ACM Information Brief on the Power of Play


Play is a powerful experience that enriches people’s lives in museums, schools, homes, and beyond. In this latest ACM Informational Brief, The power of play in children’s museums and elsewhere, play is explained through the research-based benefits of play to children’s discovery, health and wellness, and agency, as well as through the crucial role children’s museums play in cultivating and providing access to play.

Although the benefits of play can occur in many different types of environments, children’s museums offer particularly valuable contexts for play.

Play is vital for children, young people, and adults as well. Children’s museums have vast experience in creating playful learning experiences that are age-appropriate, hands on, interactive, and joyful. Even beyond their walls, museums form partnerships and build capacity to encourage more playful learning experiences in schools, homes, parks, hospitals, airports, malls, and beyond. Children’s museums provide examples of the many ways parents, caregivers, and educators can use play to facilitate wellbeing, healthy brain development, and to make learning more effective and joyful for everyone. As children’s museums, we believe in the power of play and we strive to nurture more play and playful learning everywhere we go.


Paper commissioned by ACM | Written by KT Todd, Director of Learning and Research, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Association of Children’s Museum welcomes five new board members and announces new roles for its governing board

Arlington, VA—The Association of Children’s Museum (ACM), the world’s foremost professional society supporting and advocating on behalf of children’s museums, and those who work at and otherwise sustain them, is pleased to name its 2023 Board of Directors. Voted as a slate by the association’s membership, ACM first announced the Board at its annual conference, InterActivity 2023: Leveraging Our Voice, hosted April 26–28 in New Orleans.

Newly joining the ACM Board as At-Large Members for three-year terms are:

Rongedzayi Fambasayi, Managing Director, Play Africa Johannesburg

Gretchen Kerr, Chief Operating Officer, Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus

Brindha Muniappan, PhD, Senior Director of the Museum Experience, Discovery Museum (Acton, MA)

Hilary Van Alsburg, Executive Director, Children’s Museum of Tucson

Stephen White, Esq., Chief Strategy Officer, Vice President of Partnerships and Business Development, Center of Science and Industry (COSI) (Columbus, OH)

Joe Cox, President & CEO at Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was named President Elect for the 2023–2024 term, and will serve as Board President for the 2024–2026 term.

New officers and committee chairs will join ACM President Joe Hastings of Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Past President Tanya Durand of Greentrike in Tacoma, Washington. They include:

• Vice President Crystal Bowyer, President & CEO, National Children’s Museum

• Secretary Putter Bert, President & CEO, KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue, WA)

• Treasurer and Finance Chair Felipe Peña III, Executive Director, Children’s Museum of Brownsville

• Governance & Nominating Chair Tifferney White, Chief Executive Officer, Louisiana Children’s Museum

• Strategic Initiatives Chair Dené Mosier, President & CEO, Kansas Children’s Discovery Cent

“The ACM Board of Directors represents the ACM membership as leaders in the children’s museum field,” said ACM Executive Director Arthur G. Affleck, III. “The governing body will oversee the association as we implement our newly shared five-year strategic plan. We are appreciative to this important group of volunteers whose willingness to share their expertise and enthusiasm with ACM will help us better serve children, their families, and the community.”

The plan has four inter-related priorities: elevating the children’s museum community; lifting up children and families; advancing the field through advocacy, policy, and research; and strengthening the organization. All the work in every priority will be evaluated through the two overarching lenses of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI), and environmental resiliency and regeneration.

More about the ACM Board leadership:

New Board President Elect:
Joe Cox has served as the President and CEO of the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, since February 2018. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Museum connects more than 450,000 visitors to inspiring science annually. He has worked in the museum field for more than 20 years having previously served as the President of the EcoTarium Museum of Science and Nature in Worcester, Massachusetts (2012–2018) and as Founding Executive Director of the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, Florida (2004–2012) where he led a campaign to raise more than $25million to build the Museum. Joe has a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science from St. Mary’s University in London with a focus on environmental law and paleoquaternary biogeography and completed his Masters in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester. Joe was the recipient of a Smithsonian Fellowship in Museum Practice based at the National Zoo and National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. He completed the Getty Museum Leadership Institute at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Joe is past Chair of the Florida Association of Museums Foundation.

New At-Large Board Members:

Rongedzayi Fambasayi is a children’s rights lawyer who since August 2022 has been Managing Director at Play Africa Children’s Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a passionate champion of children’s rights, the power of cities to support children’s rights, including the right to play. He is also an external expert on children and climate change with the African Union’s Children’s Committee. After attending the University of Zimbabwe for undergrad, Rongedzayi obtained his Master’s in Law and finalising a PhD Law and Development both from North-West University (Noordwes-Universiteit).

Gretchen Kerr became Chief Operating Officer of Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus in July 2010 after serving as the Vice President of Development. Leading all facets of museum operations, including the museum’s DEAI initiatives, and continuing to play a key role in organizational fundraising efforts, Gretchen helped lead the museum’s $16.1 million expansion campaign in 2015. Before joining the museum, she worked for the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross. She is a member of the Association Alliance of Museum’s 2023 Executive Committee for their Annual Meeting, serves on the Advisory Committee for the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business Customer Service Program, is a graduate of Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation’s Leadership Denver. Gretchen graduated from Colorado State University with a B.S in Kinesiology. 

Brindha Muniappan’s passion for science communication led her from the research bench into the field of informal science education. Since joining Discovery Museum in 2019, she has helped expand the organization’s diversity, equity, access, and inclusion initiatives to connect with more underserved and marginalized children and is committed to sharing Discovery Museum’s efforts widely. Before joining the Discovery Museum, Brindha led the Education and Public Programs team at the MIT Museum and was part of the Current Science and Technology team at the Museum of Science, Boston. Brindha earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and Ph.D. in biological engineering from MIT. 

Hilary Van Alsburg became the Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of Tucson and its satellite location inside a nature park after a varied career in law and the non-profit sector in Tucson—to include experience as an entrepreneur, school teacher, and time at the University of Arizona.

Stephen White, Esq. is the Chief Strategy Officer, and serves as In-House Counsel at the Center for Science and Industry (COSI), the number one science center in the nation by USA Today.  During his career, he founded the theory of Servant Learning as an engagement strategy to help bridge the “COVID Canyon” education gap with the philosophy to inspire others to dream more, do more, and become more.  In his role at COSI, he is oversees the development of optimizing the entrepreneurial business model for the organization, building new models of impactful education programming, creating and implementing a global strategy for public partnerships at the city, state, and federal levels, and leading the execution of COSI’s Strategic Plan. As a first generation student, Mr. White earned three degrees, all from The Ohio State University, including his B.A. in English and Political Science, J.D. from the OSU Moritz College of Law, and his M.A. in Public Policy and Management from the OSU John Glenn College of Public Affairs, and extended his learning at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the OSU Moritz College of Law covering nonprofit law and leadership, as well as several state and federal boards including as Co-Chair of the International Space Station Subcommittee on Education. 

A complete list of the ACM Board of Directors can be found on the ACM website.


Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek Named “Great Friend to Kids”; to present at InterActivity 2023

Honor awarded during the Association of Children’s Museums InterActivity 2023 conference

ARLINGTON, Va (3/27/23)—The Association of Children’s Museum (ACM) is thrilled to recognize and celebrate Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, as the recipient of the 2023 ACM Great Friend to Kids Award. The award will be presented on Friday, April 28, during ACM’s conference InterActivity 2023: Leveraging Our Voice, hosted this year in partnership with the Louisiana Children’s Museum. Dr. Hirsh-Pasek will present to InterActivity attendees as well.

“ACM honors Dr. Hirsh-Pasek as our 2023 Great Friend to Kids recipient for her significant and impactful contributions to early language and literacy, social-emotional development, as well as the role of play in learning,” shares ACM’s Executive Director Arthur G. Affleck, III. “Dr. Hirsh-Pasek’s work not only helps champion the work of children’s museums, but guides it.”

Dr. Hirsh-Pasek is the Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in Psychology at Temple University and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is best known as a translational researcher, who uses the latest findings in the science of learning to enhance education in and out of school. Kathy pioneered global initiatives, together with long-term collaborator, Roberta Golinkoff, like Playful Learning Landscapes and was on the founding committee of the Latin American School for Educational and Cognitive Neuroscience. She also co-founded the Learning Science Exchange that brings together leaders from various sectors including policy, science, entertainment, journalism, and social entrepreneurship to help parents and families thrive. She is the author of sixteen books and hundreds of publications, has won numerous awards in her field, and was inducted into the National Academy of Education. Vested in translating science for lay and professional audiences, her Becoming Brilliant, released in 2016, was on the New York Times Best Seller List in Education. Her most recent book, Making Schools Work, was released in October 2022.

Initiated in 1991, the ACM Great Friend to Kids Award recognizes individuals and institutions that have made a national or international impact on the lives of children. Previous recipients include Fred Rogers, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Marian Wright Edleman, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Erikson Institute, Sesame Workshop, Reggio Children, Eric Carle, Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone®, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, Temple Grandin, and most recently, PBS KIDS.

ACM’s annual InterActivity conference is the largest gathering of children’s museum professionals in the world. Gathering in New Orleans, April 26-28, hundreds of children’s museum leaders, staff, and stakeholders will gather to explore this year’s theme, Leveraging Our Voice, share knowledge, and advocate for the children’s museum field.

To cover ACM’s InterActivity conference, contact Gabrielle Gallagher at 703.224.3100 x102.

Dr. Calvin Mackie Announced as Keynote Presenter at Association of Children’s Museums InterActivity 2023

STEM-NOLA founder and entrepreneur to present Today’s Tinkers are Tomorrow’s Inventors to hundreds of children’s museum professionals

ARLINGTON, Va (3/27/23)—The Association of Children’s Museum (ACM) is delighted to announce Dr. Calvin Mackie as presenting keynote speaker at the association’s annual conference InterActivity 2023: Leveraging Our Voice,hosted this year in partnership with the Louisiana Children’s Museum.

“Dr. Calvin Mackie is dedicated to serving as a champion for children and their families and recognizes the important contributions of children’s museums to the world,” shares ACM’s Executive Director Arthur G. Affleck, III. “InterActivity attendees will be both inspired and supported in their work as Dr. Mackie speaks on building future leaders through perseverance.” 

Dr. Calvin Mackie is an award-winning mentor, inventor, author, former engineering professor, internationally renowned speaker, and successful entrepreneur. In 2013, Dr. Mackie founded STEM NOLA, a non-profit organization created to expose, inspire, and engage communities in the opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). To date, STEM NOLA has engaged over 125,000 K-12 students in hands-on project-based STEM activities. In 2021, he launched STEM Global Action to advance K-12 STEM education across the U.S. and the world.

A lifelong resident of New Orleans, Dr. Mackie graduated from high school with low test scores requiring him to take special remedial classes at Morehouse College. In 1990, he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Morehouse College with a B.S. degree, as a member of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Society. Simultaneously, he was awarded a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech, where he subsequently earned his Master’s and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 1996. In 2003, he was awarded the 2003 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in a White House ceremony. Dr. Mackie is the author of two award-winning books: A View from the Roof: Lessons for Life and Business and Grandma’s Hands: Cherished Moments of Faith and Wisdom.

Dr. Calvin’s keynote address, Today’s Tinkers are Tomorrow’s Inventors, will be presented at the InterActivity conference’s opening plenary session on April 27, 2023. ACM’s annual InterActivity conference is the largest gathering of children’s museum professionals in the world. Gathering in New Orleans, April 26-28, hundreds of children’s museum leaders, staff, and stakeholders will gather to explore this year’s theme, Leveraging Our Voice, share knowledge, and advocate for the children’s museum field.

To cover ACM’s InterActivity conference, contact Gabrielle Gallagher at 703.224.3100 x102.

ACM Anniversary Blog

On March 1st, the Association of Children’s Museum (ACM) celebrated its 60th anniversary with a reception in Washington, D.C. Held at the Washington Plaza, the event followed Museums Advocacy Day and the ACM board meeting. Guests included member museums, allied associations, public sector collaborators, strategic partners, vendors, and sponsors, as well as current and former board, staff, and donors.

In addition to celebrating the association’s impressive legacy, programs, and membership; the event showcased the commemorative special edition Hand to Hand, edited by Mary Maher, and highlighted the organization’s new 2023–2028 Strategic Plan. On stage, ACM board chair Joe Hastings (Explora, NM) and ACM Executive Director Arthur G. Affleck, III welcomed distinguished speakers: 

• American Alliance for Museums President and CEO Laura Lott, 

• Boston Children’s Museum CEO Carole Charnow,

• Institute of Museum and Library Services Deputy Director Laura Huerta Migus, and

• Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Crosby Kemper.

ACM notable programs such as Museums for All, Trends Reports, CCLI and year-round Professional Development programs were celebrated on stage and touching and informative remarks from Charnow, recounted the genesis of ACM and the strong link between these organizations. The progenitor to ACM was started at an AAM Annual Meeting in 1962, by BCM’s former leader, Mike Spock and others. A transcript of Charnow’s remarks can be found here.

The event also celebrated Affleck’s first year as Executive Director and welcomed back former ACM Executive Director Laura Huerta Migus with a warm embrace.  The heartful milestone honored the impressive work ACM’s members and all those that support children’s museums field.

Festivities for the anniversary celebrations will conclude on April 27, 2023 at the MarketPlace at the ACM InterActivity 2023: Leveraging Our Voice conference hosted in partnership with the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans.   

Association of Children’s Museums Collaborates with National Geographic

Arlington, VA (January 31)—The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) and National Geographic Media have announced a collaboration to offer exclusive benefits to children’s museums. ACM U.S. members will now have access to bulk discounts on Nat Geo Kids and Nat Geo Little Kids magazines as well as curated digital content. Through more than 375 ACM members representing all 50 states, children’s museums welcome 31 million visitors annually. 

Exploration, education, connections among the peoples, animals, and environments of the world are things that children’s museums and National Geographic Kids have in common. Nat Geo Kids (aimed at ages 6+) and Nat Geo Little Kids (ages 3-6) provide a wealth of content across topics like animals, science, geography, and history tailored towards young and youth audiences that can be a resource to children’s museum educators and staff, as well as a good read or great visual to curl up with in a reading nook or quiet space at a museum.  

“Children’s museums serve the needs and interests of children by providing exhibits and programs that stimulate curiosity and motivate learning,” emphasizes Arthur G. Affleck III, executive director of ACM. “Together with National Geographic, we are pleased to amplify our reach to serving children and families in alignment with our strategic vision and mission to enrich their lives and ensure a bright future.” 

National Geographic will offer a discounted rate of $19/annual subscription of Nat Geo Kids and Nat Geo Little Kids to ACM member museums. National Geographic will also offer a 30-Day Digital Free Trial to National Geographic’s digital subscription for ACM members and staff. 

“National Geographic has been inspiring exploration for over 135 years,” said Julie Galvin, Vice President of Partnerships for National Geographic Media, “We are thrilled to collaborate with the Association of Children’s Museums where together we strive to spark curiosity and wonder in kids of all ages.”  

About Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) 

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions more than 375 children’s museums, and individual professionals, and together enrich the lives of children worldwide. In 50 states and 19 countries, serving as local destinations, educational laboratories, community resources, and advocates for children, the children’s museum field welcomes and engages more than 31 million visitors annually. 

About National Geographic Media 

Nat Geo Media is a worldwide digital, social and print publisher, operating in over 170 countries, with several print and digital products and over 1/2 a billion followers on social media. We inspire curious fans of all ages through bold and innovative storytelling about people, places and projects that shape our world, and enable our fans to connect, explore, engage with and care about the world. For more information, visit, find us on the National Geographic app or visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest and TikTok.  

ACM Announces New Strategic Plan

DEAI and environmental resilience and regeneration will guide new and ongoing goals and objectives for the leading children’s museum association

Arlington, Va.—The Association of Children’s Museum (ACM), the world’s foremost professional society supporting and advocating on behalf of children’s museums, and those who work at and otherwise sustain them, is pleased to announce its new five-year (2023-2028) strategic plan. Approved unanimously by the association’s board of directors, the plan was developed with a robust background review of ACM, informed by ACM community engagement, and guided by international arts and culture consulting firm, Lord Cultural Resources.

With the new plan comes revised mission and vision statements to better encapsulate ACM’s new strategic directions and to articulate the aspirational priorities, goals and objectives of the organization.

Mission: We champion children’s museums and together enrich the lives of children worldwide.

Vision: A world that prioritizes the rights of all children to playful learning and a healthy, safe, and equitable future.

“The importance of children’s museums for our communities cannot be understated,” emphasizes ACM Board President and Executive Director of Explora (Albuquerque, NM), Joe Hastings. “The ACM strategic plan creates a roadmap for implementation of new directions and priorities and for highlighting the impact of children’s museums worldwide. The intentional addition of a priority focused on supporting children and families is meant to emphasize ACM’s commitment to strengthening community.”

At its core, ACM’s strategic plan for its future has four inter-related priorities:

1 – Elevating the children’s museum community.
2 – Lifting up children and families.
3 – Advancing the field through advocacy, policy, and research.
4 – Strengthening the organization.

All the work in every priority will be evaluated through the two overarching lenses of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI), and environmental resiliency and regeneration.

“Revisiting and re-envisioning ACM’s strategic direction is integral to ensuring that our values align with the current and future needs of the field and our intention to do more to lift up children and families.” shares Arthur G, Affleck, III, Executive Director of ACM. “Now more than ever do children and families need quality and dependable places to experience hands-on, interactive, and playful learning experiences and exhibits to further their growth, development, and well-being. By sharing this strategic plan, ACM reaffirms our commitment to supporting the children’s museum field and the children and families that we support together.”

The association’s professional staff now turns to phase three of the plan: implementation, where ACM staff will further develop these priorities with actionable tasks. This includes strategic actions aimed to provide more resources, professional development, networking opportunities, and meaningful benefits to ACM members, as well as meaningful and intentional partnerships and collaborations—domestic and international.

ACM plans to share more about this important work at its annual conference InterActivity 2023: Leveraging Our Voice hosted by the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans, April 26-28.


Museum Virtual Programming after COVID-19: Collaborating on possibilities for virtual museum programming in a post-pandemic world.

This post originally was published by Knology. Access the article here: Museum Virtual Programming after COVID-19 – Knology

Children’s museums responded to the COVID-19 shutdowns of 2020 and 2021 by developing new forms of programming, delivered through virtual platforms. At the pandemic’s outset, the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) launched “Children’s Museums at Home,” a website providing families with links to virtual programs created by ACM member museums. Following up on this, individual children’s museums developed a number of other virtual strategies. They live-streamed, produced podcasts and YouTube videos, developed online games and contests, and distributed digital newsletters.

Initially, these different forms of virtual programming were envisioned as temporary adjustments—as necessary adaptations to a short-term crisis. Yet moving online taught children’s museums that the use of digital technologies and virtual spaces could have long-term benefits. In particular, they offered a way to reach new audiences—including those historically lacking access to children’s museums. With the resumption of in-person activities, many are asking what aspects of these virtual services should be retained. How much virtual programming do audiences want? How much potential is there for reaching new audiences with this programming? How might this be managed given children’s museums’ limited budgets? And how would these efforts relate to in-person programming?

In 2021, as more and more children’s museums migrated to online spaces, Knology and ACM began gathering data on all aspects of digital content creation. In addition to this, we held a workshop for children’s museum leadership to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of continued virtual programming in a post-COVID world. Concurrently, Rockman et. al. conducted survey research to learn about parents’ and caregivers’ experiences with and preferences for different types of virtual programming, and to determine how much demand for this there would be after children’s museums resumed in-person operations.

In 2022, the ACM Trends Reports team documented both the benefits and challenges associated with continued virtual programming efforts. These reports indicate that both children’s museum leaders and patrons want virtual programming to outlive the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge for leaders is now to make future investments that support community needs, and reach new audiences without adversely impacting children’s museums’ capacities.

To support the field, ACM, Knology’s Trends team, and Rockman et. al. received funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to pursue “Post-Pandemic Virtual Experiences with Children’s Museums: Responding to Family, Educator, and Museum’s Needs and Expectations.” We’re calling it the Museum’s Virtual Programming project, for short (MVP).

MVP aims to provide children’s museums with actionable data that can help them decide whether and how virtual programming might best meet the needs of the communities they serve. The project will also explore how ACM can create opportunities for asset sharing and development tools to optimize virtual programming for children’s museums of all sizes—along with their community partners.

This three-year project will assess the virtual programming assets and needs of the children’s museum community by working, first and foremost, with the ACM membership, and by speaking with families, parents, caregivers, and local educators across the country to help build recommendations that can align with the scale and operations of children’s museums of all sizes. In Fall 2022, our team will be developing baseline instruments and criteria for a cohort of ten ACM member museums who will work with their audiences and community partners to facilitate data collection. This data collection will begin in Spring 2023, and will be led by Rockman et al. Concurrent with this, ACM and Knology will begin diving deeper into ACM member museum’s virtual programming offerings.

As with all ACM, Knology, and Rockman et al initiatives, the team will center its work in principles of equity. Although the shift to online programming has not been as easy for those living in marginalized communities, that does not discount the value of online for all. Together, the team will consult with children’s museum member families, early childhood educators, and those who lack access to children’s museums or live in traditionally underserved communities.

Together, we believe that a collaborative approach can create a path to better meet the needs of those audiences who have historically not been able to access children’s museums, and to help all institutions within this field extend their reach and services.


To review the fifth volume of ACM Trends Reports, please click here.

Value Pricing and the Cultivation of Public Trust

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 6.1, the first report in the sixth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology.

Members are the lifeblood of many children’s museums. They are loyal patrons who trust museums to provide playful learning opportunities for their children, often complementing trips to the zoo or aquarium. But when children “age out,” families may turn to other cultural institutions and start to reconsider the value of their membership. Understanding value seekers’ calculations can help children’s museums cultivate trust through transparency.

In this Trends report, we look at what membership pricing and attendance data can tell us about children’s museums. We focus on what museums might want to think about when attempting to stabilize their membership base, and on how to forge trusting relationships with prospective members.

National data related to membership pricing has been of particular interest to the ACM leadership community in recent years, especially as it relates to post-pandemic operations. Prompted by a specific request from an ACM member, this report contributes to these ongoing discussions. We used data from the Spring 2022 targeted ACM member survey and collected additional information from member museum websites. We developed a dataset from 90 children’s museums to see if there were differences in membership costs between small, medium, and large museums. We also compared admission prices across these categories and calculated a “pay less” point—that is, the number of times a family of four would need to visit in order to make the
purchase of an annual membership a cost-saving act.

Our analysis yielded two main findings. First, even though admission prices and membership costs are highest for large museums, the number of single visits needed by a family of four to “pay less” is lower for these museums than it is for their small and medium-sized counterparts. Second, we confirmed that admission prices and membership costs tend to rise in parallel, which means that even though base admission prices may be determined based on local cost of living concerns, ACM members can still compare their rates to other children’s museums, Taken together, these findings can help children’s museums determine how to align pricing decisions with the needs and interests of value-seeking visitors—that is, those who purchase memberships based on a calculation of savings.

ACM Trends #6.1

In Spring 2022, the ACM Trends Team circulated a survey to ACM member institutions requesting data on attendance, admission prices, membership costs, and other operations. After supplementing this data with information gleaned from member websites in August 2022, we assembled a dataset of 90 museums (30 of each size). We summarize the data in Table 1 below.

Admission Prices and Membership Costs

Table 1 compares admission and membership prices for a family of four at small, medium, and large museums. Admission prices are based on the general admission price for adults and children. When prices for adults and children were different, a family of four was calculated with two adults and two children.

We calculated these figures for a two-adult, two-child family on account of current US Census data (which shows that the average US family contains 3.13 people), and because this aligns with demographic research showing that a plurality of mothers in the US today report having two children (Pew Research Center, 2015).

The bottom row in Table 1 presents the average number of times a family of four would need to pay admission before achieving cost-savings through a membership purchase. The fourth column illustrates the mean cost across all size categories—which is an appropriate way to calculate averages in a dataset like this one, as it contains few outliers.

Clearly, the larger the museum, the higher the membership and admission costs for a family of four. Nevertheless, the number of visits needed for a valueseeker to “pay less” for multiple visits through a membership is lower (2.62) for large museums than for their small (3.88) and medium-sized (3.52) counterparts.

Figure 1 presents data from the bottom row of Table 1 as a “box and whiskers” plot. To create this, we “normalized” pricing data to show membership costs (for a family of four) as a multiple of admission costs for each children’s museum. The “box” part of the plot illustrates the middle half of the data (in other words, where 15 of the 30 museums in each size category sit), while the “whiskers” indicate those museums where prices are higher or lower than their peers.

When a museum stands alone compared to others, the box and whiskers plot expresses this with dots, considered outliers. When multiple museums lie in the same range, this is indicated by a line placed above the box. The line in the middle of the box illustrates the median, or the exact middle of all of the data in that category. We can see from those lines that medium-sized and small museums tend to be near one another. To see how many visits a family of four would need to make before generating savings through the purchase of a membership, look at the Y-axis, which plots the ratio of membership costs to visit price. This data can be used as a foundation for making decisions about membership pricing, especially in connection with data on premiums.

We also collected data on additional benefits provided with museum memberships—for example, discounts for rentals or birthday parties (n = 60), member-only events (n = 53), and reciprocal admission to other ACM (n = 24) or ASTC (n = 13) member institutions. Most museums offer these in some form; 8 out of 10 small museums, 9 out of 10 medium-sized museums, and all large museums indicated additional membership benefits. The total number of additional benefits did not appear to be related to a higher value of memberships.

One benefit, however, did have a significant effect on “trips to match cost.” Offering a discount on space rentals, after accounting for museum size, was related to higher membership costs. Though some have suggested that early access or discounts on summer camps are perceived as an incentive for families who can afford summer camp experiences, our analysis did not provide any evidence that the benefit is related to higher or lower membership prices.

Changes in Attendance and Membership Rates

We also looked at a subset of the data from fifty-one museums (1 small, 15 medium-sized, 20 large, and 3 yet to be classified) who responded to the Spring 2022 ACM member survey and provided information on annual attendance and member attendance from FY2016 to FY2021. Looking at the data, we can determine historical trends in museum attendance, and also calculate the proportion of overall attendance consisting of museum members.

Prior to the pandemic, in FY2016 through FY2019, the median number of memberships purchased per year for these museums was between 2200 and 3000. In FY2020 and FY2021, this value dropped to 968 & 1188 memberships purchased, respectively. Along with this decline, the proportion of overall visitors who were
museum members decreased roughly 6% in 2021 for these museums. While these museums are just a portion of the overall ACM field, the decline likely reflects the impact of the pandemic across the sector.

Key Takeaways

People purchase museum memberships for different reasons. These purchases provide a reason for frequent visits—which not only benefits children but can also help museum leaders advocate for children’s access to the healthy spaces of learning and discovery children’s museums provide. For some, a membership is a valueseeking purchase, one made through a consideration of future costs, benefits, and savings. Value-seekers become members because they want museum-going to be a regular part of their children’s lives. These pricing data tell us that museums anticipate four visits a year by their value-seeking members, setting prices that justify at least four or more visits in a membership year.

For others, purchasing a membership may not be driven by monetary concerns. They may simply want to invest in an institution that is doing good work, or to support a local institution that is good for children. Some individuals may purchase memberships to build social capital, because they want to support an organization whose values they identify with, and because they want their membership to reflect something about who they are. They may also become members because they want to encourage their grandchildren, nephews, nieces, or other relatives to visit them, or because they want to provide gifts to families with children. These “affinity members” may also care less about free admission than about membership perks, premiums, or about symbolic value—for example, discounts on birthdays or group tours, reciprocal admission at other ACM member museums or other cultural institutions, access to priority registration, exclusive programs, or behind-the-scenes content.

In other words, value is a complex, multidimensional thing. When thinking about those who see the primary value of a museum as its price, children’s museum leaders can also consider how decisions related to pricing might impact the perceived trustworthiness of their institutions. As ACM Trends #5.3 discussed, in order to cultivate public trust, museums need to demonstrate competence, reliability, sincerity, integrity, and benevolence. During the height of the pandemic, many museums demonstrated benevolence through refunds or by pro-rating existing memberships. At present, some museums are considering increased fees to recoup pandemic-related monetary losses. Doing so may risk the trust built through the pandemic, especially as cost-of-living increases may make more members value-seekers.

About this Research

Data for this report was collected through: (1) an online survey distributed by ACM in April 2022; (2) a review of ACM member institutions’ websites. This dataset contains information from 90 current ACM member museums.

Our analysis used the size categories developed in ACM Trends Reports #1.1 and #1.7. We use these categories because institutional size predicts a range of outcomes for children’s museums. We note that museums offer many types of reduced priced tickets or free admission, and some unique premiums that were not used in this analysis.


Voiklis, J. (2022). Key Concepts: Trust. ACM Trends 5(3). Livingston, G. (2015). “Childlessness Falls, Family Size Grows Among Highly Education Women.” Pew Research Center.

US Census Bureau (2021). America’s Families and Living Arrangements. Retrieved from: [

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.

Museums for All Initiative Reaches 1,000 Participating Museums

Collaborative museum access program has served more than five million visitors

ARLINGTON, VA (November 3, 2022) – The Association of Children’s Museum (ACM) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) are pleased to announce that the Museums for All initiative has reached a milestone of 1,000 participating museums. An initiative IMLS, a federal agency based in Washington, DC, and administered by ACM, Museums for All is a national, branded access program that encourages individuals of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong learning experiences and museum going habits.

Through Museums for All, those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits) can gain free or reduced admission to now more than 1,000 museums representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, simply by presenting their SNAP EBT (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Electronic Benefit Transfer) card. Since the launch of the initiative in 2014, more than five million visitors have utilized the program benefits.

“The experience of visiting a museum leaves a lasting impact especially on young people,” reflects Arthur Affleck, III, Executive Director for ACM. “At ACM, we are proud to serve children and their families by connecting them with enriching experiences. That is why we are particularly proud of our work connecting museums of all types to underserved communities through Museums for All. Participating museums report that the initiative has improved their institutions for the better, making them more inclusive and accessible.”

With a year-round open-door policy, Museums for All invites visitors facing economic challenges to feel welcome at cultural institutions. It is open to participation by any type of museum — including art, history, natural history/anthropology, and general museums, children’s museums, science centers, planetariums, nature centers, historic houses/sites, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and arboretums.

“Museums for All is the remarkable success story of creating an affordable and welcoming program for all American families to enter the world of imagination, fun, and knowledge represented by America’s extraordinary museum world,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. “The 1,000 members represent millions of American children and their parents.”

Museums for All is the only nationally coordinated financial accessibility program in the museum field, providing an easy-to-implement structure and the ability for participating museums to customize their implementation. Find a participating museum near you or browse our full list of participating museums.


About the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. IMLS envisions a nation where individuals and communities have access to museums and libraries to learn from and be inspired by the trusted information, ideas, and stories they contain about our diverse natural and cultural heritage. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

About Association of Children’s Museums (ACM)
The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. With nearly 500 members in 50 states and 19 countries, ACM leverages the collective knowledge of children’s museums through convening, sharing, and dissemination. Learn more at

Tips for GivingTuesday

ACM GivingTuesday logo

GivingTuesday, November 29th this year, reimagines the world as one founded upon generosity. The idea is simple but powerful: every act of generosity counts, and everyone has something to give. Now in its tenth year, GivingTuesday is a movement not just a moment on the calendar to enact kindness including and beyond giving money.  

The day is often seen as a time to solicit donations, a nice antidote to the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but there are many ways to be generous along with fundraising: hosting a festival or drive, a day or volunteerism, making it a day of thanking your supporters, encouraging peer-to-peer fundraisers for your organization, hosting a social media take over on your platforms, random acts of kindness kits or campaigns. 

GivingTuesday does impact giving behavior: 

84% of those aware of GivingTuesday are inspired to give more 

82% of those aware of GivingTuesday participate 

GivingTuesday is sticky; the people you activate and donors you gain strongly tend to be loyal 

Here are some resources to support you in your GivingTuesday plans. 


GivingTuesday Toolkit for Nonprofits 

GivingTuesday, begun at the 92nd Street Y ten years ago and now its own nonprofit, provides a workbook as a step-by-step guide: key messages, activations, social media plans, campaign ideas, plus editable logo files and design templates.  

Have your supporters, followers, Board members, and community add GivingTuesday to their calendars with one click. 


Kindness Activities 

No need to reinvent the wheel: click here for a catalog of acts of kindness you can lead or simply share among your community. 


Go for the Gold: Seal of Transparency 

Candid, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the social sector, provides nonprofits with profiles that share their mission and demonstrate their transparency to potential donors and funders. Details about earning a seal of transparency here. Candid sees a large spike, a 220% increase for GivingTuesday 2021 over non-seasonal periods, on profile views as potential donors review organizations they are considering contributing towards.

Now, though December 31, 2023; if your museum is a less than $1mil operation and you earn your Gold Seal, you qualify for a year of free access to the Foundation Directory, a real research boost to your fundraising efforts year-round.  


Giving Together 

GivingTuesday can be a lighter lift for your museum by joining with a local community movement. There are over 240 networks within the United States for GivingTuesday and 80 countries worldwide with movements of their own. Check the to see if there’s an existing movement you can join by clicking the links above. 

Or, a children’s museum is a natural to start a giving coalition and be the catalyst for a community campaign. Children’s Museums of Fond du Lac is among three Wisconsin nonprofits that joined forces starting in 2020 creating Together FDL, a collective of 15 local nonprofits. Andrea Welsch Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac acknowledges it can be scary: fear that your piece of donations pie will shrink, or that it’s too close to year’s end to ask. But data shows neither is the case. Fond du Lac’s experience, born of the economic straits caused by the pandemic, was that the many hands of the community make light work. It was worth it to all participants, and they’ll be campaign as a collective for a third year this November. 


Multiply the Value of a Gift Through Matching 

Use the pledge of one person or organization to inspire others to give. People are 84% more likely to donate if they know they’ll be matched. You can look for your matching donor among your Board Members, major donors or capital campaign contributors, vendors and sponsors, or a local celebrity or influencer. More good news; the amount of the match doesn’t matter greatly in terms of incentivizing giving. 


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

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 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.

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.

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.

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:

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

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 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.

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 ( 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.

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

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:

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.

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.

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

Museums in a Pandemic: Confidence in Meeting Operational Needs

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.14, the final report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology.

This is the final report in the Museums in a Pandemic volume of the ACM Trends Report series. Since March 2020, the ACM Trends Report team has tracked the impacts of the pandemic on children’s museums through surveys, conversations, and other data collected by ACM. This ACM Trends Report presents data from museums that responded to our Spring 2021 survey.

Throughout the pandemic, we collected data on children’s museum operations and what was vital to their survival. We benchmarked this information against 2018 fiscal year 990 data. We used these data because 2018 represents the last pre-pandemic fiscal year for all of the organizations in our sample set. This comparison helped us understand the pandemic’s impact on museum operations.

As the pandemic continued into 2021, children’s museums were balancing re- opening to the public with the continued need to focus on securing necessary funding to keep operations going. We documented ACM members’ fundraising efforts in the early stages of the pandemic (ACM Trends #4.2 and #4.7).

By Spring 2021 many museums were welcoming visitors back into their spaces, with new safety protocols in place and varying capacity restrictions. Museums rely on these patrons to sustain operations. When we reviewed 2018 990 financial data from 218 museums in the ACM member network, our analysis showed that the median institution (regardless of size) relies on program services income (this includes income derived from admissions, events, and other general operational activities) for roughly 45% of its total income. Attendance directly impacts how museums balance income and expenses. By the time of this survey in Spring 2021, the numbers of visitors to the museums had not returned to pre-pandemic levels. This dip continues to impact children’s museums’ income.

ACM Trends #4.14


To track how the field’s attendance had changed throughout the pandemic, we captured monthly total attendance numbers from March 2019 to March 2021. Sixty-two museums responded to this portion of our Spring 2021 survey. From this data set, we know that the average museum was open to in-person visitors for 34% of the total days during the pandemic’s first year than the year prior. Additionally, based on survey data from 52 museums, we know that in March 2021 attendance for the average museum remained at 26% of pre-pandemic attendance levels.

Funding Resources as of March 2021

Knowing that museums rely on their patrons for 45% of their total income from program and services revenue, we asked for up-to-date data, as of March 2021, on fundraising during the pandemic. Specifically, we looked at governmental and non-governmental funding sources. As we reported in ACM Trends Report 4.7, the median value of funding from governmental sources in September 2020 was $205,000 (N = 96). Of the 96 museums responding, 77 had approached private funders (ACM Trends #4.13) with an average return of $50,000.

A second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding was awarded in early 2021, in time for award announcements before the Spring survey. At this time, most museums responding to the survey (n = 80) reported moderate success in obtaining government funds during and related to the COVID-19 pandemic, exhibiting an 80% success rate with a median value of almost $400,000. Appeals for private funding were even more successful (98% success rate) but yielded smaller amounts, with a median value of just over $100,000.

Shuttered Venue Operators Grants & The Employee Retention Tax Credit

Two new streams of funding were available to museums to apply for through the American Rescue Plan Act and the CARES Act. In March 2021, nearly one-third of museums (n = 27) indicated that they had applied or intended to apply for a Small Business Administration Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVO). At the time of the survey, SVO had not yet been distributed.

Additionally, just over one-third of museums (n = 32) indicated that they had received Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) funds, with the median museum receiving $290,328. We have not collected further data on either the ERTC or SVO at this point.

Fundraising Success During the Pandemic

Fundraising success is about more than securing grants. Museums are constantly looking for new funding sources and streams and setting goals to meet operating budgets. This remained true during the pandemic. Reviewing 218 museum’s 990 information, we found that the median museum relied on donations for almost half of their total income. In the Spring 2021 survey, we asked children’s museums whether their fundraising efforts were more successful, just as successful, or less successful during the first pandemic year (March 2020 – March 2021) compared to the previous year. Three-fourths of museums indicated that fundraising was just as or more successful during the first pandemic year (n = 79).


In Spring 2021, children’s museums were generally confident that they could meet their financial obligations one year on in Spring 2022. Eighty museums responded to the question “How confident do you feel that your museum will be able to maintain its financial obligations to maintain operations a year from now?” on a scale from Not at all confident to Very confident. Slider responses were recorded as numerals between 0.00 and 1.00, accordingly.

Seventy-three museums responded with a degree of confidence equal to or higher than 0.5, indicating that museums had found a way to compensate for the financial hit caused by drastically lower attendance numbers.

Government funding proved vital for many museums. Overall, their fundraising success during the pandemic seems to have stimulated children’s museums’ confidence.

Figure 1.Confidence in meeting financial obligation by Spring 2022. (n = 80)

Figure 1 above is a Box and Whisker Plot displaying the responding museums’ confidence (n = 80). We will explain each element of the Box and Whisker Plot and what it shows about our data. Box and Whisker Plots are useful for displaying the range of values in a dataset, including the median value and quartiles of the data’s spread. Each quartile includes 25% of responding museums. Here, the orange box shows us the second quartile, the third quartile, and the median values of our data. The median is represented by the vertical line down the middle of the box. The left “side” of the box displays the second quartile, and the right “side” of the box displays the third quartile. The purple dot in the second quartile is the mean, or average value, of our data set. The whiskers, or the horizontal lines, on either side of the box show us the first and fourth quartiles. The five blue dots ranging between 0.10 and 0.45 are outliers.

So, what does all this mean in the context of museums’ confidence in meeting their financial obligations? By looking at the median, we can tell that the middle value of our data set represents a museum that is quite confident that it will meet its financial obligations in Spring 2022.

On a scale where a rating of Not at all confident yields a value of 0.00 and a rating of Very confident yields a value of 1.00, a median value of 0.85 reflects fairly high confidence. Meanwhile, the orange box tells us that half of the museums in the dataset, or 40 out of 80 museums, are moderately to very confident that they will meet their financial obligations in Spring 2022.

The short right whisker tells us that 20 museums are very confident in their ability to meet their financial obligations. Of the remaining 20 museums, five (represented by the blue dots) are less than confident about meeting their financial obligations. The box’s long left whisker shows that the first quartile of museums is somewhat confident in meeting their financial obligations. The takeaway is this: 75% of the museums in this data set are moderately to very confident that they can meet their financial obligations in Spring 2022. In the following sections, we explore the reasons for their optimism.

Reasons for Confidence

Every museum has a unique rationale for any confidence it has about its late- and post-pandemic future. However, we identified six general categories that illustrate why museums are right to feel confident. Thirty museums referenced a diversified funding stream, including federal and local government funding as well as private funding, as a reason for confidence. Twenty-seven museums have been encouraged by attendance during their re-opening phases and have received more visitors than anticipated. Twenty-three museums indicated that a reduction in operational spending as part of a long-term planning strategy, along with current cash reserves, meant they could be confident about meeting future operational needs.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, reducing operation spending also included a reduction in staff. We detail the impacts of staffing over the course of the Pandemic in ACM Trends Report #4.12.

Additionally, seven museums in our data set either belong to a larger museum/university structure or are completely funded by local government and have moved to more sustainable budgets to ensure future operations. Finally, one museum mentioned that rent reduction has been helpful, and four museums moved into new spaces with higher capacity and lower operating costs.

Fall 2021 Follow-up

In the past year, museums have reimagined their operations and service to their communities, and this has affected their staff. During an ACM Leadership call in Fall 2021, about 6-months after the Spring 2021 survey, ACM and Knology followed up with roughly 20 ACM member museum leaders to hear if they were still confident in meeting their operations’ budgets in 2022.

With attendance not yet back up to pre- pandemic levels, museum leaders’ confidence in meeting financial obligations in 2022 was high yet speculative. On a scale of 1 (least confident) to 5 (most confident), museum staff on the call indicated confidence between 3 and 5, with specific caveats and new concerns. Key concerns centered around the continued need for federal and state governmental funding to fill in the gaps of lowered earned revenue. Specifically, the Shuttered Venue Operating Grants and PPP loans were still covering many 2021 costs and were projected to continue to support museum operations into 2022. A second round of SVOG and funds from the Employee Retention Tax Credit were noted as potential future governmental funds that these museums were banking on. A museum CFO noted that, “Once the federal funding runs out, our confidence drops off tremendously not knowing which direction covid stats are going to go. Just when we thought it was getting back to ‘normal’ the Delta variant picked up. What’s next?” This was met with widespread agreement from others in attendance.

Museums staff noted that donations from individuals and foundations were starting to taper off, with many noting that perceived “sympathy giving” at the height of the pandemic in 2020 was not as common in Fall 2021. Many did not expect their fundraising to be as successful in 2022 compared to their early pandemic success.

We will continue to monitor the state of the children’s museum field into 2022 to understand how these concerns impact their missions and operations.

About This Research

The data used in this report came from an online survey that ACM sent to US-based children’s museums. Overall, 91 museums responded to at least part of the survey. All participating museums were based in the US. Additional data was collected through an ACM Leadership call discussion forum where data was presented back to museum leaders for their response.


Flinner, K., Voiklis, J., Field, S., Attaway, E., Gupta, R., & Fraser, J. (2020). Museums in a Pandemic: Financial Impacts. ACM Trends 4(2).

Flinner, K., Voiklis, J., Field, S., Thomas, U.G, Attaway, E., & Gupta, R. (2021). Museums in a Pandemic: Diversifying Funding Streams. ACM Trends 4(7).

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

Fraser, J., Field, S., Voiklis, J., Attaway, E., & Thomas, U. G. (2021). Museums in a Pandemic: Patterns in Fundraising. ACM Trends 4(13).

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.

Museums in a Pandemic: Patterns in Fundraising

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.13, the thirteenth report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology.

Since May 2020, the ACM Trends Report team has tracked the impacts of the pandemic on children’s museums and the field’s innovations through survey studies and other data collected by ACM.

This ACM Trends Report presents data from 28 museums that shared information on their donors and funds received by Spring 2021. This includes 147 corporate donations and 119 private foundation donations made to children’s museums. Corporate donations were stratified into categories by type of donor. We also collected data on whether the funds were provided as restricted or unrestricted gifts. To understand the pandemic’s impact on donations, this information was benchmarked against 2018 fiscal year 990 data. Comprising the most complete data to date, the 2018 fiscal year represents the pre-pandemic fiscal year for all organizations.

Three small museums, 10 medium museums, and 11 large museums provided information on corporate donations received during the pandemic. We also learned about a few extraordinary donations that represented historical commitments to large children’s museums, which should not be considered typical of the day-to-day fundraising expectations.

This early assessment of donor type, scale of donation, and comparisons helped us learn how to support comparison between museums irrespective of scale.

We normalized the data by comparing the percentage of total income from corporate and private funding received during the 2018 fiscal year to the percentage of total income from corporate and private funding received during the pandemic. This way, we were able to develop clear benchmarking that can be used by all children’s museums to consider their relative prospecting success and opportunities in their markets. This report focuses on understanding how to benchmark and set reasonable expectations for donation size as our field emerges from the pandemic.

ACM Trends #4.13

An assessment of the 2018 nonprofit tax filings for all ACM member museums showed that an average children’s museum receives 47% of total income from donations and gifts. While some museums rely more heavily on donations than others, museum size did not impact total percentage of income from donations.

Museum development teams build an understanding of their local supporters and focus on relationships that can last over time. As a result, many of these gifts may be a function of annual giving unique to each community. This report focuses on whether there are patterns to giving that can help museum leadership set expectations. The context for this study was the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 civil rights protests, which caused donors to reconsider their funding priorities.

We explored a snapshot of fundraising results from the 2020 pandemic year to assess how these varied from pre- pandemic times. We also looked at donors by industry to aid in benchmarking anticipated gifts from any representative of the sector, and whether being part of a local, regional, or national brand impacted the size of gifts.

Corporate Donations

Twenty-four museum respondents reported corporate donations received during the pandemic. These donations ranged from $100 to $100,000. Most donations were below $5,000 (Figure 1). Around 2/3 of donations (n = 98) were gifted as unrestricted funds, 40 were completely restricted, and six were partially restricted. Larger donations were more likely to have restrictions attached.

Let’s walk through how to read this figure. Each black circle represents an individual donation from a corporation or corporate foundation. The purple line shows the mid-point (median) of the distribution of donations. The orange line represents the average (mean) corporate donation in this dataset. The mean is calculated by summing up all the numbers in a dataset and then dividing by the number of values in the dataset. This is different from the median which refers to the middle number when a set of numbers is placed in order smallest to largest. Three outlier donations (two of $70,000 and one of $100,000) are not shown in Figure 1 but are included in calculations.

Figure 1. Corporate donations reported by museums.

Because firm size and industry impact corporate giving (Amato & Amato, 2007), we categorized the set of corporate donations by industry and discovered that different-sized corporate donors gave varying gift amounts. To understand how to benchmark these gifts for comparison purposes, we suggest that is more relevant to consider the “median” donation rather than the “mean,” as one large donation to one museum can skew the results of the average.

Let’s walk through how to read the next pair of figures. Here, the circles represent donations from corporate donors and corporate foundations to children’s museums. The purple circles show the median donation for each industry while the orange circles show the mean donation for each industry.

Figure 2. Comparing the mean and median donation to children’s museums from corporate donors and corporate foundations.

Putting these Data to Use

Our analysis of this small dataset suggests a few things, but we would need additional data to more fully understand the funding patterns of corporate donors and make recommendations as to how children’s museums might approach them. These data suggest that if a museum were to approach an energy company for funding, they might be more likely to succeed if they explain that many children’s museums are supported by energy companies at the $5,000 level, but a few energy companies make large gifts that average $10,000.

While this approach may seem to reduce the potential gift, it helps to establish two norms or social expectations for the industry that could benefit children’s museums in the long term. Industrial and organizational research has shown that corporate donations are likely to level to match the norms for their industry, but are modified by regional norms across industries (Marquis & Tilcsik, 2016). Presenting funding request in this way may increase willingness of corporate donors to consider small gifts that were not on their priority list because they wish to represent their corporate citizenship as consistent with industry standards.

We also categorized corporate donations by the service territory. National brands were more likely to donate in the $10,000 range, regional brand gifts were at the $5,000 level, while local businesses hover around $1,000 (Figure 3). As noted, these are early findings, and we will continue to gather additional data in future surveys.

Figure 3. Comparing mean and median donations to children’s museums based on corporate reach.

Donations in the Pandemic

The complete corporate funding data represents information from 24 children’s museums, a number too small to generalize across the field. A qualitative comparison of these data does suggest that in 2020, larger museums faced more challenges securing donations that matched historic patterns. In our data, medium sized museums fared better than their larger counterparts, but only a few maintained the pre-pandemic pace. Figure 4 presents a picture of 2020 corporate and private donations and the shortfall from 2018. To create the graph. we normalized the 2018 data for every museum to 100%, then divided 2020 funding into three categories and added a fourth representing 2020 donation shortfall compared to 2018. Private philanthropy in 2020 was by- far the most important category for supporting museums at about 3x the value of corporate donations (Figure 4), but still well below pre-pandemic levels of support.

Figure 4. Corporate and Private Donations to Museums as % of all donations reported in 2018.

The Takeaway

Fundraising in the pandemic was vitally important for most children’s museums to fill the loss of earned income. As explored in earlier reports in this series, many museums reimagined their operations and services to accommodate fiscal realities, including a recognition that donors were reprioritizing funding. This ACM Trends Report shares data demonstrating useful patterns in fundraising, which can inform how museums can leverage industry norms to launch new requests to local, regional, and national corporations. However, more data needs to be collected to pain the full picture of corporate and private giving. In this report, we also normalized data by museum size to allow for comparisons irrespective of scale, while still allowing us to understand how scale will continue to influence public support for children’s museum funding.

About This Research

The data used in this report came from an online survey that ACM sent to US-based children’s museums, and the 990 public tax filings of all U.S. children’s museums who are members of ACM.


Amato, L. H., & Amato, C. H. (2007). The effects of firm size and industry on corporate giving. Journal of Business Ethics, 72(3), 229-241.

Flinner, K., Voiklis, J., Field, S., Thomas, U.G, Attaway, E., & Gupta, R. (2021). Museums in a Pandemic: Diversifying Funding Streams. ACM Trends 4(7). Knology & Association of Children’s Museums.

Marquis, C., & Tilcsik, A. (2016). Institutional equivalence: How industry and community peers influence corporate philanthropy. Organization Science, 27(5), 1325-1341.

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.

New Hand to Hand: Inside the Curve: Business as (Not Quite) Usual

The latest issue of Hand to Hand, “Inside the Curve: Business as (Not Quite) Usual” 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 presents stories of what museums have learned since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Pieces delve into new ideas and strategies around staffing, audiences, programs, and more, and how this information is impacting current operations and future planning.

Read the issue! 

Inside the Curve: Business as (Not Quite) Usual

Stand Back: Watching and Learning from Returning Families
Pam Hillestad
Glazer Children’s Museum is leveraging lessons learned during the pandemic to inform their playwork practices and help families build deep connections through play.

Gardens Grow, and So Do We
Q&A with Liz Rosenberg
Let’s Grow Together, a visitor-created art exhibit, celebrated Chicago Children’s Museum’s reopening to the public in June 2021.

Welcome Back: Our People Have Missed You
Kerrie Vilhauer
Children’s Museum of South Dakota’s reopening communications plan reintroduced visitors to the people behind the work—and the play—at the museum.

Think Big, Act Small: Innovation Principles and Process for Organizations in Recovery
Krishna Kabra
The CEO of San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum shares fundamental principles for successful innovation to generate creative solutions.

Building the Plane as We Learn to Fly It
Hilary Van Alsburg
In navigating reopening, the Children’s Museum Tucson | Oro Valley found opportunities to work across the organization to support frontline staff.

Intention and Resolve: Moving to a New Better
Kari Ross Nelson and Stephen Ashton, PhD
Thanksgiving Point researchers share results from an analysis of data collected through ACM’s Museums Mobilize initiative, which highlighted museum programming in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Necessity: The Mother of Invention
Jonathan Zarov
In responding to the pandemic, Madison Children’s Museum has instituted a data-driven cycle of decision-making and a more efficient organizational structure.

The Good from the Bad: Pandemic Silver Linings
Beth Shea
From scheduling improvements to a stronger, closer staff, the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge has found silver linings amidst the challenges of the pandemic.

Centering DEAI in Staff Recruitment and Hiring
Angela Henderson
The last year and a half has changed how The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis recruits, nurtures, and retains staff, interns, and volunteers while making sure they create and maintain a culture that is inclusive.

Support Our Mission: Donate Crypto
Mary Maher
The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn is diversifying its revenue streams as the first children’s museum in the U.S. known to accept cryptocurrency donations.

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

New Hand to Hand: The Power of We

The latest issue of Hand to Hand, “The Power of We: Local/Regional Support Networks Flourish” is now available! Read each article on the ACM blog, and find the full issue PDF in the Hand to Hand Community on ACM Groupsite.

This issue shares stories from local and regional museum groups, ranging from long-running networks to those formed in the past year, as well as local cross-sector groups serving children and families.

In addition to the universal issues facing our field, experiences can vary widely from location to location. The pandemic intensified our need for connection and collaboration—and local and regional networks came together to address local issues, pool resources, and share in community.

Read the issue to learn more about these inspiring networks!

The Power of We: Local/Regional Support Networks Flourish

Northwest Association of Youth Museums: Regional Network Powerhouse
Alissa Rupp, FAIA, FRAME | Integrative Design Strategies
The Northwest Association of Youth Museums has thrived since its start in 1989 by embracing collaboration over competition.

Guerilla Networking: Connecticut Children’s Museums Organize to Pursue State Funding
Jen Alexander, Kidcity Children’s Museum
Connecticut’s nine children’s museums came together to advocate for statewide funding in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supporting Leaders | Building Healthy Organizations: An Interview with Darren Macfee, Museum Roundtable Facilitator
Interviewed by Mary Maher
For more than twenty years, the Museum Director Roundtables have been a model of supporting leaders as they navigate the ups and downs of the nonprofit world of children’s museums.

Hive Minds and Transient Networks
Sam Dean, Scott Family Amazeum
Located in Northwest Arkansas, the Scott Family Amazeum recognizes the value of collaboration across sectors, participating in networks with community leaders, business leaders, creatives, and more.

Collaborate to Advocate: The Power of Collective Voice
Michael McHorney, Children’s Museum of Eau Claire; Deb Gilpin, Madison Children’s Museum; Anne Snow, Children’s Museum of LaCrosse; Andrea Welsch, Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac
The state of Wisconsin has the most children’s museums per capita in the United States. As a state-wide museum network, Wisconsin Children’s Museums demonstrates the power of strategic solidarity to support each other and advocate for children and families.

Community Education Network Supports Children and Institutions during the Pandemic
Rachel Carpenter, Children’s Discovery Museum; Hannah Johnson & Candace Summers, McLean County Museum of History; Shannon Reedy, Miller Park Zoo; and Dr. Diane Wolf, Bloomington Public Schools District 87
Many organizations serving children in Bloomington/Normal have come together to leverage resources and better serve learners and educators in Central Illinois.

Kindred Spirits: Q&A among Seven Regional Museum Networks
Africa Play Network, NorCal Small Museum Cohort, Louisiana Children’s Museums, North Carolina Science Network, Ohio Children’s Museums, Small Museums Collaborative, Virginia Children’s Museums
Learn more about seven regional museum networks around the world, and what each is able to accomplish by working together and embracing collaboration.

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

Museums in a Pandemic: Personnel & Rebuilding Teams

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.12, the twelfth report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology.

Since May 2020, the ACM Trends Report team has tracked the impacts of the pandemic on children’s museums and the field’s innovations during this time, through survey studies and data gathered through ACM’s Museums Mobilize initiative. ACM member museums completed surveys in spring 2020, fall 2020, and spring 2021, as well as participated in discussion and reflection on a regular basis.

This ACM Trends Report presents new data on museum personnel from 91 museums that participated in the spring 2021 survey, compared to previous data measuring changes in personnel throughout the pandemic. The pandemic has affected museum personnel of all types, from full-time and part-time workers to contractors and volunteers. In particular, the status of part-time workers dramatically changed over time. Museums estimated that, on average, about a quarter of part-time employees remained at their pre-pandemic capacity by spring 2021. Meanwhile, about half of full-time workers were at their normal capacity by that time. Children’s museums decreased volunteers and contractors’ work as well. As we’ve seen in previous reporting, museums and their teams creatively transformed personnel roles and responsibilities over the course of the pandemic.

There are signs that museums are beginning to rebuild their teams. About half reported they were in the process of rehiring both full-time and part-time staff. Rebuilding the workforce will be an important part of reimagining how children’s museums serve their communities.

ACM Trends #4.12

Children’s museums are operated by a mix of personnel types. In a 2018 analysis, children’s museums’ teams were composed of an average of 8% full-time workers, 16% part-time staff, and 76% volunteers, in addition to contractors. However, each group worked very different hours, with full-time staff annually averaging about 2,000 hours, part-time staff about 1,000 hours, and volunteers about 150 hours (Flinner et al., 2016; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). The COVID-19 pandemic shifted the landscape for children’s museum personnel.


Since the beginning of the pandemic, children’s museums navigated financial shortfalls by laying off, furloughing, or reducing hours for their full-time and part-time workers. Over the course of the past year, institutions were more likely to keep full-time employees staffed at their normal capacity, compared to part-time staff’s typical levels.

During this period, retention rates for part-time staff were roughly half that of full-time workers.

Figure 1. Percentage of staff whose employment status remained normal during the pandemic, as estimated by museums.

Figure 1 illustrates the changes that took place in staffing at three points in time: spring 2020, fall 2020, and spring 2021. Let’s walk through how to read this chart, which visualizes statistics known as confidence intervals. The solid center marks indicate the average percentage of staff with no changes to their employment status at each point in time. These percentages were estimated by the museums and were not precise counts. Since not all ACM members participated in the survey, there is a degree of uncertainty in the averages. The chart indicates this uncertainty with the shaded boxes that surround the solid marks, also called ranges. We calculated that 95% of museums’ estimates on staffing would fall within the shaded boxes. The more museums that respond, the more accurate and tighter the ranges would be.

Let’s also discuss how to interpret the significance of the changes over time in Figure 1. A “significant change” means that the shift is not simply due to chance – in other words, there is a high probability that there is indeed a shift in the thing being measured. In this chart, we can detect significant changes by looking at a center mark at one point in time and comparing it to the range at another point in time. If there is overlap, the change might be due to chance. But if the center mark does not overlap with the range at another point in time, then the change is likely meaningful. In Figure 1, for instance, the change in estimates of full-time staff retention is not significant from spring 2020 to fall 2020, whereas it is from spring 2020 to spring 2021.

There are several things that likely influenced museums’ capacity to retain staff since the beginning of the pandemic. Most children’s museums received support from the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP 1) offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) in spring 2020. PPP 1 funds came with stringent requirements for staffing and payroll in spring 2020, but these conditions eased by the time of the second survey in fall 2020. Museums had to fulfill PPP 1 spending requirements by December 31, 2020.

The SBA was in the process of allocating the second round of PPP funding (PPP 2) at the time of the spring 2021 survey. Fewer children’s museums applied for PPP 2 funds, but success rates were still high. These funds have the same more relaxed requirements relating to staffing and payroll as were used in PPP 1. However, it seems museums continued to struggle to keep both full-time and part-time workers employed at their pre-pandemic levels.

There may be other factors affecting staffing and hiring. Museums increasingly opened their doors to in-person audiences when infection rates were falling and vaccination rates were rising across states. In early 2021, some states started to pull back unemployment benefits that had been expanded at the beginning of the pandemic. This shift may also have affected hiring for some children’s museums.


In 2016, Small and Medium museums worked with an average of 36 volunteers, and Large museums worked with an average of 380 volunteers (Flinner et al., 2018). By spring 2021, less than half of the 69 responding institutions reported working with volunteers. Before the pandemic, museums tended to recruit volunteers from all age groups, beginning with 15 to 17-year-olds through people age 55 and up. Those working with volunteers in spring 2021 continued to recruit from a wide range of age groups, except for ages 15 to 17.

Prior to the pandemic, volunteers served primarily by interacting with visitors. These visitor-facing roles consisted of facilitating exhibits, programs, and events. In the past year, museums have reduced volunteers’ work in this area, though it remains the most common task via virtual and online platforms. Nine museums reported reassigning volunteers to creating kits or packets for distribution to community members. Prior to the pandemic, volunteers also supported administration and operations, such as preparing materials, stocking supplies, cleaning, and maintaining collections. Museums reduced these types of volunteer tasks during the pandemic.


In spring 2020, nearly all museums working with contractors laid off some or all of these workers. By spring 2021, nearly all museums that staffed contractors before the pandemic had resumed working with this category of personnel. Eight museums that had not hired contractors before the pandemic reported doing so over the last year. These institutions primarily hired contractors for operations and administrative support.

Out of 69 museums that provided information about contractors, about two-thirds reported using contractors’ services both before and during the pandemic. Exhibits and programming was the most common area for contractors’ work before the pandemic, while operations and administrative support was the most common contractor role during the pandemic. There were fewer museums that continued to work with contractors on facility maintenance and exhibits and programming during the pandemic, compared to their pre-pandemic rates.

More museums reported working with IT and web services contractors during the pandemic compared to their pre-pandemic practices, though fewer than half of participating institutions did so.


Museums are in the early stages of rebuilding their teams through hiring. Sixty-nine museums specified their current status on hiring different types of staff. Half were rehiring

both full-time staff and part-time staff. Of these institutions, most looked to hire new employees, and about half also recruited from staff who had been furloughed or laid off during the pandemic. Some museums may also be bringing volunteers and contractors on board instead of or in addition to hiring part-time and full-time workers.

We anticipate that museums’ efforts to rebuild their teams will increase in the next few months. Institutions will continue to re-open for in-person activities and PPP 2 funds will be fully distributed. Vaccination rates may increase across the country, which will make the workplace safer. Meanwhile, states may continue to restrict unemployment benefits, which could encourage more people to return to work.

The Takeaway

The past year has seen museums reimagine their operations and service to their communities. To continue on this path, children’s museums must also rebuild their personnel. What roles can be reshaped? Which skills might a team possess that the museum has not yet tapped into? How can the museum fill the gaps in skills and experience – through training, new hires, or learning with and from peer institutions? Many museums will need the support of funders and stakeholders to access the resources to rebuild teams. We can look to the 2018 Trends Report series on economic impact for guidance on how to articulate the value of children’s museums as economic engines in their communities. This research found that children’s museums supported 57,000 jobs in the US, of which 41% are outside of their walls. For every full-time position within a museum, the institution supported nearly 1½ external jobs through spending on vendors and employees’ spending. Museums’ spending supports specific industries, typically health and social services, retail, real estate, and hospitality, though there are differences across regions (Voiklis, Fraser, et al. 2018; Voiklis, Flinner, et al., 2018). Leaders can use these statistics, along with data from their own institution, to make the case for gaining support for their rebuilding process.

About This Research

The data used in this report came from an online survey that ACM sent to US-based children’s museums. Overall, 91 museums responded to at least part of the survey. All participating museums were based in the US.


Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). American Time Use Survey – 2016 Results. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor. Accessed December 13, 2017.

Flinner, K. Fraser, J., & Voiklis, J. (2018). Making a Museum Sing: the Children’s Museums Workforce. ACM Trends 1(10). New York: Knology & Association of Children’s Museums.

Voiklis, J., Flinner, K., & Fraser, J. (2018). The Economic Impact of Children’s Museums: Our Jobs, Their Jobs, All Jobs. ACM Trends 2(2). New York: Knology & Association of Children’s Museums.

Voiklis, J., Fraser, J., & Flinner, K. (2018). The Economic Impact of Children’s Museums: The Ripple Effect of Spending. ACM Trends 2(1). New York: 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.

Museums in a Pandemic: Collaborations with Cultural Institutions

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.10, the tenth report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology. 

The ACM Trends Report team has continued to study the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s museums. To understand these impacts, we conducted multiple surveys: the first in May 2020, the second from September 24 to October 18, 2020, and a third in spring 2021. The Museums in a Pandemic series of Trends Reports illustrates the ways children’s museums have adapted to the evolving national and local situations surrounding the pandemic.

In the fall 2020 survey, 81 museums reported starting new collaborations or expanding existing collaborations since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, 15 reported no new or expanded collaborations. Those with collaborations started an average of two or three collaborative activities during the pandemic. In this Trends Report, we will explore collaborations that children’s museums formed with other museums and different kinds of cultural institutions.

This is the second of three Trends Reports that tell the story of how children’s museums have undertaken collaborative work during a time of crisis. These three reports are also part of Museums Mobilize, an initiative of the Association of Children’s Museums that documents COVID-specific responses and innovations by children’s museums.

ACM Trends #4.10

Figure 1. Goal of children’s museums’ collaborations with other museums and cultural institutions.

We asked museums whether they had expanded existing collaborations or initiated new collaborations with different types of organizations during the pandemic. Out of 96 museums, 52 museums or 54% reported collaborations with other museums and cultural institutions including aquariums, botanic gardens, libraries, and zoos. Participants were also asked about the goals for their expanded or new collaborations.

Partnerships with other museums and cultural institutions were most likely to focus on sharing resources and information and COVID-19 planning (Figure 1). This was followed by cross-institution promotion, with outreach as the third most common goal. Supporting students during the school year was the least common goal for children’s museums. In contrast, museums that formed partnerships around social and health services were most likely to focus on sharing resources and information.

What follows are short stories from two children’s museums about specific collaborations they have developed with other cultural organizations.

Educational Resources to Support Resilient Families at Building for Kids Children’s Museum

Building for Kids (BFK) Children’s Museum, located in Appleton, WI, is collaborating with the History Museum at the Castle, also in Appleton, on an initiative called Museums in Motion: Responsive Community Engagement Toolkits. The initiative is supported largely through funding from the City of Appleton’s Community Development Block CARES grant.

Through the program, the museums provide hands-on, non-virtual educational enrichment activities that can be done at home and are designed to support the educational and social needs of students in the community during the pandemic. Each kit contains materials and instructions for six projects. Three projects were developed by the History Museum, and three by BFK. Projects provide students with a chance to do things like learn about Harry Houdini, experiment with graphite circuits, and create mini robots. In its first wave, Museums in Motion is distributing 1,200 engagement toolkits to first graders and their

families in the Appleton Area School District. Kits will also be distributed to low-income households that have students in Kindergarten through second grade, with support from Pillars, a network of shelters for homeless persons, and Harbor House, which supports people in domestic abuse situations. Through this initiative, BFK is seeking to support the resiliency of students and their families during the pandemic and in the future.

BFK is also collaborating with Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra (FVSO) on the Be a Percussionist and Meet a Musician initiatives. These programs, offered on Facebook, provide live music education to children at home. In Be a Percussionist, audiences explore different musical concepts and learn about several kinds of percussion instruments. Meet a Musician features FVSO artists who discuss topics such as conducting, composition, and instrument families. The museum is also collaborating with FVSO and the Appleton Public Library (APL) on Symphony Storytime, which provides families with engaging and meaningful virtual programming. Under this initiative, FVSO musicians compose music to accompany stories read by librarians from APL. BFK provides puppets and other props that are used as part of story time.

Commenting on the value of the programming to the community, museum leadership noted the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education and development of children and families, and how cultural institutions can play a supportive role. “Families with early elementary school-age children are especially impacted. With schools closed and students learning virtually from home, parents become educators tasked with delivering formal schooling with children that typically rely heavily on engagement from their teachers and peers, they said.

BFK’s leaders believe that museums can step in as valuable sources of out-of-school-time learning, engagement, and connection to the community: “While visits to museums are limited, these non-virtual, hands-on learning toolkits help equip families with tools to mitigate this learning loss. Without investment in mitigating the disproportionate impacts on economically disadvantaged children and families, our community will experience an imbalanced and unequitable recovery from this crisis.”

The museum’s virtual music programming is also intended to provide greater opportunities for families to continue to connect during the pandemic. One leader remarked, “BFK’s mission is to inspire discovery and build resilience through intergenerational, play-based learning and exploration of the arts, sciences, and humanities. We feel that offering this programming connects us to families and exposes them to different concepts in music and fulfills our mission as an organization.”

Enabling Remote Learning for Underserved Families at KidsQuest Children’s Museum

KidsQuest Children’s Museum, located in Bellevue, WA, is partnering with various organizations to offer families in its community multiple options for virtual learning. The first program, called Remote Learning Kits, is offered in partnership with Boys and Girls Club of Bellevue, King County Housing Authority, Jubilee Reach, King County Library, Bellevue School District, and Kindering. Best Starts for Kids, Schools Out Washington, Boeing, and Big Ideas Learning fund the program. These partnerships were formed through an initiative called the Eastside Pathways Collaborative. With Remote Learning Kits, KidsQuest provides a way for families at home to take part in their favorite museum activities. Kits contain materials that can be used multiple times and in various ways. The activities are designed for open-ended learning that can be completed at each child’s pace. They are intended to support developmental learning alongside regular schoolwork.

These kits are part of the museum’s school-age and preschool programming. The kits are generally designed for children in preschool up to 5th grade, and the museum has offered at least one kit, focused on science and art, for students up to 8th grade. Kits are circulated in two ways: as part of a free program in which the museum works with a local partner to distribute the kits, and as part of a fee-based program open to the general public. Available in both English and Spanish, the kits are typically dropped off at a site that families in the community use to access other kinds of services.

This particular partnership program existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic but was offered only in person at partners’ spaces with museum educators. For the past three years, KidsQuest and its partners focused on supporting families that were experiencing homelessness. Following the emergence of the pandemic, museum leadership noted, “We have shifted from just students experiencing homelessness to any family who may be struggling. How do we make sure there are not gaps in service and new families are getting learning materials that they need while at home?”

A second KidsQuest initiative is the Love of Learning podcast. Each episode of the podcast features interviews with educators and community partners who share valuable resources and activities that help keep families connected through play. The museum has partnered with guests from other cultural institutions including a local library. Recent episodes have focused on various topics from STEAM areas including math, arts, and engineering. The podcast is designed for parents and caregivers with children ages 0-10 interested in encouraging and engaging in child-directed play, as well as fellow informal educators. All episodes are available on various platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Commenting on the value of its educational programming for the children and families in its community, KidsQuest leadership remarked, “We are able to put the power of play and learning into more people’s hands. A couple of new institutions are using our kits as their learning tools during therapy or in-home visits.”

A third initiative called the Tri-Museum Collaborative involves three museums: KidsQuest, Children’s Museum of Tacoma – a program of Greentrike, and Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett, WA. This collaboration is funded in part by Boeing. The goal of the initiative is to promote play among children who do not have access to early learning opportunities. During the pandemic, this partnership was strengthened and used over and over again as the museums shifted to virtual programming. The partners share ideas, strategies, and resources on how best to deliver programming online to support early learning for children in underserved areas of their respective communities. KidsQuest leadership observed that being part of this collaborative effort “allows us to learn what has worked for different populations and how we can continue to adapt our programs to fit the families.”

The Takeaway

The stories in this Trends Report showcase children’s museums that have collaborated with peer cultural institutions to combine resources, share insights for their practice, and develop new programming. The types of partner institutions vary widely, from other children’s museums, to history museums, to orchestras. The diversity of these collaborations points to an underlying opportunity for the museum field: joining forces with peers is often better than competing for funding and other resources. When institutions team up, they signal sophisticated organizing capacity and the promise of greater reach into their communities. Children’s museums can use this approach to not only deliver on their mission, but also to expand the ways they achieve their goals of supporting children and families.

About This Research

Some of the data used in this report came from an online survey that ACM sent to US-based children’s museums. Overall, 96 museums responded to at least Some of the data used in this report came from an online survey that ACM sent to US-based children’s museums. Overall, 96 museums responded to at least part of the survey. A subset of museums that indicated they had new or expanded partnerships received an additional set of questions that asked for more information about collaborations with other museums and different cultural organizations that they formed during the pandemic.

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.

Museums in a Pandemic: School & University Collaborations

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.11, the eleventh report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology. 

The ACM Trends Report team has continued to study the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s museums. To understand these impacts, we conducted multiple surveys: the first in May 2020, the second from September 24 to October 18, 2020, and a third in spring 2021. The Museums in a Pandemic series of Trends Reports illustrates the ways children’s museums have adapted to the evolving national and local situations surrounding the pandemic. For this Trends Report, we also feature a story from an ACM member outside of the US.

In the fall 2020 survey, 81 museums reported starting new collaborations or expanding existing collaborations since the beginning of the pandemic, while 15 museums reported no new or expanded collaborations. Those with collaborations started an average of two or three collaborative activities during the pandemic. This Trends Report will focus on collaborations with schools and universities. This is the third of three Trends Reports that will tell the story of how children’s museums have undertaken collaborative work during a time of crisis. These three reports are also part of Museums Mobilize, an initiative of the Association of Children’s Museums that documents COVID-specific responses and innovations by children’s museums.

ACM Trends #4.11

Figure 1. Goal of children’s museums’ collaborations with schools and universities.

We asked museums about whether they had expanded existing collaborations or initiated new collaborations with different types of organizations during the pandemic. Out of 96 museums, 55 museums (57%) reported collaborations with local K-12 schools or school districts, and universities or institutions of higher learning. We also asked participants about the goals for their expanded or new collaborations. Partnerships with schools and universities most likely focused on the goal of developing content and programs (Figure 1).

Unsurprisingly, that goal was followed by providing student support in the school year, as well as the objective of sharing resources and information. Cross-organization promotion and outreach was the next most common goal. Fundraising was the least common goal for museums in their collaborations with schools and universities.

What follows are short accounts from three children’s museums about specific collaborations they developed with schools and universities.

Celebrating Diverse Learners at The DoSeum

The DoSeum, located in San Antonio, TX, collaborated with Celebrate Dyslexia on Beautiful Minds: Dyslexia and the Creative Advantage, an exhibition initiative that celebrated different ways of learning. The collaboration was funded by Celebrate Dyslexia, the City of San Antonio Department of Arts & Culture, and the Elizabeth Huth Coates Charitable Foundation.

The museum’s presentation of the exhibition opened in October 2020 and ended in March 2021. The exhibition’s objective was to illustrate and celebrate the uniqueness of every learner, and to correct popular misconceptions about people who learn differently. It also honored and celebrated learners with diverse strengths. The exhibition offers a variety of spatial and word games, including an oversized tile spelling game, color block puzzles, and digital interactive educational games for children of all ages and their families.  The goals of the collaboration, which began before the pandemic, remained the same throughout the project. But the partners adjusted conditions for the pandemic, particularly for the interactive aspects. Specifically, the team integrated motion sensor-enabled interactivity in activities that had traditionally relied solely on touch. To promote social distancing, the museum installed sound domes that feature stories of role models with dyslexia who live in the San Antonio region.

As part of the Beautiful Minds initiative, the museum unveiled an installation by its Artist-in-Residence, called The Reading Brain. This component was designed to immerse children and their families in the inner workings of the brain during reading, through a multi-sensory, data-driven interactive. In the gallery, a sensor detected the movements of guests, and then translated that movement to changing patterns and colors in LED orbs hanging from the ceiling. The installation vividly demonstrated how the brain responds to stimuli, in a way that also enabled guests to socially distance.

The museum reported that Beautiful Minds drew a great deal of interest from educators and caregivers. Teachers visited the exhibition as part of their professional development. As part of the exhibition, Celebrate Dyslexia led a training for participants in City Year, a local service-learning organization, on the experience of dyslexic learners. Other trainees and participants included educators from Southwest Independent School District in San Antonio. For children, the exhibition provided active experiences that both recognize and celebrate neurodiversity. Commenting on the importance of supporting the different ways that people learn, leaders from the museum noted, “With advancements in the learning sciences, it is important to adapt the ways we engage children, caregivers, and educators in public, interactive experiences of STEM, literacy, numeracy, and the arts. Informal learning environments like museums have unique potentials to involve others in emerging tools and models, to inspire and inform stakeholders, and ideally build confidence and curiosity to ultimately foster positive youth development.”

Supporting Student Success at the Children’s Museum of Richmond

The Children’s Museum of Richmond, located in Richmond, VA, is collaborating with YMCA of Greater Richmond on the YMCA Success Center Enrichment Program. Funding for the partnership is provided in part by the YMCA of Greater Richmond.

The program, launched during the pandemic, provides enrichment to K-4 students participating in YMCA site support for virtual schooling. The program brings in different partners to provide virtual programming after the formal school day finishes for students attending school virtually from YMCA sites. This ensures that children are able to learn in an engaging and fun way in an out-of-school setting. From Monday through Thursday, museum educators provide various activities for two one-hour sessions each day that include movement, a mini-lesson with a literacy element, and a hands-on activity. These activities complement the learning that takes place during the school day. The museum specifically serves students in schools in the City of Richmond and Henrico County, VA. In addition, the YMCA also serves students in Goochland County, VA. Museum leadership called attention to the benefits of the program during the pandemic. Taking place in-person at the YMCA sites, children and their families had access to more interactive and responsive learning opportunities during a time when most education was provided virtually. “Our educators have learned to be nimble, adapt programming for different age groups, and respond to the changing group dynamics. This adaptive skillset is a boon as our education team learns new strategies and gains a deeper knowledge of student needs as they provide more intensive programming and revisit group sites over the school year.” Museum leaders also noted that the knowledge they have gained through this partnership will enhance their traditional program offerings.

Providing Education and Social Services to Families at Play Africa

Play Africa, a children’s museum located in Johannesburg, South Africa, is collaborating with schools and several early childhood development centers and community groups on an initiative called Heal and Connect. The program is supported by funding from the Government of Canada, through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

Working with local schools and community groups, Play Africa brings parents together through virtual support groups with professional social workers. The museum also reaches out to families with one-on-one phone calls as “Psychological First Aid,” to offer encouragement, information, and links to services in emergency settings.

Through the program, families are supported with educational resources and play-based learning materials for their children. These materials free families to focus on healing, connecting, and cultivating resilience. At the time of reporting, the museum provided resources and information to 5,520 parents and caregivers through this program.

A total of 338 parents have received direct psychological first aid from Play Africa, and 667 children have received play parcels with a range of resources. A total of 680 parents have attended at least one of 15 in-person or virtual parent support groups hosted by Play Africa.

Discussing the value of the program, museum leadership highlighted the fact that since its launch, they have expanded their programming to support 46 schools, daycare centers, nursery schools, and community groups in new areas of Johannesburg and Soweto. These services support vulnerable children and families, including children with disabilities, children who are refugees, asylum seekers or recent immigrants and their families, and children experiencing housing insecurity.

Reflecting on their service audience strategy, the museum explained, “Play helps children make sense of the world, process complicated feelings, and build relationships with others. In this program, we focused on outreach to eight organizations representing children and parents that we felt would most likely be excluded from other crises responses.” Programs led by Play Africa and other children’s museums across the world are offering critical assistance to communities that have been hard hit by the pandemic.

The Takeaway

Children’s museums’ partnerships with educational institutions are not unique to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the collaborative activities with schools that emerged in 2020 point to fresh and innovative conceptions of museums’ service to students, school communities, and the education field. As we’ve seen in this Trends Report, many of these partnerships are centered on developing new programs or rethinking projects already in place. In some of these cases, museums drew school audiences to their own facilities for learning experiences. Other institutions have gone to schools and out-of-school providers’ campuses to work with students and educators. Still others have invested in a mix of these approaches. Across all of these education support initiatives, children’s museums have proven to be adaptable and in tune with the needs of their communities. Importantly, museums have defined community broadly, with offerings designed for students, families and caretakers, and teachers. These projects have also extended to university students in training to be educators in child development. We saw an example of this in ACM Trends Report #4.8, which explored museums collaborating with social and health services.

Museum leaders should continue to ask and reflect on how they can support students, educators, and schools. What works well now will likely evolve as communities navigate the changing landscape of education models, public health protocols, and learning needs. In this context, new opportunities for partnerships may also become available.

About This Research

Some of the data used in this report came from an online survey that ACM sent to US-based children’s museums. Overall, 96 museums responded to at least part of the survey. A subset of museums that indicated they had new or expanded partnerships received an additional set of questions that asked for more information about collaborations with schools and universities that they formed or expanded during the pandemic.

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.

Museums in a Pandemic: Snapshot of Impacts in Spring 2021

This post was originally published as ACM Trends Report 4.9, the ninth report in the fourth volume of ACM Trends Reports, produced in partnership between ACM and Knology. 

The ACM Trends Report team has studied the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the children’s museum field since May 2020, conducting multiple surveys of ACM member institutions. Eighty-nine museums participated in the most recent survey that took place from April 7 to May 11, 2021. Below are several initial findings from this survey:

  • Funding – Out of 89 museums that responded to the survey, 85 applied for financial support from a federal or local government agency. Those attempts were very successful, with roughly 80% receiving funds. The median amount received from all federal, and local government sources was $394,250. Sixty museums appealed to private funders, including corporate entities, foundations, and individual donors. Fifty-nine museums succeeded with their requests. The median amount of total private funding was $105,000.
  • Financial Reserves – Seventy-three museums reported how long their unrestricted cash reserves could support the institution. The average length of time was about 10 months.
  • Opening to In-Person Visits – For the 12 months leading up to the beginning of the pandemic, museums reported an average of 326 days of being open to visitors. From March 2020 to March 2021, museums were only open an average of 113 days to visitors. Based on previous reporting, nearly all museums offered virtual programming and services. For March 2021, data from 60 museums showed that indoor capacity is 35% of typical fire code capacity. Fifty-two institutions provided monthly data on in-person attendance, showing that average attendance was 27% of pre-pandemic monthly rates.
  • Museum Workers – Sixty-six museums reported on staff reductions and reduced hours at the time of the survey. These museums estimated 47% of full-time staff have been furloughed, laid-off, or had reduced hours. Sixty-seven museums reported an estimated 76% of part-time staff have been furloughed, laid-off, or had reduced hours.

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.

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