and green buildings, careers in education specifically focused on climate education and healthy ecosystems, and careers in scientific research to find the best solutions for adapting to a changing climate. In addition to sparking interest in new fields, the series will create future change-makers for our community. Following its first-year success, the Everglades EcoExplorer internship program will nearly double enrollment, growing from thirty interns in four high schools to fifty interns from eight high schools. In addition, we will be moving from paying the interns a set stipend to paying them an hourly wage to promote accessibility and equity.

Furthering our goal to become a hub for resilience and putting our outside spaces to better use, the MODS Food Forest was installed during the summer of 2021. The once simple grassy area surrounding our outdoor Science Park is now planted with saplings and seedlings of a plethora of tropical fruit trees and shrubs. This rejuvenated space was generously brought to life by our partner organization, Thrive Lot, a public benefit corporation that designs, installs, and maintains edible landscapes and forest gardens in collaboration with local master growers and skilled specialists. The Food Forest demonstrates our commitment to community-scale actions achievable through partnerships—we would not have been able to install the garden without them.  Utilizing local knowledge through an organization called New River Gardens, Thrive Lot helps us maintain the Food Forest as well. The Food Forest is also a great example of an initiative that drives Triple Bottom Line positivity.  Planet:  Replacing grass with drought-tolerant plants means less maintenance and lowering irrigation needs means saving water.  People:  Carrying forward our mission of connecting more people to inspiring science, we are showing them where food comes from and giving them ideas on how they can do the same at home or in their neighborhood.  Prosperity:  The Food Forest has already garnered positive attention from community leaders and the local school district and has raised the profile of MODS as an organizational leader. Through their involvement in the Food Forest project, the ESM has become a new liaison for Broward County Public Schools (BCPS). Deepening this existing partnership allows MODS to collaborate with county educators to create impactful curriculum for both the county’s youth and MODS guests.

The partnership with BCPS is not limited to the Food Forest. MODS collaborates extensively with BCPS on many efforts; however, one event stands out for advancing sustainability and resiliency education: the Youth Climate Summit which will engage over 3,000 middle and high school students from all over the county on issues related to climate change. This upcoming summit is the fourth annual meeting and plans to expand on previous summits by offering two events:  a virtual two-day conference and an in-person, in-depth climate solutions summit.  Taking place this spring at MODS, the Youth Climate Summit will bring in local, regional, and national experts to lead sessions focused on solutions and how to take action, with a particular focus on environmental justice and inspiring youth to work toward fair and just solutions.

A Look to the Future

In leading a museum-wide transformation toward sustainability and resiliency, we see a bright, at times challenging, future. We are ready to adapt to the effects of a changing climate and lead our community to a better future by taking what we are already doing and expanding it one-hundred-fold.

At the center of our efforts lies a new permanent exhibit solely focused on resilience. Pathways to Resilience, now in the early stages of development, will occupy approximately 4,000 square feet on the museum’s first floor.  This exhibit will aim to educate museum guests on current issues related to climate change and inspire them to take action of their own. By concentrating on solutions to local issues, such as water conservation, lowering individual carbon footprints, and learning how to successfully advocate on neighborhood issues, as well as highlighting aspirational actions across the world, we anticipate that guests will leave with concrete ideas of what they can do to address the issues that are most important to them. In addition to creating a new exhibit, we are also updating current exhibits with an increased focus on resiliency. These updates will key in on topics such as hurricane and extreme weather preparation in our Storm Center exhibit, the benefits of healthy ecosystems provide, like flood protection and natural cooling through shade, native species conservation in our Ecoscapes area, and the science of human-induced climate change in the Prehistoric Florida exhibit.  These updates will align with messages in the new exhibit, creating a cohesive guest experience.

All building operations are also being evaluated to ensure internal systems are as efficient as possible. We are planning to expand the existing efficiencies of our LEED Silver designed Eco Discovery Center to the entire museum; the Sustainability Action Plan will detail steps to reduce energy, water, and waste and improve the indoor and outdoor experience for all stakeholders.  Specific actions such as switching to all LED-powered lights, renewing our building envelope to ensure unwanted warm air isn’t leaking in, and installing low-flow water fixtures throughout the museum are low-hanging fruit we know will help us save resources. Going beyond these simple fixes will include developing a Sustainable Purchasing Policy and Green Cleaning Policy to ensure environmentally and socially favorable products are brought into the museum, installing more renewable energy generation on-site via solar, wind, or green hydrogen, and installing rainwater catch systems for outside irrigation needs.  As MODS takes steps to bolster our own sustainability and resiliency, we will share our experiences and encourage as many community partners and stakeholder as possible to work together to drive positive change for TBL’s planet, people, and profit.

We have set a high bar for MODS:  transform our community into one that is more resource responsible and able to bounce back from disruptions caused by a changing climate.  But we will fail if we tackle this issue alone. We don’t have time for a world where individuals all try their hardest; we must work together to avoid catastrophic failure.  We believe that museums have a unique power to bring communities together and lead them to a better tomorrow.

  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences. (2019). Encountering Science in America. Cambridge, Mass.: American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • Merritt, E. (2019). TrendsWatch 2019: Truth, Trust and Fake News. American Alliance of Museums. Retrieved from aam-us.org

Lance Cutrer is the first environmental sustainability manager at the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Prior to this, he was a middle school science teacher and educational coordinator for an environmental learning program.