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.

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

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:

Conducting Research-to-Practice Work During a Pandemic: Utilizing Video and Zoom to Engage Families in Tinkering-At-Home

By Natalie Bortoli, Tsivia Cohen, and Kim Koin, Chicago Children’s Museum; Catherine Haden, Loyola University Chicago; David Uttal, Northwestern University

When Chicago Children’s Museum (CCM) closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality of a prolonged closure soon hit home. Like all of our colleague museums, we needed to find a way to remain relevant to our community and carry out important aspects of our work.

One key initiative that needed to be sustained was our National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research-to-practice project: TALES (Tinkering and Learning Engineering Stories)1. A partnership between CCM, Loyola University Chicago, and Northwestern University, this project studies how narrative and storytelling during tinkering explorations impact families’ engineering learning. The project will result in empirically-based practices and resources that can be used to promote children’s learning about engineering in informal settings.

Central to our project is the exploration of different programmatic, facilitative, and environmental approaches in the museum’s Tinkering Lab. The Tinkering Lab is an open-ended workshop space where families use tools—such as drills, hammers, and saws; and materials—like wood, paper, and recyclables—to build, construct, and solve physical problems. With mounted cameras in the exhibit and microphones clipped to visitors who agree to be recorded, the researchers capture families’ actions and conversations and provide data about engagement in tinkering and engineering learning. Additionally, researchers interview families after tinkering to gain further insight into children’s learning.

The temporary closure of the museum presented a challenge to this project. How were we to continue this multi-layered research-to-practice work that depended on: 1) offering live, facilitated tinkering-based challenges, 2) conducting the work in an exhibit equipped with a variety of hands-on tools and materials, 3) observing and recording families’ actions and dialogue, and 4) listening to families’ narratives?

As the museum began to shift its overall programmatic work to virtual content, the TALES team saw an opportunity to also utilize this format to engage families in our research-to-practice work. The team embarked on developing a set of video invitations for families to engage in Tinkering-at-Home.

The Tinkering-at-Home programs, which will continue to be developed for the duration of the museum’s closure to the public, are presented by CCM’s Director of Tinkering Lab and other team members via pre-recorded videos. They are shared through social media, the museum’s website, and its YouTube channel. The videos invite families to develop creative solutions to problems using materials they have at home.

To capture and study the families’ actions, researchers make appointments with families who express interest in participating in our work to meet over Zoom. CCM works with several community partner organizations to promote the opportunity for families to participate in the research and to ensure a diverse sample. Working with one family at the time, the researcher plays the Tinkering-at-Home videofor the family, and then invites them to engage in the activity in front of the camera. Meanwhile, the researcher records the session so it can be used in subsequent analyses of families’ actions and conversations. When the family is done with the activity, the researcher asks key questions to capture the families’ narratives and to gain understanding of their process and thinking.

This method allows us continue our important research-to-practice work, while also providing ongoing ways to engage families in meaningful STEM learning at home. At the same time, the virtual research has allowed us to continue to test various prompts, questions, and methods that will inform our practices back in the Tinkering Lab once the museum is re-opened, in keeping with the original goals of the project. This will also ultimately allow us to compare Tinkering-at-Home explorations to in-person versions of the same activities in the Tinkering Lab exhibit: an added opportunity that has been made possible by the unique conditions.

A number of key findings have emerged from our transition to virtual practice, which may be useful for colleague organizations creating their own online programs or carrying out their own research projects using virtual platforms. Most significantly, we have found that transferring many of our existing best practices in facilitation and program design has been critical to our success. The following are some key tips and learnings other museums can use when creating virtual content:

  1. 1. Create an invitation: It’s important to make sure families feel welcome to participate in your virtual programming. A dynamic facilitator who is energetic, welcoming, playful, and with sense of humor can help to make the activity engaging and re-create the inviting atmosphere of your museum. Consider prompts or challenges that are timely and relevant to inspire participation. For example, in these Covid times, one of our challenges explored how to deliver an object to someone 6-feet away. See “Here To There Ramps.”
  2. 2. Communicate clearly, in multiple modes. Prioritize access and inclusion: Use written text or screen graphics to emphasize key words or concepts during your video presentation. Use captioning to make the video accessible and/or to translate the video content into other languages. For our Zoom sessions, bilingual researchers engage with families in the family’s preferred language. The TALES team has also created dual recordings of some activities, presenting an English version and a Spanish version. See “Make a Party Hat: En Español.”
  3. 3. Help families source materials and tools: Actively show the types of physical materials and tools that can be used for the challenge, just as you might have done in your museum exhibits. Focus on showing common, everyday materials that can very likely be found and collected in families’ homes. Model how one might use particular tools and materials where applicable—especially if it involves using it in a new or surprising way. See “Cardboard 101.”
  4. 4. Model a good workspace: As children’s museums, we are experts at creating environments for play and learning.Model this in your virtual space too.Present the activity from a space that is conducive to exploration. Feature a cleared tabletop or floor space with the needed tools and materials nearby. Show how existing furniture might be used to create different zones or levels, which is particularly helpful for some types of tinkering challenges. See “Domino Run.”
  5. 5. Model dialogue and inquiry: Ask questions and provide commentary about the process as you present the activity. This may prompt families to also ask their own questions and share dialogue as they tinker. Key to the TALES project is recognition of the important roles played by storytelling and reflection in learning.
  6. 6. Utilize best practices in video production: Although you don’t have to be a professional videographer to create successful virtual content, CCM’s team has documented several tips specific to the video production process that you may find helpful.

Because our research project tests the impact of different interventions and approaches, we have also tested variables in our virtual programs as follows.

  1. 1. Consider the use of examples: We have tried variations of activities that 1) show multiple examples of solutions and 2) offer no examples of solutions. We will seek to measure the impact of these differing approaches through our research. An example of a challenge with multiple sample solutions can be viewed here: “Here To There Ramps.” An example with no sample solutions can be viewed here: “Make a Party Hat!”
  2. 2. Experiment with the specificity of prompts. Different children and families may be more or less inspired by more or fewer parameters. We have tested a range of prompts. An example of a more open-ended story prompt with a more specific tinkering prompt can be viewed here: “Here To There Ramps.” An example of a more specific story prompt with an more open-ended tinkering prompt can be viewed here: “Teeny Tiny Playground Story.”

While the pandemic has placed new challenges before us and has required a different approach to engaging families in our research work, we have found that staying moored in our long-standing best practices for facilitation, program development, and research has enabled us to successfully transition our work. With this, we have been able to continue to both engage and learn from our participant families, and to collect data that will inform and strengthen our practices not only in the present, but in the post-COVID world as well.

1 This work is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. NSF #1906940 (LUC) 190196839 (CCM) 1906808 (NU).

Natalie Bortoli is Vice President of Programming & Experience Development, Tsivia Cohen is Associate Vice President of Guest Connections and Family Learning, and Kim Koin is Director of Art & Tinkering Lab Studios at Chicago Children’s Museum. Catherine Haden is Professor of Psychology at Loyola University Chicago. David Uttal is Professor of Psychology and Education at Northwestern University.

New Webinar Series Helps Museums Take Diversity and Inclusion Efforts from Intention to Action

This post was produced in collaboration with the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

Museums across the country are navigating a critical moment: the urgent need to challenge systemic racism in our communities and institutions alongside the interconnected effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic stress. To effectively respond to the public health crisis and to transform into actively antiracist organizations, museums must lead with equity-centered work.

CCLI (Cultural Competence Learning Institute) has developed a free, four-part series to provide resources and concrete steps for museums to activate diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) efforts within their institutions and in their roles as trusted community hubs. Each of the four webinars in the series will cover the process of transforming intention to action, from equity and inclusion statements and hiring practices to community engagement and supporting DEAI committees.

  • Moving from Statements to Action (July 23): An equity and inclusion statement can be a foundational element for an organization’s DEAI work. But what comes next? This session will focus on how these statements are guiding principles for action. View the recording.
  • Building and Nurturing a DEAI Committee (August 20): Establishing a DEAI committee or task force can be a critical step in prioritizing equity work. How can museums support DEAI committees to most effectively elevate equity? This session will focus on best practices to build and nurture DEAI committees. View the recording.
  • Effective and Equitable Community Engagement (October 29): As museums build partnerships throughout the communities they serve, how can they ensure community engagement that serves all? This session will focus on inclusive partnership-building, outreach, and engagement practices. View the recording.
  • Restructuring with Equity in Mind (January 14, 2021 @ 3pm EDT): As museums navigate the enduring impacts of Covid-19 on staff teams, how can they restructure team roles, emphasizing skills, experience and initiative? This session will focus on the intersection of equity, HR practice and organizational change. View the recording.

Each 60-minute webinar will feature speakers from across the museum community, a short presentation of data from CCLI’s forthcoming National Landscape Study, and Q&A session for participants to share their challenges and experiences.

Participants are welcome to join individually, or with a team of colleagues. Each webinar will offer a deep dive into the topic to deliver concrete, actionable steps and resources toward organizational development. Register for one webinar or the whole series!

CCLI (Cultural Competence Learning Institute) is a partnership among Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Science and Technology Centers, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the Garibay Group. CCLI helps museum leaders catalyze diversity and inclusion efforts in their institutions.

How Museums Are Helping Keep Essential Workers Safe

This post was produced in collaboration with the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

Children’s museums and science centers have overwhelmingly closed in response to COVID-19. While museums can no longer welcome visitors, they are leveraging their facilities, knowledge, and community connections to remain responsive to their communities.

Throughout this crisis, limited supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers has been an ongoing concern. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) and Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) members embark on projects to help bolster PPE and face mask supplies.

3D printers can be found in many museum makerspaces—or behind the scenes, where designers use them to fabricate exhibits. In recent weeks, many museums are using this technology to create PPE! Museums are working in collaboration with their local partners, ensuring that what they produce meets local needs and standards of use:

Arizona Science Center (Phoenix) is part of a local effort to use 3D printers to produce face shields for medical workers at Banner Health.

DISCOVERY Children’s Museum (Las Vegas, NV) is using their 3D printers to make medical-grade headpieces for local healthcare professionals. Using both of the museum’s devices, they’re creating 25 face shields each day!

The Field Museum (Chicago, IL) is using their three 3D printers to make National Institutes of Health-approved face shields for Meals on Wheels volunteers and Northwestern Hospital. The museum is also donating unopened lab supplies to health organizations in need.

The Idaho Museum of Natural History (Pocatello) is working with Idaho State University to 3D print three different medical products: the “Montana Mask,” face straps, and face shields.

LaunchPAD Children’s Museum (Sioux City, IA) is 3D printing ear savers and face shield frames for hospital personnel on the frontlines. To get started, they collaborated with a technology company along with other local organizations.

MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation (Santa Barbara, CA) is 3D printing PPE for local healthcare workers in their Innovation Workshop, in collaboration with Santa Barbara Foundation, University of California Santa Barbara, Cottage Health, and local makers. The museum uses the 3D modeling program TinkerCad to create simple designs, and encourages families to explore possibilities, shapes, and variables with this free tool.

The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) (Tampa, FL) responded to a call from the Moffitt Cancer Center seeking masks and has been using their 3D printers to make face shields for frontline staff.

Science North (Ontario, Canada) set up 3D printers in a staff member’s home, so they can work around the clock to make face masks for their local hospital.

The Science Spectrum and Omni Theater (Lubbock, TX) is 3D printing face shield headbands for West Texas hospitals and emergency units. The museum’s FabLab team got started after responding to a call from Texas Tech University and Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.

The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (IL) is using twenty of their 3D printers to make face shields and masks for local hospitals. As of April 15, they had created 250 frames and 40 masks!

Western Science Center (Hemet, CA) is 3D printing face mask clips for their local hospital. The museum’s four 3D printers can print thirteen clips at a time, with each set taking five hours to complete.

Museums are also leveraging their roles as knowledge-sharers and conveners to assist medical professionals and help the public maintain their personal safety:

Arizona Science Center (Phoenix) shared tips for how those at home can make face masks for personal use.

The Children’s Museum of the Arts (New York, NY) posted a blog sharing instructions on how to create personal fabric face masks using simple sewing skills.

KidZone Museum (Truckee, CA) launched That’s Sew Tahoe, a mask-making project for local hospitals. Under guidance from their community partners, the museum is coordinating with local sewers and makers to collect cloth masks. While not as effective as medical-grade masks, cloth masks allow hospitals to preserve essential PPE for high-risk situations.

Even with their doors closed, museums are working to serve their communities. For more information about what museums are doing in this time, check out ACM’s recent blog post Conversations with Children’s Museums Leaders around COVID-19, our list of Children’s Museum Virtual Activities, and ASTC’s blog and COVID-19 resource section

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) works toward its vision of increased understanding of—and engagement with—science and technology among all people. Follow ASTC on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Image by MOXI The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation.

Five Ways Children’s Museums Can Participate in Endangered Species Day

By David Robinson

The fifteenth annual Endangered Species Day on May 15, 2020 provides children’s museums with an opportunity to highlight their educational/other programs while also recognizing this nationwide celebration.

First approved by the U.S. Senate in 2006, the purpose of Endangered Species Day is to expand awareness of the importance of endangered species/habitat conservation and to share success stories of species recovery. Every year, Endangered Species Day events are held at museums, schools, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, conservation groups, parks, wildlife refuges and other locations throughout the country.

Event/Activity Ideas

Here are a few ideas for Endangered Species Day activities:

  • Create an endangered plant/animal species display, with a series of Endangered Species Infographics (see Resources below), books, photos and a map that identifies local/state species.
  • Develop a self-guided tour (with basic map/flier) of all museum exhibits relating to threatened/endangered species and local habitats.
  • Invite a biologist, Audubon Society or Sierra Club chapter representative, or other expert to make a presentation on the importance of endangered species/habitat protection, success stories of species recovery and actions young people can take.
  • Organize activities such as a coloring table, and a scavenger hunt with participants visiting several stations to collect an item (bookmark, sticker) and learn more about a specific plant or animal species.
  • Hold a story hour, reading excerpts from one of the Endangered Species Reading List/other books.

Activities can be held on May 15, that weekend, or earlier in the month.


To help you plan for an event, the Endangered Species Day website features a variety of resources, including:

  • Information for planning your event.
  • A series of three infographics, outlining endangered species definitions, causes, the Endangered Species Act, success stories of species recovery, and things young people and adults can do to help protect endangered species. These can be downloaded and printed to create an Endangered Species Day display.
  • An Endangered Species Reading List that can be distributed to your visitors.
  • Color/activity sheets, masks, bookmarks, a passport (ideal for use in scavenger hunt), stickers, and other material that can be downloaded and printed.


In addition to your own promotion in local media outlets, we can help promote your activity on the Endangered Species Day Event Directory. People in your community will visit the website directory to find a nearby event. Register it yourself or send the information to David Robinson, Endangered Species Day Director:

Supporting Organizations

A project of the Endangered Species Coalition, Endangered Species Day is also supported by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with numerous education and conservation organizations, including the American Library Association, North American Association for Environmental Education, National Association of Biology Teachers, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, National Audubon Society, Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Jane Goodall Institute,  National Garden Clubs, Sierra Club, the National Science Teachers Association,  San Diego Zoo, Earth Day Network, National Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife.

David Robinson is Endangered Species Day Director at Endangered Species Coalition. Learn more at

Children’s Museums and Nutrition

Each year, UNICEF releases a report on the State of the World’s Children, and this year, its focus was The Changing Face of Malnutrition. This report highlights the global challenges of undernutrition, hidden hunger, and overweight—challenges recognized by our field, as seen in ACM’s Good to Grow! initiative and our 2010 publication, Healthy Kids, Healthy Museums.

In the nine years since ACM published Healthy Kids, Healthy Museums, the children’s museum field has only grown its role of using play to promote healthy communities around the world. On November 20, World Children’s Day, we’re taking a look at how children’s museums address the issue of healthy nutrition through programming and exhibits. From teaching gardens to grocery store exhibits to partnerships with local universities, the examples below offer just a few highlights of how children’s museums support healthy habits in joyful ways.


Omaha Children’s Museum (NE)’s Kitchen ABCs program teaches young children how to prepare recipes using healthy ingredients. Education staff use recipes that introduce children to ingredients they might not have tried yet, like sunflower butter, spinach, and zucchini. Kids get to pick out their aprons, decorate their own chef’s hat, and use real (kid-sized and kid-friendly) kitchen tools.

An upcoming exhibit at the Children’s Museum of the Arts (New York, NY) called Love Crickets, Save the Planet will foster a new understanding of how our food factors into a larger system. Artists Jude Tallichet and Adam Chad Brody were guided by the belief that it’s vital to expose young people to the idea that bugs are not pests—rather, they are an essential part of our ecosystem and food systems.  

In the summer months, Above & Beyond Children’s Museum (Sheboygan, WI) offers the Eat, Play, Grow program in its garden space every Wednesday, coinciding with the local farmers market one block away. Inside the museum, the permanent Festival Foods Fresh Market exhibit features food toys that align with real foods found at the farmers market.

Good Food for You, a new school outreach program offered by The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum (MO), promotes healthy decision-making through four portable interactive environments: a grocery store, farmers market, restaurant and home kitchen. The program aligns with school health and wellness policies and meets state guidelines for nutrition education grade-level expectations.

The Balanced Diet exhibit at the Museum of Discovery (Little Rock, AR) features a variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, candy, fried foods, etc. as weighted blocks. Guests choose the blocks of their choice and place them on a seesaw scale with the goal of balancing it—demonstrating how we need more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than we do sugary or high fat foods.

In the new Let’s Get Cooking Lab at the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire (WI), kids and their grownups cook real food, using real cooking tools, and prepare it in a real test kitchen. This space is phase one of the museum’s new Eat! Move! Live! exhibit. Phases two and three include the forthcoming Rocket Park and Shape Up fitness trail.

As part of the Kroger Zero Hunger Zero Waste movement, Imagine Children’s Museum (Everett, WA) highlights ways to avoid food waste during events on Earth Day and World Food Day. Activities include dehydrating, canning, re-rooting vegetables, and using refrigerator leftovers to make a “scrap” soup. The museum aims to make its nutrition programs and events fun and engaging, so that families don’t feel they are being judged—instead sending them away with something to think about that may encourage them to change just one thing.

Children’s Museum of Atlanta (GA) offers the Eat a Georgia Rainbow program every Sunday. Visitors join the museum’s Imaginators in a scavenger hunt plus a cold cooking activity, featuring fruits and vegetables that can be harvested in Georgia throughout the year.

At The Teaching Kitchen at the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus (CO), in-house chefs inspire guests to think differently about food, combining fresh, nutritious ingredients and kid-friendly recipes and tools. Cooking class participants experience an array of recipes centered on a monthly theme, including pear slaw, peach pie pancakes, fall spiced hummus, and strawberry bruschetta.

On the first Friday of every month, San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum (CA) partners with Jimbo’s Naturally Escondido for a hands-on activity introducing children and their families to healthy eating. Each event features a child-friendly recipe with local, seasonal ingredients.

Cincinnati Museum Center (OH) is collaborating with Kent State University and LaSoupe (a local food rescue) on Food for Thought, a three-year National Science Foundation-funded project to use cooking to help families engage their children in conversations about science. The project will focus on serving those living with food insecurity.

Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum (Salt Lake City, UT) provides educational programming around gardening and growing food. The museum aims to help children and their caretakers learn more about the importance of healthy fruits and vegetables, and to grow their own when possible.

The Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast (Jensen Beach, FL) recently offered its Germs, Germs, Germs outreach program free of charge to all Headstart and Voluntary PreKindergarten classes in its school district. Preschoolers especially love seeing “germs” glow on their hands. Teachers have reported back that, after participating, students pay more attention to washing their hands.

Lynn Meadows Discovery Center (Gulfport, MS) offers monthly programs developed especially for Girl Scouts. Its January program will be a badge workshop focused on nutrition and fitness for Brownie, Juniors, and Cadette Girl Scouts.

The DoSeum (San Antonio, TX)’s onsite preschool, The Littler Doer, teaches preschoolers how to make healthy choices, with a focus on why we want to take care of our bodies and the environment. Learning stays fun and STEAM-oriented with hands-on projects such as taste testing and painting with veggies.

The Learning Garden at The Children’s Museum of Memphis (TN) changes with the season, providing the museum with a fun variety of programming throughout the year. Garden demonstrations include pickling, making organic pesticides from marigolds, composting, and more.

Good nutrition, healthy portions, and natural food elements run through three exhibits at Exploration Place (Wichita, KS): Kansas Kids Connect (focused on farm-to-table concepts), Where Kids Rule (a three-story castle with a Produce Department and Seafood Department), and Explore Kansas (which introduces visitors to food production).

At Virginia Discovery Museum (Charlottesville), children tend to crops in the Discovery Farm exhibit, then share what they have prepared with caregivers in Little C’ville Panera Café. By working in tandem, these two exhibits allow children from diverse backgrounds to learn the value of healthy food choices.

COSI (Columbus, OH) supports healthy nutrition learning through the annual COSI Science Festival, which includes hands-on partner events such as “STEM on the Urban Farm,” “Science in the Kitchen,” and “Be a Gardener.”

One of the museum staff’s favorite moments this year at Kansas Children’s Discovery Center (Topeka) was when children independently harvested vegetables from the outdoor garden and brought them into the museum’s grocery store exhibit. All by themselves, children created connections between how food is grown and consumed!

Port Discovery Children’s Museum (Baltimore, MD) offers the Healthy Habits afterschool program in partnership with the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Over five weeks, students explore healthy eating, activities, and topics through interactive lessons and guided play.

The Kids Can Cook! summer camp at Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum (MI) teaches children ages five to ten how to safely prepare a healthy breakfast, snack, and lunch on their own, while learning about healthy alternatives and balanced plates.

Imagine Nation, A Museum Early Learning Center (Bristol, CT) believes the full experience of food and its preparation is key to developing healthy mindful children (as part of the museum’s Reggio Emilia approach). Each year, children in the museum’s early learning school prepare side dishes for the museum’s annual Day of Thanks luncheon around Thanksgiving.

Southern California Children’s Museum (Pasadena) hosts Fun Foodie Fridays, a weekly food and nutrition class that teaches children how to make nutritious snacks, using many ingredients from SCCM’s small onsite garden. Kids love making and eating the snacks, and grownups love that they learn about nutrition along the way! SCCM also partners with its local Whole Foods to educate families about healthy eating.

During one recent program in the Learning Garden at London Children’s Museum (Ontario, Canada), visitors harvested fresh herbs to make pesto. One child was hesitant to taste pesto at first, but was extremely engaged in the process of making it. Once his own batch was ready, he was more than happy to try it. By giving children control and ownership over the food being prepared, they often become more motivated and excited to eat it.

In Aunt Sugar’s Farm at Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum (Saginaw), visitors can pick fruits and veggies and “cook” them in the kitchen. The gallery lets children discover the farm-to-table pathway as they use their imaginations to role-play as farmers, chefs, and anything in-between.

The Children’s Museum of South Dakota (Brookings) is launching a year-round farm-to-table experience in collaboration with Missouri River Energy Services, the Electric Power Research Institute, and South Dakota State University (SDSU). The project features a high-tech “farm-in-a-box” inside a 40-foot container, where produce will grow vertically without soil. SDSU graduate students will harvest the produce, which will be used in the museum’s café as well as distributed to local organizations working to reduce food insecurity.

ImagineU Children’s Museum (Visalia, CA) is located in California’s Central Valley, a known agriculture community. The farmer’s market, orchard, cattle, and dairy exhibits help educate kids on the food process from start to finish, through play. The museum also hosts different nonprofits that bring a hands-on gardening experience into the museum.

As part of its early childhood programming, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (PA) offers two regular programs focusing on nutrition and wellness: Wellness Wednesdays (a monthly program in partnership with WIC) and Young Sprouts (a weekly garden program). The museum has also partnered with a local after-school program to offer weekly cooking programming for middle school girls. (Photo Credit: Megan McGinley)

EcoTarium (Worcester, MA) incorporates nutrition-focused efforts into its Countdown to Kindergarten partnership with the Worcester Public School District, such as teaching preschoolers how to pack healthy snacks and navigate the school cafeteria. The museum works with the school district nursing team, as well as several dental groups, to teach kids about the importance of eating healthy foods and brushing their teeth. 

DISCOVERY Children’s Museum (Las Vegas, NV) offers the kindergarten program Let’s Eat! Food and Nutrition. Lessons include how the digestive system works and how to use the USDA’s nutrition guide, MyPlate.

In partnership with The Creative Kitchen and Bean Sprouts, Kidspace Children’s Museum (Pasadena, CA) hosted the first-ever Kids Food Festival on the West Coast in August! This interactive weekend included hands-on cooking classes and exhibitors of all-natural products. Kidspace wanted to be a resource for families looking for opportunities to figure out how to balance their busy family lives with school, exercise, eating their greens, and finding time to play.

Louisiana Children’s Museum (New Orleans) is developing camps and programs themed around food to complement permanent exhibits such as Follow That Food. This December, LCM’s second “Community” camp will explore the question: “How do we grow, prepare, and share food in a community?”

Says Sierra Torres from Louisiana Children’s Museum, “Children are natural explorers and have an innate curiosity for the world around them. It is our job in the museum to answer these questions and help children connect the dots so that they can have a more holistic view of the food system and therefore, can make informed decisions about what they are putting in their bodies.”

These principles are put in action throughout the children’s museum field—where healthy nutrition is learned through play.  

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

Be Inclusive, Be Included: Participate in the National Landscape Study on DEAI Practices in Museums

By Jenni Martin

Children’s museums, because of our unique focus on audience rather than content, are often at the forefront of innovative museum practice around diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI). Our roots are deeply embedded in our communities, and our institutional goals focus on reflecting those communities in exhibits, programs, events and audience. As a field, children’s museums are often more willing than other museums to try new approaches for ensuring we are serving the unique needs of our individual communities. 

With the understanding that it’s never been more important to understand DEAI practices in the museums, CCLI is launching a groundbreaking, industry-wide study this September focused solely on these practices in museums: The National Landscape Study: DEAI Practices in Museums.

Through a carefully vetted survey instrument, this study will:

  • document how organizations prioritize strategies and tactics,
  • highlight the structures presentto sustain these efforts,
  • analyze the levels of leadership involvement, and
  • explore where there are challenges and gaps.

The survey will engage museums of every discipline, size, and region, to paint a picture of the entire museum sector—making it important for as many museums as possible to participate. We know that the children’s museums  excel in reaching diverse audiences in creative and successful ways. However, we have not always focused on documenting these innovative practices. This survey is our opportunity as a field to have our voices heard and our strategies documented in the greater museum field.

A report of the findings will be released in the spring of 2020. The results will benefit museum leaders with important insights into where their organization is relative to the field, relevant data for decision-making and strategic planning, and information that will support staff development.


The survey is sponsored by CCLI (Cultural Competence Learning Institute), a process and set of resources designed to help museums increase their organizational capacity around diversity, inclusion, and culture. CCLI is a partnership between ACM, Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Science-Technology Centers, and Garibay Group. As a yearlong professional development institute, CCLI helps museum leaders catalyze diversity and inclusion efforts in their institutions. Recently awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, CCLI has expanded its focus and invested in long-term sustainability to develop, track, promote, and recognize DEAI efforts within individual institutions andthe field at large. The upcoming survey is one component of CCLI’s National Leadership Grant. 

Said Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director of The Wild Center in upstate New York, about her museum’s participation in CCLI’s yearlong institute: “The CCLI program supported our efforts to construct a series of professional development activities to fundamentally change how we approach diversity broadly and the tools to move staff through an effective learning process. Our efforts were just the beginning of an organization-wide shift that continues today.“   

CCLI has already reached more than twenty-five museums, including children’s museums, science centers, nature centers, zoos and aquariums, and natural history museums, and seventy-five individual participants. Applications for CCLI’s next cohort will be accepted until November 19, 2019. Find more information here:

The National Landscape Study: DEAI Practices in Museums is launching today, Thursday, September 5. Primary contacts at ACM member museums (typically the museum’s CEO or Executive Director) will have received an email from Garibay Group with a unique survey link. Different people at your organization will likely contribute to completing the survey, so, in addition to the Survey Monkey format, a printable Google format will also be included. 

It is so critical that children’s museums of every size and region be represented. The more diverse the input, the more useful the results will be for the field and for your organization. Look for this email (or ask your CEO about it) to ensure your organization’s data is included.

Jenni Martin is CCLI Project Director and Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose.

Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

By Amelia Chapman

This summer’s 50th anniversary of humans first setting foot on the Moon is a celebration of exploration, teamwork, innovation, imagination, STEM, and discovery—topics embraced by children’s museums every day. Use NASA’s free resources to join in the anniversary excitement and build awareness of your year-round opportunities!

Be Mission Control

Establish your museum as a place the community can gather to celebrate the anniversary, and learn for the future. Invite local media to do their anniversary stories from your galleries or events, offer to do on-air science demos like making craters, and share experiments people can try at home. Be sure to submit your events to NASA’s anniversary map and calendar!

Looking for some easy ways to add “space” to your galleries? Hang up NASA posters; set a screen to show beautiful ViewSpace interactives and videos; turn your maker space into a rover design center; create a scale model of our Solar System; or put a 3D printer to work. You can also use an empty wall to display adults’ memories of the Moon landing and kids’ visions for future exploration—and let them know about this art contest (to enter, register by June 1 and submit artwork by June 15)!

Engage the Whole Crew

Team up with a local history department to host an oral history day where kids interview relatives about their Moon landing memories. Involve the whole community and create a time capsule to open fifty years in the future. Use the Night Sky Network to connect with local astronomy clubs that can bring telescopes, hands-on demos and enthusiastic astronomers to your site. Invite a Solar System Ambassador to share the latest science and discoveries of NASA’s missions.

Celebrate teamwork with all-ages activities like this Trip to Mars game that gives everyone a job to do. Challenge your summer campers to build a space colony or put on a Space School Musical. Point families to NASA Space Place, a great place for them to keep learning together.

Launch a Celebration

Have a Moon-filled day of fun! Hide and Seek Moon is great for young learners; after learning about why the Moon seems to change shape, families can work together to make a Moon phases calendar and calculator. Check out this list of more lunar fun from STAR_Net and pre-k astronomy activities from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Plan ahead for next time and learn how to borrow actual lunar and meteorite samples from NASA for hands-on teaching.

Saturday, July 20 is the day of the landing, but that’s not the only event or day to celebrate! On July 16, be part of the Global Rocket Launch Challenge with rocket activities for all ages. Or, celebrate the crew’s safe return to our home planet on July 24 with activities such as making observations that help scientists study the Earth.

Use the Momentum!

The Apollo anniversaries aren’t just a chance to look back. NASA’s upcoming Moon to Mars program will have humans returning to the Moon as a gateway forward to Mars. Celebrate the Red Planet by printing out some coloring sheets and panoramic images, or screening these fun Mars in a Minute videos.

Make plans for October’s International Observe the Moon Night and April 22, 2020 – the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! After all, it’s  no mere coincidence Earth Day began during the Apollo missions—they let us see our home planet in a new way. Print out some Apollo-Earth Day posters here.

Finally, become part of NASA’s Museum Alliance, a community of practice providing professional development and NASA resources to informal educators who want to use the excitement of space exploration and scientific discovery to inspire new generations.

Amelia Chapman is an education program specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Photo via NASA Langley.

Museum Schools: Laboratories for Playful Learning

The following post appears in the January 2019 issue of Hand to Hand, ACM’s quarterly journal. 

By Ruth G. Shelly

Museums that run preschools or elementary schools often have more than just physical walls separating these operations. Museums and schools have vastly different schedules, revenue streams, licensing requirements, and staffing issues. Often the school is seen as a “program of” the umbrella museum operation. But what if the organization’s learning approach were the umbrella—and the museum, school, and professional development initiatives were all considered laboratories for developing and disseminating that learning approach? Portland Children’s Museum is moving in that direction.

For children’s museums considering a preschool and/or elementary school, here are some of our lessons learned.

Be clear on your intent

Portland Children’s Museum was founded in 1946 as a program of Portland Parks and Recreation. Its first home was an 1861 mansion, followed by a 1918 nurses’ dormitory, which the museum quickly outgrew. In 2001, Rotary Club of Portland raised $10 million to move the museum to the former home of Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, a mid-century brick building left empty when OMSI relocated to a much larger facility.

Although the old science center was far from glamorous, the children’s museum felt it had landed in paradise—with far more room, generous parking, and the verdant surroundings of Washington Park. The museum separated from Portland Parks and became its own private nonprofit. Parks remained the museum’s landlord as owner of the building—offering a generous thirty-year lease for $10, baseline utilities, and modest capital repairs.

In the same period as the museum’s 2001 move, two other events converged: Oregon passed legislation allowing the formation of charter schools, and educator Judy Graves returned from a trip to the preschools of Reggio Emilia in Italy, determined to start her own school inspired by the Reggio approach. All she needed was space, of which the children’s museum suddenly had an abundance. Judy and museum director Verne Stanford collaborated to co-locate the children’s museum and new charter school, both based on playful learning. Opal School opened its doors to its first class of students in September 2001 as a museum program.

Thus Portland Children’s Museum and Opal School “fell into place” under the unexpected constellation of real estate, Oregon law, and an inspiring trip to Italy. This fortunate coincidence sparked the children’s museum/school relationship that has evolved, somewhat through trial and error, over the past seventeen years. We now run a tuition-based, private beginning school for thirty-seven preschoolers, and a public charter elementary school for eighty-eight students grades K-5. We have recently seen our inaugural students graduate from college.

A children’s museum considering a school today has the benefit of learning from the experience of organizations like Portland Children’s Museum and Opal School. Is the intent of a new school mission-driven, or is it the prospect of an additional revenue stream? If the latter, think carefully, because there may be bumps in the road ahead.

Be aware of cultural and operational differences

While on the surface, a children’s museum and preschool or elementary school seem like a natural fit, there are significant cultural and operational differences that can be mitigated with careful planning. Advance agreements can help alleviate tension later on. Consider:

  • Security: While museums certainly need to be security conscious, it’s not easy to run a public school in a public place. Stakes are high when adults (often not the same ones every day) drop off and pick up students, sometimes using the same entrance and hallways as the general public.
  • Schedules: Museums tend to be year-round attractions open six to seven days/week. Schools generally run on an academic year, and school days are shorter than museum days. In-house custodial and maintenance staff need to be able to flow with the varying workload, or outsource services to accommodate demand.
  • Space: Museum galleries are noisy. On school days, the classrooms require concentration and a buffer—including from sounds of children playing on the floor above! Over the course of the year, empty classrooms are tempting real estate for summer camps, but classrooms require maintenance, and teachers need to return to their workspace before camp sessions are over.
  • Staffing. Museum staff work year-round and are busiest on holidays, while teachers get summers and holidays off. Museum and teacher salaries may be set to different market benchmarks. Retirement plans are different for a private nonprofit vs. public school. In addition, working in different parts of the facility means that maintaining overall staff unity can be a challenge.
  • Sources. Budgeting can be complex, as sources of revenue for the school (tuition, tax support per student) are different from traditional museum revenue streams. If there are shared services for administration, fundraising, and custodial/maintenance, everyone needs to agree on how much each entity contributes toward those expenses. Fundraising can be complicated if donors want to give to just the museum or just the school.

Engage the students as collaborators.

The above list gives pause, and it should. However, the partnership of students learning in a museum environment, and contributing back to improve that environment, is a great return on investment.

At Portland Children’s Museum, students in Opal School have become active collaborators. We find no better place to engage children’s creativity and spread their ideas than in our museum exhibits. After all, the most effective children’s exhibits are informed by children themselves. Our exhibit designers work with classroom teachers so that concept exploration becomes a class project incorporated into the curriculum.

For example, in creating The Market, our students dreamed of illustrating the relationship between land and food. The result includes a grape arbor, apple tree, beehive, and chicken coop, which students drew out as a full-size floor plan in our exhibits staging area.

To develop our forthcoming water exhibit, Drip City, we collaborated with Opal School students as well as museum visitors, students at the nearby Native Montessori Preschool at the Faubion School Early Learning Center, and other diverse community members. Opal School students explored the concept of watershed, took a field trip to the source of Portland’s water, and diagrammed their understanding in drawings that will become part of the final exhibit.

While Opal students do not regularly visit the museum every school day, many of them stay after school to play. Each student’s family can sign up for a play pass, free with enrollment, that allows them to play after school with their caregiver as long as they want, and to come on weekends and holidays free.

Unify under your philosophy as well as your roof.

Portland Children’s Museum and Opal School’s relationship began as convenient co-location, supported by a common commitment to learning through play. Over time, it has matured into a unified learning philosophy called Playful Inquiry, based on five principles:

  • Explore playfully
  • Inspire curiosity
  • Share stories
  • Seek connections
  • Nurture empathy

We now consider the museum, Opal School, and our professional development offerings as laboratories for developing and disseminating this learning approach. We employ Playful Inquiry for informal learning with families in the museum, formal learning with students in the school, and professional learning with adult audiences through consultation, workshops, retreats, and symposiums. Topics offered to adult audiences include Equity and Access through Story, Supporting Social and Emotional Intelligence, and Constructing Collaborative and Courageous Learning Communities (For a complete list of offerings, see here.) In the process, literal and figurative walls are becoming more porous. In contrast to seeing ourselves as united under one physical roof, we see ourselves united in practicing and experimenting with the same learning approach, just in different settings with different audiences.

To be sure, it’s a work in progress. Even after seventeen years, or perhaps because of that long history, there are ongoing challenges to resolve. For example, as the organization grows and space becomes more precious, which program (museum, school, or professional development) takes priority? However, whether staff members work in the museum, the school, professional development, or core mission support, we remember we all use the same learning approach to work with each other. By nurturing empathy for different perspectives, seeking connections in our work, sharing stories of success and failure, remaining curious about potential solutions, and exploring playfully together, we employ our learning approach to blur the boundaries between museum and school, which are united in a singular mission:

To develop innovative problem-solvers through playful learning experiences that strengthen relationships between children and their world.

Ruth Shelly has served as the executive director of Portland Children’s Museum and its associated Opal School and Museum Center for Learning in Portland, Oregon, since 2013. Prior to this Shelly was the executive director of the Madison Children’s Museum in Wisconsin.

To read other articles in the “Museum Schools + Preschools” issue of Hand to Handsubscribe todayACM members also receive both digital and printed complimentary copies of Hand to Hand. ACM members can access their copies through the Online Member Resource Library–contact to gain access. 

Celebrating Endangered Species Day at Children’s Museums

By David Robinson

Exhibit and education coordinators and other children’s museum staff often face a challenging assignment: creating an exhibit or activity that captures the interest of young people and offers a positive learning experience.

The 14th annual Endangered Species Day on May 17, 2019 provides children’s museums with an opportunity to highlight their educational programs and overall mission while also recognizing this nationwide celebration.

First approved by the U.S. Senate in 2006, the purpose of Endangered Species Day is to expand awareness about endangered species and habitat conservation and to share success stories of species recovery. Every year, museums, schools, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, conservation groups, parks, wildlife refuges and other locations hold Endangered Species Day events throughout the country.

There are several ways that children’s museums can observe Endangered Species Day on May 17 or another convenient time in May:

Prepare an exhibit. You could modify an existing display or organize a new one. This can feature dioramas, animal replicas, photos and artwork of endangered species and local habitats, books and other material as part of a temporary exhibit. The Endangered Species Day website includes a variety of resources, including a series of infographics that you can easily adapt to meet space limitations and other requirements. Even those museums that already have a full schedule of exhibits and other programs should be able to add a day or weeklong activity.

Invite a speaker. You can also invite a local expert from the Audubon Society or other group to speak about the actions people can take to help protect endangered animals and plants.

Offer specific children’s activities. Popular examples include a reading hour, an art table, bat box building, and milkweed seed bomb making (for monarch butterfly gardens). You can also invite people to take an animal tracking quiz—you can find one for your state by contacting the Department of Fish & Game or Department of Natural Resources (like these examples from Maine and Minnesota).

Engage your visitors. Encourage children (and adults) to express themselves about endangered species, their favorite animals, and what people can do to help. They can add their comments to a poster board or table journal. This may be the first time that many young people have talked about endangered species. Of course, it’s essential to highlight the positive, so be sure to emphasize the success stories of species recovery and that individuals can and do make a difference in protecting imperiled species.

Expand promotion. In addition to regular museum member outreach, share details of your exhibit/activity on the Endangered Species Day event directory or send the details to me (

The Endangered Species Day website ( features a variety of resources, including event planning information; a reading list; a series of infographics about endangered species conservation, actions people can take, and the Endangered Species Act; and color/activity sheets, masks, bookmarks, stickers and other material. Many of these can be downloaded and printed for use at your activity.

David Robinson is Endangered Species Day Director at Endangered Species Coalition. Learn more at

Defining Play: Practical Applications

Led by the Association of Children’s Museums and the University of Washington’s Museology Graduate Program, the Children’s Museum Research Network (CMRN) formed in 2015 with funding from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. For the past year, CMRN has contributed an article to each issue of Hand to Hand to disseminate their findings with the field. The following article was shared in the Summer/Fall 2017 issue, “History & Culture Summit.” Stay tuned to the blog for more articles from CMRN! 

By Kari Ross Nelson and Alix Tonsgard

In the previous issue of Hand to Hand, Suzy Letourneau and Nicole Rivera described the Children’s Museum Research Network’s (CMRN) study of how children’s museums conceptualize play and its role in their missions. This study showed that while children’s museums strongly value play as important to their missions and as a mechanism for learning, few defined play or how it leads to learning in a formal way within their institutions. Sharing these findings at InterActivity 2017 in Pasadena, California, sparked discussion about defining play and how a definition might impact our work.

The purpose of this article is to explore the practical application of a clearly-stated and understood definition of play. To this end, we spoke with staff from two children’s museums that have their own definitions of play to see how this plays out on a day-to-day, practical level: Barbara Hahn, vice president of development at Minnesota Children’s Museum (MCM), and Jessica Neuwirth, exhibit developer at Providence Children’s Museum.

Both Minnesota Children’s Museum and Providence Children’s Museum built their definitions from studying the research on play. Importantly, each museums qualifies its definition of play with specific adjectives that distinguish it from other types of play, place it in a position of respect, and convey the importance of play as related to learning. Providence specifies “free play”; MCM calls it “powerful play.”

As Hahn says, “You can ‘play’ soccer or you can ‘play’ a video game—both are very achievement-oriented. Our term, ‘powerful play,’ refers to play that is captivating and fun, active and challenging, and self-directed and open-ended. In action, that means children are having a good time, showing interest, moving and thinking, and exploring freely—choosing what they want to do and how to do it. Crafting this definition was a necessary exercise to get clear on what we’re all about, what we’re proposing, and how it’s valuable to children.”

That clarity works on multiple levels for the museums, both internally and externally. Within the museums, the definitions of play provide filters and focus—criteria against which they can evaluate everything they do. Their definitions of play are front and center in the design of museum experiences. For example, Providence’s “free play” definition describes play as freely-chosen, personally-directed, intrinsically-motivated, and involving active engagement. Neuwirth compares program and exhibit design concepts against these standards throughout the exhibit or program development process. Can a child immediately figure out what an exhibit is about and jump into it without adult intervention and without signage? Is the play personally directed? Is the child actively engaged, or is an educator teaching something while the child sits and passively receives information? Realistically, not every component will meet every criterion for every child, but across the museum, they can all be experienced.

A well-articulated definition of play also helps communicate the institution’s deeply held values to new staff. “When we have interdepartmental meetings about developing new programs, new exhibits, or other integrated projects, the definition is central to talking about what these new initiatives will look like,” says Neuwirth. “This helps to get everyone on the same page.”

Neuwirth points out that with small budgets and limited resources, practitioners need to be able to direct themselves and their museum in the most effective way and use what they have well. “Our definition (of play) deploys our resources well, all in the name of a big idea.”

Because Providence’s definition of play centers the child as director of their own play, self-motivated and active as well, Neuwirth believes that “our exhibits are designed to have multiple entry-points, many ways to proceed with playing, and no set outcome. This allows all users to follow their own interests, work at levels that feel appropriate to them, and define their own outcomes. Our exhibits tend to be more process-oriented, and less about teaching specific content.”

Definitions of play further serve an important role in communicating outside the museums. Not everyone understands or shares the passion for the power of play. MCM describes what goes on in their museum as “Powerful Play.” According to Hahn, the use of the word “powerful” serves to “call attention to play and gives it the respect it deserves and doesn’t always get.” Not only is this an important distinction to communicate to funders and media, but also caregivers. By placing special emphasis on communicating their definition of play with parenting adults, MCM shares tools and language for thinking about the different types and values of play.

Both Hahn and Neuwirth see benefits to an institution-specific definition of play, without feeling that a definition limits what they do. “When we’re designing exhibits or programs, as museum staff, we want to be able to speak from one place,” says Neuwirth, “and that’s what this definition is about. We’re not telling people what they have to believe, we’re saying this is what we do here and what why we do it.”

A field-wide, shared definition of play may not be reasonable, considering the variety of community-specific children’s museums responding to different audiences and needs. Some worry that a definition of play could stifle creativity, which is contrary to the essence of play. In some circles, the word “play” itself implies the trivial, unimportant, or superficial, and is avoided. Nevertheless, the two museums mentioned here demonstrate that having a clear definition of play, on an institutional level, can strengthen a museum’s work and facilitate communication around play to stakeholders. In turn, as more children’s museums establish clear definitions, their work can contribute to the broader, field-wide understanding of play as it relates to learning in all children’s museums.

DuPage Digs Deeper
An agreed-upon definition of play may also carry an impact beyond the field of children’s museums. Two studies completed by CMRN inspired the development of a study at DuPage Children’s Museum called Parental Perceptions of Play and Learning. Focus groups and surveys were used to gain an understanding of parents’ beliefs about play and learning. Of particular interest in this process were the focus group discussions about the tensions and pressures experienced by both adults and children as a result of academic and social stressors—a tension widely experienced by early childhood educators as well. In the current climate of our education system, the association of the word play with “fun” seems to devalue its power to support learning and development.

With work underway on behalf of CMRN as well as within institutions such as Providence Children’s Museum, Minnesota Children’s Museum, and DuPage Children, which are conducting research and positioning themselves as champions for play, there may be potential to stimulate a broader level of conversation and action, both within the children’s museum field and beyond.

Kari Ross Nelson is research and evaluation associate at Thanksgiving Point Institute. Alix Tonsgard is early learning specialist at DuPage Children’s Museum.

Finding Common Ground at Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

By Jenni Martin

These days, it seems the national conversation is about how we need to have more honest and truthful conversations that acknowledge our different perspectives, honor our various experiences, and build bridges for understanding and healing, so that we can find common ground.

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose’s initiatives titled Breaking Ground and Common Ground are designed to do just that.

More than 120 languages are spoken in Silicon Valley where immigrants from hundreds of countries work, live, and raise their children together. While our audience development efforts have been wildly successful, resulting in an audience that mirrors the valley’s diversity—we wanted to go deeper. In 2013, we launched Breaking Ground with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, to work with our area’s five largest immigrant communities—Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Mexican, and Vietnamese.

Knowing that cooking and the sharing of meals is such a ubiquitous experience infused with cultural traditions, we decided to ground our outreach with a series of dinners. Community partners helped us identify families to invite. With a goal of sparking conversation among families through the connections of cultural identity, food, and immigrant experiences, we were off and running.

Ancient Tradition of Gathering

During gatherings at the museum, held monthly for three months in a row, we convened at long tables to share a meal and talk. Each dinner featured the tomato, prepared in five different ways to represent the cultural cuisines of each immigrant group. Following dinner, the children played in the museum while adults gathered for the facilitated part of the evening.

Common Ground Dinner 2.JPGJumpstarting a Conversation

How do you facilitate conversation among people who don’t know each other, may not speak the same language, and may not be comfortable in a museum setting?

We did what museums do best—we started with objects.

We chose familiar cooking objects to evoke positive feelings and create a safe environment for sharing. Beautifully colored ceramic bowls, pitchers, placemats, spatulas, grinding tools, baskets and many other items were laid across the tables. Participants were invited to find an object that reminded them of their childhood home. Our guests talked about how they used the objects in their kitchens, what they missed about their homeland, and how they hoped their children were learning important traditions. They noticed similarities and differences between their own kitchens and discovered objects from other places.

As the facilitated conversation continued, people began sharing more intimate details. They expressed how they missed their homelands, where neighbors would watch out for their children. They laughed together when they discovered their common surprise at the large portions served in U.S. restaurants. And they lamented the difficulties of getting certain fruits and vegetables common from their own childhoods.

At the end of the dinners, a common theme had emerged—the shared hopes and dreams each parent has for their children in this new place they call home.

We Learned a Lot

Many of the participants and staff were inspired to continue the dialogue. One parent reported that after the dinners she talked for the first time with her neighbor, also an immigrant. Participants from one language group wanted to learn from others about how to navigate the U.S. school system. Some folks joined staff in co-creating a semi-permanent exhibition at the museum, The World Market, featuring kitchen tools (made safe and accessible for children) and videos representing the five cultural groups.

We Were Inspired

A Seat at the Table 2

Breaking Ground allowed us to go deeper in understanding our audience. Next, we wanted to go broader. With additional funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we launched Common Ground in 2016. This initiative replicated the Breaking Ground dinners with the goal of co-creating a traveling exhibition for our local area to reach both recent immigrants and those whose families immigrated to the U.S. long ago.

Following the three dinners, a community poetry workshop helped surface this exhibition theme: We are each shaped by unique experiences and circumstances and we each dream of a positive future for our children. As participants wrote their poems, using the prompts “I am…,” “I am from…,” and “I dream…,” a beautiful collective poem emerged that represented many images of place, experience, and dreams.

A Seat at the Table Traveling Exhibit

Continuing with the successful theme of cooking and food, kitchen items and scented playdough seemed like the perfect interactive for the exhibition. Titled A Seat at the Table, the pop-up arts space was activated at numerous community festivals and events throughout the summer and fall, inviting children and adults to get creative using molds and playdough and cooking utensils from different parts of the world. Lots of kneading, rolling, shaping and pressing occurred while people talked about the tools, their homeland, and the similarities and differences of what they were creating.

Did This Project Spark an Important Conversation? 

We think so. While parents and children talked about kitchen tools and the smells of different spices, they also remembered and honored our cultural traditions and discovered new ones. The conversations reinforced the notion that while all of our paths and journeys are different—we all have hopes and dreams for our children.

Perhaps the idea that everyone should get a seat at the table and the opportunity to dream can help us delight in our differences and find our common ground.

Jenni Martin has served as Director of Education and Strategic Initiatives at Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose for 21 years. Ms. Martin has had a career long focused on community engagement and stewarding the Museum’s audience engagement initiatives with different cultural communities. Ms. Martin is currently the Project Director for CCLI (Cultural Competence Learning Institute), a collaborative national partnership focused on helping museum leaders catalyze diversity and inclusion efforts in their institutions. Follow Children’s Museum of San Jose on Twitter and Facebook.

Results from a Study of Play in U.S. Children’s Museums

Led by the Association of Children’s Museums and the University of Washington’s Museology Graduate Program, the Children’s Museum Research Network (CMRN) formed in 2015 with funding from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. For the past year, CMRN has contributed an article to each issue of Hand to Hand to disseminate their findings with the field. The following article was shared in the Spring 2017 issue, “Children’s Museums Go Outside.” Stay tuned to the blog for more articles from CMRN! 

By Nicole R. Rivera, Ed.D. and Susan M. Letourneau, Ph.D.


For the past two years, the Children’s Museum Research Network (CMRN) has been examining how children’s museums define their learning value. CMRN consists of leadership from ACM and the University of Washington’s Museology Graduate Program, and a first cohort of ten children’s museums. In the network’s first study, the group analyzed learning frameworks from five network institutions and conducted interviews with senior staff. These conversations revealed three key issues that museums grappled with in their frameworks: the learning approaches they use, the learning outcomes they might measure, and the role of play in their missions and practices. Of these three issues, play stood out as a critical topic for further study. Although it is a defining characteristic of children’s museum experiences, even the small group of museums within CMRN took very different positions on play—it was central for some but peripheral for others. Based on this initial observation, CMRN wanted to survey a larger sample of museums to look for field-wide trends. The research question for this study was: How do children’s museums conceptualize play and its role in their missions?


CMRN members interviewed senior staff at forty-nine children’s museums in the United States. Participating museums varied in geographical region, size, and location (urban, suburban, rural), and the overall sample was representative of ACM’s membership. Staff who took part in the study oversaw the design or implementation of learning experiences at their institutions (including senior education/exhibit staff and executive directors). In order to gain an institutional perspective, interview questions focused on the role of play in each museum’s mission, the ways that museums defined or talked about play in internal conversations and documents, and their institutional perspectives on the connection between play and learning (see inset). After completing the interviews, the network reviewed the transcripts to identify themes in participants’ responses.

Results:Figure 1: Role of play in mission

The majority of participants in the study said that play was vital to their mission. The word “play” appeared in the mission statements of 57 percent of the museums, and in 14 percent of other statements (e.g., value statements). Another 31 percent of participants stated that play was implied by other words like “discovery,” “fun,” or “imagination.” When asked to describe the role of play in their missions, interviewees offered a range of perspectives (Figure 1): Some described their museum’s philosophy about play as an avenue for learning and socioemotional development, others described institutional cultures that valued play or created space for children to play, and others described their efforts to raise awareness about play’s importance.

See Figure 1: Role of play in mission

Figure 2: Nature of definition of play, whether written or notDespite the importance of play to their missions, only 29 percent of participants said their museum had a definition of play they used internally; this definition was written down in just 10 percent of the sample. However, interviewees said their museums had strong beliefs about play that were not necessarily codified in a formal document. When giving more detail about how they talked about play in internal discussions (Figure 2), many said that staff at their institutions tended to describe play as a mechanism for learning (e.g., “children learn about the world through play”), while others said their conversations centered on characteristics or types of play that happen at the museum (e.g., pretend play, open-ended experiences), or the design and educational practices they use to encourage play (e.g., facilitation, hands-on exhibits).

Figure 3: Relationship between play and learningWhen describing the relationship between play and learning from their institution’s perspective (Figure 3), most said their institutions believed play was a process through which learning happens, while a smaller number said play was a learning process but also a valuable outcome in itself, or that playing and learning were equivalent or inseparable. Participants also described a variety of benefits of play, including cognitive, social, and emotional skills and outcomes.

See Figure 2: Nature of definition of play, whether written or not, and Figure 3: Relationship between play and learning


This study showed that the children’s museums represented strongly value play as important to their missions, and consider play to be a mechanism for learning and a way of supporting multiple facets of children’s development. This view closely aligns with existing research on play and its value. Nevertheless, children’s museums seldom defined play or how it leads to learning in a formal way within their institutions.

The network conducted this field-wide study not only to document the breadth of views on play within children’s museums, but also to tap into ongoing discussion about this topic to move the field forward. The Association of Children’s Museums states that “children’s museums are places where children learn through play and exploration in environments designed just for them” (“About Children’s Museums”)—in other words, that play is central to the learning value of children’s museums. This study speaks to the need for museums to articulate how they believe play experiences contribute to different forms of learning and discuss the specific aspects of play they emphasize. Such conversations would help children’s museums argue for their unique learning value and advocate more effectively for the value of play in the communities they serve.

The questions posed in this set of interviews could provide a useful starting point for these types of discussions. For the individuals who participated in this study, reflecting on their institutions’ perspectives prompted concrete action in the following months. The network sent a follow-up survey to participants approximately six months after they had completed the interview to inquire about any activities or conversations that were prompted by the interview. In this follow-up, a majority of participants (57 percent) reported speaking with a coworker about play and their museum, and 58 percent reported taking additional action to seek information or reflect on institutional practices related to play.

CMRN’s goal is to foster the field’s capacity for research. An important part of research is the dialogue that emerges as result of the process. Just as the research process stimulated conversation and further action for many participants, all children’s museums can also benefit from starting similar conversations in their own institutions.

Sample interview questions from the CMRN study

• Is play in your museum’s mission statement? What is the role of play in your museum’s mission?
• How important is play to your museum’s mission (on a scale of 1 to 7)?
• When was the last time you were part of a conversation among staff at your museum that was even loosely related to play?
• Does your museum have a definition of play? Is this definition written down?
• How would you describe the relationship between play and learning?
• What are the benefits of play?

Nicole R. Rivera, Ed.D., assistant professor of psychology at North Central College, participates in the Children’s Museum Research Network as the DuPage Children’s Museum’s Academic Research and Evaluation Partner.

Susan M. Letourneau, Ph.D., research associate at the New York Hall of Science, studies family interactions and learning through play in museum settings, and previously held a collaborative research and evaluation position with Providence Children’s Museum and Brown University.

To read other articles in Hand to Handsubscribe todayACM members also receive both digital and printed complimentary copies of Hand to Hand. 

Spotlight on Satellite Museums: The Children’s Museum of the Upstate

The following post appears in the latest issue of Hand to Hand, ACM’s quarterly journal. The article is a case study of The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (TCMU) in Greenville, SC, and its satellite museum, TCMU-Spartanburg. The Q&A was conducted between Mary Maher, editor of Hand to Hand, and David Wood, chief operating officer of TCMU.

TCMU-Spartanburg includes 6,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space with seven exhibits designed specifically for children ages birth to five. The two-story site also includes a large classroom, sales area, small office, restrooms, and an elevator.

The museum is located in downtown Spartanburg and is attached to other historic storefront businesses. The venue is easily accessible with street-level access in the front and a large public parking lot directly across the street.

Why did you open a satellite?
In 2016, The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (TCMU) launched a five-year strategic plan that included the goal of “developing outreach experiences that engage regional communities and invite them to visit TCMU.” Through partnerships and programming for communities within a forty-five-minute drive of our flagship museum in Greenville (TCMU-Greenville), we considered not only outreach activities but possible satellite locations outside of Greenville County.

Where is it? Describe the community in which it is located.
TCMU-Spartanburg is thirty-five miles, or within a forty-five-minute drive, from TCMU-Greenville. The “Upstate” region includes ten counties in the commerce-rich I-85 corridor in the northwest corner of South Carolina, home to the cities of Greenville, Spartanburg, and Anderson. As of 2016, the area includes a population of 1,347,112 people. Situated between Atlanta and Charlotte, the Upstate is the fastest-growing region of South Carolina. Greenville, the largest city in the region with a population of 67,453 and an urban-area population of 400,492, is the base of most commercial activity. Spartanburg, followed by Anderson, is next in population.

Over the last several years, downtown Spartanburg has been undergoing a major transformation, and the growth is evident. However, nearly 55 percent of Spartanburg children ages three to four are not enrolled in preschool, resulting in an enormous deficit in kindergarten readiness. TCMU-Spartanburg’s goal is to aid local families with school—and particularly kindergarten—readiness, as defined by the Spartanburg Community Indicators Project and the Spartanburg Academic Movement.

When did it open?
A ribbon cutting and VIP event was held on May 15, 2018. We opened to the public the following day.

Who initiated the process?
Museum leaders began conversations about the Spartanburg space in late October 2016. The board approved the proposed plan in March 2017 and a final lease agreement was signed the next month. An exhibit design/build contract was signed in early May with Kraemer Design + Production, Inc. The initial design charrette was held that month to gather input from staff and community stakeholders. Building upfit began in June 2017 and all of the exhibit design and fabrication ran concurrently.

Does the satellite have an ongoing partnership with any local entities?
The museum is working with city and county governments, school administrators in multiple school districts, corporations, businesses with local headquarters, and other nonprofits with similar missions to ensure the museum’s development and programming meets community needs. While no formal partnerships were formed, the museum received some funding from the city and additional support from corporate and individual donors.

Do you rent or own the building? What’s the length of commitment?
The museum has a five-year lease with options to extend. We have a graduating discounted rent rate: in year three, the rent will go up by fifty cents per square foot; in year five, it will go up another fifty cents per square foot. At that point we will be at market rate.

Who is the audience?
Families, caregivers, and educators who have or care for children ages birth to five. The flagship museum targets a similar audience but includes children ages birth to twelve.

Is it a scaled down version of the flagship museum? Or does it have a dedicated focus?
TCMU-Spartanburg is designed to accommodate the physical, cognitive, and social needs of children five and under, both in square footage and exhibit scale and design. (For comparison, TCMU’s flagship museum features 80,000 square feet with twenty exhibit spaces.) The museum enables area families to regularly participate in free-with-admission programs that prepare children for academic success. Spartanburg programming is aligned with what has been most successful at the Greenville flagship, including daily Story Time, music and movement programs, the Off the Wall art program, Sensory Friendly Days, and Random Acts of Science. All programs feature lots of cooperative, physical play.

In fall 2018, TCMU-Spartanburg will host field trips for groups of three-to-five-year-olds that will include free play with an option of adding classroom programs that cater to SC State Standards. Beginning in 2019, the museum will host multiple special events that parallel those happening at TCMU-Greenville.

What is the budget and management structure?
The satellite has two full-time staff, a site director, and a site manager, supported by ten part-time staff. Spartanburg-specific programs and events are managed locally. The flagship runs all other executive, marketing, fundraising, and operations functions. The satellite maintains a site-specific budget that is part of the overall TCMU budget. All revenue is processed through the flagship museum, which also coordinates all fundraising activities. Funds raised on behalf of the Spartanburg location directly support the satellite’s programming and outreach activities.

What about membership/admissions/marketing?
During the first full month of operations, 30 percent of visitors were members. Annual memberships are reciprocal.

TCMU-Greenville admission is $9/child and $10/adult; TCMU-Spartanburg admission is $5 per person (children and adults).

With both museums sharing an overlapping market, a single marketing plan promotes the museum experience and benefits at both locations. We communicate TCMU-Spartanburg-specific programming through a targeted email contact list, developed by leveraging partner relationships, engaging visitors at the door, and through social media and our website. The museum website features a gateway hub page that allows users to select the site they want to visit. Visitors are then routed to site-specific websites that include all of the information relevant to the correct museum location


  • Stay true to your mission.
  • Work with the community to identify a very specific need that you have the capacity to fill.
  • Find partners and donors that share the passion and see the value of creating an informal learning environment in their community.
  • Be conservative with projections for potential attendance, revenue, etc. Fund the project and first year of operations before opening the doors.

To read other articles in the “Satellite Museums” issue of Hand to Hand, subscribe todayACM members also receive both digital and printed complimentary copies of Hand to Hand. ACM members can access their copies through the Digital Resource Library–-contact to gain access if needed. 

David Wood is Chief Operating Officer of The Children’s Museum of the Upstate.

Photo credit: Mark Susko

Helping Busy Parents Support Their Kids’ Brain Development

The following post appears in the latest issue of Hand to Hand, ACM’s quarterly journal. 

By Bezos Family Foundation

In today’s time-strapped world full of countless obligations and distractions, parents have their hands full. On any given day, they have to make breakfast, dress their kids, prepare lunch, get them to school or childcare, pick them up again, shop for groceries, cook dinner, bathe them, prepare for bedtime, clean the dishes, and do the laundry—and that’s often just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to attending to these basic needs, parents are exposed to a steady stream of prescriptive, sometimes scary, sometimes conflicting instructions on how to raise their children. They are bombarded with well-meaning, but often beleaguering, advice like, “You must do this or that or your child won’t do well in school, won’t get a good job, or won’t have the skills needed to succeed.” It’s no wonder that parents feel overwhelmed.

And yet, the science around early childhood development is clear. During your child’s earliest years, their brain makes one million neural connections every single second. These first three to five years especially are an opportunity to develop a child’s neurological framework for lifelong learning. Given their hectic daily schedules, are parents supposed to make extra time for “brain-building”?

Vroom, an early learning and brain development initiative, starts from a very simple principle: Parents already have what it takes to be brain-builders. They don’t need extra time, special toys or books to play a proactive role in their child’s early brain development.

About Vroom

Vroom was developed through years of consulting with early learning and brain development experts, parents, and caregivers. Science tells us that children’s first three to five years are crucial to developing a foundation for future learning. Even when babies cannot speak, they are looking, listening, and forming important neural connections. In fact, when we interact with children in this time period, a million neurons fire at once as they observe and listen to their environment.

Vroom’s early goal was to determine how to best support early learning and development by fostering the types of parent/child interactions that help build brain architecture and help ensure that children will have strong and resilient brains. Vroom applies the science, translating complex early learning and development research findings into free tools, tips, and activities that are simple enough to fit into daily routines and are right at parents’ fingertips.

Vroom Tip 1

The simple activity of washing hands in the bathroom is enhanced by a Vroom tip posted on the wall to the right of the sink.

For example, a Vroom tip can turn laundry time into what we term a “brain-building moment” by suggesting that a child help sort clothes by size or color. The scientific background behind this tip is based on research that shows categorizing by letter or number develops a child’s flexible thinking, memory, focus, and self-control—all skills that develop a solid foundation for lifelong learning. So, by connecting a simple task to a fun activity with a child, the child can learn and develop their understanding of the world.

Vroom tips are available to parents and caregivers across many different channels: on the Vroom website, the Vroom app, the Vroom texting program, and in print materials. Vroom creates age-appropriate tips, so a two-year- old and a five-year-old won’t get the same tips. Tips are written in clear, accessible language that celebrates the work parents are already doing to support their children’s growing brains. The tips are also available to parents in both English and Spanish.

Additionally, Vroom’s partnerships with brands such as Baby Box, Goya, Univision, and now the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM), reflect the desire to meet parents where they are. Rather than expecting parents and children to make space for something extra in their already busy lives, Vroom identifies ordinary moments like mealtime or bath time, or visits to places like museums or libraries, as opportunities to engage in valuable, shared brain-building activities.

Vroom’s Partnership with the Association of Children’s Museums

Vroom’s mission to highlight the brain-building opportunities in everyday moments inspired a pilot program in 2015 between Vroom and the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus. “The Children’s Museum and Vroom came together in 2015 and brainstormed the best way to translate the hard-hitting science of Vroom into a physical space; and in this case, an institution dedicated to creating platforms for discovery between parents and children,” said Sarah Brenkert, senior director of education and evaluation at the museum. “We wanted to design a concept that would be simple, yet vibrant and coherent, and one that other institutions could mirror.”

Together, Vroom and the Children’s Museum of Denver reimagined the role institutional spaces can play in supporting families and enhancing the moments they spend together. The goal was to transform underutilized amenities and spaces within the museum, places like bathrooms, water fountains, stairs, lockers, cafés, and hallways, into fun opportunities for brain building. This initial pilot program with Vroom and the Children’s Museum of Denver provided many valuable insights. The lessons from the pilot helped refine the strategy as well as the specific Vroom tips so the tips could be seamlessly integrated into diverse yet universal physical spaces and environments.

“Our partnership with Vroom continues to inform many of the communication decisions we make and the events we create,” Brenkert added. “These all carry the message to parents that they already have what it takes to turn every moment—whether in a museum, at the grocery store, or in the car—into an opportunity to nurture young children’s minds.”

The success of the pilot set the stage for a new partnership with Association of Children’s Museums to apply the lessons learned from the pilot into a set of tools that can easily be deployed and integrated by any children’s museum. Vroom worked with ACM to develop a complete set of easily produced, low-cost resources, including decals and professional training materials tailor-made for children’s museums.

“We know that parents and caregivers can greatly benefit from proactive support to help them understand their children’s development,” said Laura Huerta Migus, executive director of ACM. “Vroom’s resources offer accessible, fun ways to support early childhood development, reflecting children’s museums’ innovative approach to learning. We’re so excited to share Vroom’s resources with the millions of children and families that visit children’s museums every year.” ACM’s role as a thought partner and a conduit for this work has been critical in helping bring Vroom’s vision into focus as well as to scale. Acting as an intermediary for Vroom, ACM will help bring these innovative tools to any interested member museum, no matter their location, size, or budget.

The Future of Vroom

Through valuable partnerships, like this one with ACM, Vroom offers unique opportunities to advance early childhood outcomes by delivering actionable, brain-building messages in ways that easily integrate into parents or caregivers’ busy lives. The partnership will serve as an additional step forward in supporting the Association of Children’s Museums’ vision of fostering a world that honors all children and respects the diverse ways in which they learn and develop. Over time, and with the help of partners like ACM and their member museums, Vroom aims to catalyze the adoption of a common language around brain development—across geographic boundaries and socio-economic divides—so that every parent sees themselves as someone who already has what it takes to be a brain-builder.

The Bezos Family Foundation supports rigorous, inspired learning environments for young people, from birth through high school, to put their education into action. Through investments in research, public awareness and programs, the foundation works to elevate the field of education and improve life outcomes for all children.

To read other articles in the “Brain Research and Children’s Museums” issue of Hand to Hand, subscribe todayACM members also receive both digital and printed complimentary copies of Hand to Hand. ACM members can access their copies through the Digital Resource Library–-contact to gain access if needed. 

ACM members interested in participating in Vroom can apply here

Celebrating National Summer Learning Day

National Summer Learning Day is less than one month away! Led by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), July 12 is a national advocacy day promoting summer learning—and fighting summer slide. This year marks the first joint celebration of National Summer Learning Day, a partnership between NSLA, ACM, and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). The celebration will include a National Read-Aloud of the award-winning children’s book, Trombone Shorty.

Last month, NSLA hosted a webinar to share information about the partnership—and how different organizations can get involved. ALSC President Nina Lindsay kicked off the webinar, saying, “This is the perfect opportunity for libraries and museums to share the value we bring in closing the summer learning gap.”

TromboneShortyLindsay then introduced Bryan Collier, this year’s Summer Learning Ambassador and illustrator of Trombone Shorty. Collier shared images from the book, describing the goals of his work. “I wanted the music to swirl out of his horn. As a young reader, I want them to be engaged, what happens next if it starts out like this?” He also shared why National Summer Learning Day is important to him and his family. “The summertime conjures memories of books and reading… My wife and I read books to our kids every night, even throughout the summer, because we know about summer learning loss.”

Next, ACM Executive Director Laura Huerta Migus shared how children’s museums support summer learning. “Museums absolutely see themselves as a critical part of the learning landscape throughout the year, and in particular during the summer months. We think that museums are particularly positioned to be great community spaces for summer learning programs, much like our partners, libraries.”

Children’s museums often have summer programming for ages two to fourteen. These are more than fun entertainment opportunities—they also support the development of core academic skills. In addition to camps, museums offer drop-in class programs. Many children’s museums offer access programs, and many also participate in Museums for All, an initiative of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) that offers free or reduced admission to those presenting an EBT card.

Liz McChesney, Director of Children’s Services at the Chicago Public Library System, described how libraries are getting involved in summer learning, “giving kids the confidence to navigate the world, one summer at a time.” There will be seven anchor library systems joining NSLA in this first summer read-aloud, including those in Chicago, King County (WA), Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Nashville, New Orleans, and New York.

McChesney offered ideas for how libraries and museums alike can participate in the Read Aloud, sharing, “There are so many ways to celebrate this wonderful book. Bryan talked about seeing sounds, and how the readers of this wonderful book can see sounds. Draw sounds, make a crown party, or read the book aloud.” She also encouraged participants to invite elected officials and media to their events, saying, “We need more good news out there!”

Brett Nicholas from the Museum of Science and Industry (a museum partner of the Chicago Public Library System) spoke next. Nicholas described how National Summer Learning Day participants can tie STEM learning into Trombone Shorty. He shared that exploring science out of school isn’t about delivering content—it’s about embracing how children are already natural scientists.

Nicholas illustrated this with different STEM activities that related to Trombone Shorty, such as making a “sound sandwich” using Craft sticks, a thick rubber band, two smaller rubber bands, and two one-inch pieces of a plastic drinking straw. Find instructions here!

Laura Johnson concluded the webinar by sharing NSLA’s resources at She also shared that NSLA is a long-standing partner of I Heart Radio, making participating in Summer Learning Day a great opportunity to partner with your local I Heart Radio station.

You can watch the full webinar here.

Is your museum interested in participating in National Summer Learning Day? Check out NSLA for resources, and register your event here.

Alison Howard is Communications Director at the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM). Follow ACM on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook

32 Years and 25 Linear Feet of Hand To Hand

This post first appeared on Jeanne Vergeront’s Museum Notes blog on May 23, 2018. 

By Jeanne Vergeront

During InterActivity 2018 in Raleigh (NC), tables stretched across the convention center lobby. Over the 4 days of the conference, participants, presenters, and vendors moved around the tables loaded with stacks of back issues of Hand To Hand (H2H), the Association of Children’s Museums’ quarterly publication. Boxes and boxes of back issues, as far back as 1986, had been shipped from ACM’s Arlington (VA) office to allow members to browse and collect issues and hopefully reduce storage for back issues in ACM’s new offices.

Some conference goers passed and glanced; others stopped, browsed, and selected issues to take home. Yet with so much happening during the conference–colleagues seen only once a year; multiple sessions and study tours; and a MarketPlace full of vendors–absorbing what these stacks of issues mean for our field–its growth, change, and increased potential–was a challenge.

Thirty-two years is a long time, more than a generation. When thirty-two years of a field is explored in four issues in each (or most) of those years, countless stories and threads emerge making our field’s interests, concerns, and growth visible. And impressively so.

Initially Hand To Hand was a newsletter with a mix of long articles and short bits of information about exhibits, museum openings, people. From 1986 to 1993, Linda Eidecken was publisher/editor; she wrote the newsletter in cooperation with the AAYM (American Association of Youth Museums) board. In 1993, what had evolved into the Association of Youth Museums (AYM) bought Hand To Hand from Eidecken. Mary Maher took over as editor and designer and has continued in that role for twenty-five years. A few other changes came with this transition. The news and information portion became AYMNews and H2H strengthened its focus on substantive articles, case studies, museum initiatives, and reports.

Scanning the stacks of issues on the tables, H2H design changes were easy to catch. For years, H2H was a duotone (black plus 1 PMS color), tabloid size (11 x 17), and usually eight pages. Decisions about color and size changed as web and PDF formats gained in use. In 2007, H2H was a 16-page, 8-1/2 x 11 publication. The first full color issue was printed in Spring 2015. The most recent issue, a 32-page double issue, covered the history and culture of children’s museums.

These stacks are more than a “fire sale,” more than a publications list, and more than cardboard boxes in storage. These approximately 120 issues of Hand To Hand tell something about where we started, where we are, where we are going, and how we are getting there.

In scanning issues of H2H, some consistent areas of interest come through, as do the evolving ways in which children’s museums–and increasingly other types of museums–work and engage to address them.

An enduring interest in children and their wellbeing is evident in issues on play (Summer 1998, Fall 1999, and Winter 2008), humor (Fall 2000), health and wellness (Fall 2006), and cognitive development (Fall 1990). Strong roots in early childhood are reflected in a research review on young children in museums (Summer 1996) and a Great Friend to Kids Award to Head Start Founders (Summer 2007). From the beginning Hand To Hand has served as a way to look reflectively and critically at what a children’s museum is (Spring 1987, Fall 1992, Winter 2014/2015) and has given us the opportunity to be a community of learners around topics like these.


The most recent issue of Hand To Hand chronicles the history and culture of  children’s museums

Several topics such as planning, exhibits, research, visitor services, and play appear in the very first issues and again over the next decades. This is not simply repeating a topic with new titles and authors. Rather, topics are reframed and reflect greater understanding of a topic and how to address it.

Following one topic, research, across 32 years shows the focus recurring and shifting in how it has been addressed and what it suggests about the field’s maturation. In the Spring 1989 issue that explored research and evaluation in children’s museums, Mary Worthington wrote, “Who Should Do Evaluation?” The Winter 2004 and Spring 2005 issues focused on research, in particular, integrating it into museum practices. When the Fall 2014 issue, Revving up Research, came out, the focus was on composing a research agenda for the field. By Spring 2016, an entire issue was dedicated to the Children’s Museum Research Network that has been active in conducting research across 10 research network member museums.

Early on, themes and articles in H2H focused internally on the museum, an understandable interest of museums that were just opening, growing fast, and figuring out what a children’s museum was. Some articles such as “Running a Non-Profit” (Winter 1991) were nuts-and-bolts. Others looked at setting up a children’s advisory board (Winter 1988 and Winter 1989) and conducting self-studies (Spring 1992). Profiles of exhibits and museums in most issues offered information and examples of exhibit topics and design to staff hungry for ideas.

Over the 32 years, more articles and issues have reflected the complex nature of children’s museums’ interests. Topics that may have initially seemed well defined, like play, programs or audience, have been increasingly understood in greater depth intersecting with other interests, like culture, partnerships, leadership, and sustainability. This awareness comes through in issues on Enhancing the Visitor Experience to Increase Revenue (Summer 1993), Planning for Change (Winter 2002 and Spring 2003), and The Cultural Meaning of Play and Learning (Winter 2008).

Just as a museum makes a journey from self-interest to a common good, so has the children’s museum field. This is apparent in an increasing focus on the larger environment in which museums operate. World events came to the forefront in 9/11 Response (Winter 2001) and After The Disaster following Hurricane Katrina (Winter 2006). With time, the global stage assumes a higher profile in Children’s Museums Around the World (Fall 2008) and Global Issues Impact, Local Impact (Spring 2013).

This journey towards a common good, of being useful in their communities is increasingly noticeable across 32 years of Hand To Hand. The Summer 1990 issue, Museums in Downtown, was the first to place children’s museums on the community landscape. A growing sense of responsibility to be engaged with the community and a deepening understanding of their potential impact are evident in the focus of somewhat more recent issues. Do The Right Thing: Children’s Museums & Social Responsibility (Winter 2000); Shared Values, Many Voices (Summer 2002); a double issue on diversity (Spring and Summer 2007); Declare Your Impact (Summer 2009) and Social Justice (Fall 2016) have probed these topics from more perspectives and emerging contexts.


The first issue of Hand To Hand
featured a profile of Elaine Heumann Gurian

In “Looking Back 23 Years” (Spring 1988), Mike Spock reminded us that our field is for somebody, not about something. His insight has been invaluable in understanding who we are as children’s museums. It is equally helpful in recognizing the source of children’s museums’ strengths to which every single issue of Hand To Hand attests. Our field is defined by people, their collegiality, and generosity. By-lines, photos, and interviews amplify the centrality of people in this enterprise whether it is an interview with Brad Larson (Winter 1997), Elee Wood’s byline (Fall 2016), or Elaine Heumann Gurian’s photo on the first issue of Hand To Hand (Winter 1986-87).

Hand To Hand fully relies on the people who contribute to every issue. In fact, without them, there would be no Hand To Hand. The publication has benefited greatly not only from the contributions of colleagues in our field but also from many outside the field. They have shared personal insights, professional knowledge, organizational lessons, and sometimes, personal loss. They have also generously shared their time and writing talents. While the circle of authors keep widening, there are many who have written several H2H articles.

Thirty-two years of issues also demonstrate that children’s museums have a wealth of friends who have helped the field and enriched Hand To Hand. Loyal friends like George Hein, Professor Emeritus at Lesley University, have written on many topics for Hand To Hand over the years. The voices of researchers like Karen Knutson and Kevin Crowley, UPCLOSE (Spring 2005); museum professionals from outside the field like Kathryn Hill at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Winter 1993); and museum planners like John Jacobsen (Summer/Fall 2017) and designers like Peter and Sharon Exley (Spring 2008) have extended the range of expertise and perspectives covered. Countless authors including Jim Collins, Richard Florida, Tom Kelley, Richard Louv, and Neil Postman have shared their work with the field through InterActivity presentations highlighted in Hand To Hand.

Hand To Hand would not have grown and evolved, guided and reflected our maturing field were it not for its steady-handed, word-loving editor, Mary Maher. Working closely with ACM staff she frames issues, finds writers, and works with each one. She designs each issue, and transforms an often fuzzy but promising idea into a quarterly publication that goes to museums, members, and authors, across the U.S. and the world.

So, when the next issue of Hand To Hand arrives, spend some quality time with it. In the meantime, pull out some of your favorite H2H back issues or go on-line and have a look. Take time to reflect, enjoy, and appreciate the contributions of so many in our field. And think about contributing yourself.

Jeanne Vergeront is director at Vergeront Museum Planning, based in Minneapolis, MN, and blogs at Museum Notes.

Participatory Museums as Peacebuilders: The Case of Rodadora in Ciudad Juárez

by Isabel Diez

How do you design a museum that seeks to sustain peace in a city once described as the most dangerous place in the world? When Sietecolores was entrusted such a task, the only answer we found was to involve the community throughout the entire development processand beyond.

From 2008 to 2012, Ciudad Juárez was considered the most dangerous place, not only in Mexico, but the world. This home to 1.3 million people was consumed with violence and crime, resulting in a huge social crisis that rapidly hit rock bottom. When local leaders came together to create an action plan for rescuing the city, a museum quickly became part of the conversation.

The idea of creating a permanent interactive learning space had been in the mind of locals since 2004, when the city of Chihuahua, near Juárez, hosted Papalote Móvil, a traveling museum created by Papalote Museo del Niño, with huge success. In 2009, a group of business leaders approached Sietecolores—our team of museum developers, initially created within Papalote—to design a space where children and their families could learn and heal. Because the museum would be key for sustaining peace in the soon-to-be transformed city, placing the project in the scope of peace education, which seeks nonviolent resolution of conflict and the transformation of social structures that perpetuate any type of injustice, was important.

Celebra La VidaDespite the evident complexities of the situation, Sietecolores was up for the titanic challenge. Where to begin, though? We knew that peace cannot be externally enforced—at least not if we wanted long-lasting results—but can only be achieved from within. With this in mind, we were guided by the idea of participatory museums. Nina Simon, author of The Participatory Museum, defines these institutions as places “where visitors can create, share, and connect with each other around content.” Visitors actively construct meaning, curate content, share ideas, and discuss issues. In consequence, our team introduced strategies for including Juárez’s citizens in the design process, such as holding interviews and focus groups, visiting indigenous communities, and inviting local artists, from potters and weavers to comic-book creators, to participate in specific projects.

In 2013, Rodadora Espacio Interactivo opened with the motto: “Celebra la vida” (“Celebrate life”). Its key role in the peacebuilding efforts of Juárez has been undeniable, proven by its sustained growth and success throughout its four years in operation. So, what exactly makes a peacebuilding, participatory museum tick? Sietecolores has identified three fundamentals to the culture and work of Rodadora:

  1. The community at the center

Putting the community at the center means listening to diverse perspectives, intentionally seeking participation of all groups, and giving voice to those who have been excluded—something essential for battling structural violence. But, when fear has taken over people for a long period of time, many important topics remain unspoken or become taboo. Museums can find creative mechanisms for visitors to feel safe enough to end that silence.


The alebrije sculpture at Rodadora

At Rodadora, one such strategy is the popular “nightmare-eating monster,” a giant alebrije—that is, a colorful Mexican folk art sculpture of an imaginary creature. Children and caregivers write down their worst nightmares, which disappear by “feeding” them to the monster. Sietecolores adapted this idea from Papalote, but Rodadora has taken it to a whole new level: it not only serves as a mechanism for visitors to externalize their fears, but also as a way for the museum to identify their needs. Education Director Mónica Félix explains how, throughout the years, it is clear how children’s fears have changed: four years ago, common nightmares included violence, death, or kidnapping, now children write about the dark or scary cartoon characters. The reality is different for adults, who will need more time to heal their scars. But visitors’ answers are a constant source of inspiration for new programs and initiatives. For example, Rodadora decided to produce a play for adults every November addressing the theme of death.

  1. Dialogue as a foundation

Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung suggests that igniting dialogue is the bedrock of all nonviolent conflict resolution. This became a priority and a guiding design principle when we realized the community needed new ways to communicate. But how do you get visitors to share and discuss ideas when they are not accustomed to doing so? Begin with the simplest and subtlest of initiatives.

Sietecolores helped Rodadora start a program called Libro Viajero (Traveling Book). The museum “abandoned” copies of a book throughout the space for people to find and start reading. When staff discovered a copy with an underlined passage and comments on the margins, they decided to leave writing tools along with the books. This became a powerful way for visitors to start dialogue with each other, the museum, and the authors.

  1. A strong focus on action

If we understand peace as the presence of justice, it’s not only a goal, but also an ongoing process and effort. Rodadora is always finding ways for visitors to get actively involved in the same spirit that originated the museum.

For instance, Sietecolores invited a local collective of urban artists to paint a mural for the museum before opening day. Rodadora also recently created a space called “Urban Art Garden,” which contains three more murals painted by local artists in collaboration with the Juárez community. The museum has also planned workshops and programs in the garden throughout the rest of the year.

Museums can become catalysts of social transformation—as Sietecolores has seen again and again in the more than a dozen learning spaces we have designed over the years. By taking a community-centered, dialogue-based, and action-focused approach, we created a participatory museum that continues to instill Juárez citizens with a sense of possibility, a desire for change, a promise of hope. After all, as writer Vaclav Havel said, “it is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem hopeless.”

Isabel Diez is a researcher at Sietecolores Ideas Interactivas, a museum and exhibit design firm based in Mexico City. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Pedagogy by Universidad Panamericana and a Master’s in Education (Arts in Education Program) by Harvard University. /

Eco Boys and Girls Celebrate ISCSMD

This post first appeared on the International Science Center & Science Museum Day Blog on October 3, 2017. The post is shared in partnership with Eco Boys and Girls.

By Sophia Collas and Maria Snyder

Eco Boys and Girls joins with the Association of Science-Technology Centers to celebrate the 2017 International Science Center and Science Museum Day (ISCSMD 2017) on November 10. As a children’s media company reaching young children across the globe with educational programming focused on early science, sustainable development, and respect for diversity through pluralism, being among leaders in science education and innovation is an exciting opportunity to learn from other dedicated professionals in this field.

Eco Boys and Girls has made it their mission to deliver high-quality early learning in the areas where it is needed most for the future generation to succeed in our ever-connected, globalized world. Promoting early science, sustainable development, and pluralism are the Eco Boys and Girls’ main focus across all of their programming. To achieve this, the organization delivers research-based curricula, media assets and materials, and hands-on activities. Driven by five charismatic and colorful characters—the Eco Boys and Girls—children are engaged in playful educational experiences through which they learn about their surroundings, taking care of the planet and each other.

Eco Boys and Girls has ongoing programming with the Association of Children’s Museums, based in Washington, D.C., which engages pre- and primary-school age children in activity-based and self-driven learning about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through this program, and in celebration of ISCSMD, young children are asked to think critically and curiously about the world around them and the role they play in making a positive difference.

With the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, U.S., the Eco Boys and Girls Science Bites! Program leads children through science experiments that teach them about Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM), and are joining ISCSMD 2017 with their programming at CMNH. Celebrating this important event, Eco Boys and Girls joins with other implementing organizations to share best practices and opportunities for collaborations with teachers committed to bringing innovative and forward-thinking education to young people around the world.

Eco Boys and Girls’ successes are in large part due to the high-quality materials and designs that capture children’s attention, but also because programs are designed to stimulate children in a number of ways. The engagement of children in practical, educational activities across their familiar environments—home, school and community—means that important and lasting effects will take hold. It is through the Eco Boys and Girls’ approach of child-friendly and relevant learning experiences that early childhood education can include science, sustainable development, and pluralism to prepare the youngest age group for the 21st Century.

Sophia Collas is Eco Boys and Girls’ Director of International Education, specializing in early childhood development. She also teaches professional development in international contexts. Maria Snyder, Founder and CEO of Eco Boys and Girls, is an artist, activist, and social entrepreneur creating brands that combine social ethics and economic purpose.


Eclipnics, Planet Painting, and Other Ways to Celebrate the Total Solar Eclipse

This August holds an exciting surprise for children (and most adults!) across America: a total solar eclipse! August 21st will mark the first total solar eclipse to occur all across the continental United States since 1918.

Leading up to and during the eclipse, children’s museums across the country are planning programs to excite young visitors’ imaginations and help them learn about science and astronomy.

Here are a few ways ACM member museums plan to help visitors get the most out of eclipse day.

  • The Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Greenville, SC won the astronomical lottery. They’ll be inside the “path of totality” — the area where viewers will see a total rather than partial eclipse of the sun! The museum plans to hand out eclipse shades to protect viewers’ eyes and host a plethora of space-related programs, including moon phase activities, an eclipse-themed story time, and activities about women in astronomy. Even before the big day, guests can visit museum programs to learn about coronas, safe viewing practices, and more.

Is your museum in “the path of totality”? Find out with this interactive map from NASA. If the answer is no, that’s okay! Your location will likely still experience a partial eclipse. Here’s how children’s museums outside the path are celebrating:

  • Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY, is live-streaming NASA’s five-hour long broadcast of the eclipse as it moves across the U.S. What better way to give visitors the full experience?
  • Stepping Stones Museum for Children, in Norwalk, CT, also plans to show the livestream. Plus, visitors will get to decorate their own unique pair of eclipse glasses!
  • Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, CA, is getting ahead of the game. Their “Solar Eclipse – 2017” planetarium show is already running, preparing guests to get the most out of the event. The show takes viewers through our solar system to understand how and why solar eclipses happen.
  • Children’s Museum of Atlanta is hosting a day full of eclipse-themed activities, from a glow-in-the-dark dance party, to a “Super Spectacular Science Show,” to an eclipse model explained by a STEM educator.
  • Portland Children’s Museum is throwing their own Solar Eclipse Viewing Party, including fun crafts like a solar system chalk drawing project, “planet painting,” creating a pinhole camera, and a rocket launch!
  • The Museum of Discovery, in Little Rock, AK, has another fun approach: they’re planning an “eclipnic” — a picnic lunch leading up to the big event! Guests are invited to bring a lunch and enjoy some hands-on fun while learning about the science behind the eclipse.

In case you need a little inspiration, here are a few activities children’s museums across the country are planning:

  • Free shaded glasses for viewing the eclipse. Safety first, so make sure to hand out shades and instruct your visitors on safe viewing practices! You can find a list of reputable vendors here.
  • Planetarium shows. A planetarium show is an amazing way to show guests what to expect from the solar eclipse. Running a show before the big day helps explain science concepts so the actual event makes more sense to all.
  • Scientific demonstrations. Build a solar system mobile, or model the science behind an eclipse with common objects like hula hoops!
  • Pinhole cameras. These simply constructed cameras provide a safe and scientifically fascinating way to view an eclipse.
  • Activities for younger children. Don’t forget to include fun crafts for younger viewers! This could include tasks like decorating glasses, painting space-themed pictures, or making sun or moon decorations.

How is your museum celebrating the 2017 total solar eclipse?

Susannah Brister is Office Manager at the Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM). Follow ACM on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.