On the Physical Reopening of Children’s Museums

Children’s museums’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic was swift and responsible: to close their doors as soon as the threat posed to public health became clear. By March 19, all U.S. children’s museums and most around the world closed the doors to their physical facilities for the health and wellbeing of their visitors and staff. But their work did not stop. Indeed, children’s museums—known for their dedication to materials-based, hands-on learning and exploration—pivoted to provide these experiences in new and innovative ways.

More than one hundred days since the closing of the field’s physical facilities, policymakers are establishing reopening plans for a variety of public facilities. How children’s museums are considered in these plans varies widely across jurisdictions. In some, they are included in early phases of reopening, and in others, they’re very last. This variation and lack of clarity in local mandates has created an ambiguous and difficult operational landscape for children’s museums to chart out viable strategies for delivering on their missions to engage children and families in child-centered learning experiences.

Every children’s museum draws from professional practice, core values, and operational assets to define its own destiny in the face of the ongoing catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether that means working toward a physical reopening of their facilities for visitors, or committing to an extended physical closure, children’s museums are making informed decisions to ensure their own survival and, most importantly, to continue to serve their communities across the Four Dimensions of Children’s Museum Operations.

Children’s museums pursuing reopening of their physical facilities are…

  • Following reopening guidelines from their local governments (e.g., city, county, state).
  • Surveying visitors to determine if and how they should reopen. They are also surveying visitors after the visit to understand if they felt safe and enjoyed the experience.
  • Intensifying their already rigorous sanitation and hygiene practices to keep staff and visitors safe.
  • Often implementing capacity limits lower than existing mandates in the name of safety.
  • Exploring a variety of approaches to reopening their physical facilities, including:
    • Implementing timed-entry for visits.
    • Limiting access to only a portion of physical facilities (e.g., outdoors only, limited number of exhibits, one-way paths through museum).

Children’s museums committing to extended closure of their physical facilities are…

  • Investing in reimagining museum experiences and services for a post-pandemic reality.
  • Continuing to engage their communities in innovative ways, such as:
    • Creating new virtual programming, such as story times, virtual camps, and more.
    • Bringing high-quality, hands-on learning opportunities to families via learning and activity kits.
  • Investigating new ways to leverage their buildings to be of service to the larger needs of the community, by acting as sites for testing and blood drives, satellite food distribution, and childcare services.
  • Strengthening existing and establishing new relationships with community partners to support children and families through the challenges of the pandemic.

Whether or not their doors are open, children’s museums are supporting their communities.

  • The wider education landscape is in crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Children’s museums generally operate outside of the strictures of formal education systems. Many children’s museums are leveraging this flexibility to support their local educational systems (e.g., schools, Head Start, afterschool, childcare) as the 2020-2021 academic year starts. They are:
    • Developing academic curricula and virtual content.
    • Offering safe learning spaces for families in hybrid schooling plans that combine in-person and online instruction.
    • Providing teacher training.
    • Bridging the digital divide by providing connectivity for those without adequate internet access at home.
  • Children’s museums are and can be central partners for child and family-centered public health outreach related to the pandemic and beyond. Some museums are:
    • Providing trusted information about COVID-19.
    • Connecting caregivers with mental health resources for children and families to cope with this stressful time, as well as offering programming around social and emotional learning.

As every children’s museum makes its own decision to work toward physical reopening, or commits to an extended physical closure, it faces unique challenges depending on its location, government mandates, and operational history. Even still, children’s museums around the world are united in their commitment to the safety of children, and our shared vision of a world that honors all children and respects the diverse ways in which they learn and develop.

Help your local children’s museum continue to play its vital role in your community as an educational laboratory, community resource, and advocate by pledging your support today.

This document shares strategies that children’s museums are pursuing, not only to survive, but to continue to fulfill their missions in support of children and families. It provides field-wide messaging for children’s museums’ communications with the public and stakeholders. Questions? We’re here to help. Contact ACM@ChildrensMuseums.org

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

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.

Conversations with Children’s Museum Leaders around COVID-19

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) held a series of three hour-long CEO Calls, sponsored by Blackbaud, on March 24, 25, and 26, 2020. These calls provided a space for ACM to connect with children’s museum executive leadership—and for leaders to connect with each other—in the aftermath of mass closures in our field due to COVID-19.

ACM research shows that all U.S. children’s museums, and most around the world, are currently closed. We started each call with a short update from ACM on U.S. federal advocacy efforts to support museums and nonprofits. For up-to-date information about ACM’s advocacy work, and current relief opportunities available to children’s museums, see ACM’s website.

The majority of each call was spent around CEO discussion of two broad topics: museum staffing and operations decisions in the coming weeks, as well as efforts to virtually engage with audiences. A through line throughout these conversations was the challenges children’s museums will face—and what  our field may look like—when they are able to reopen. 

Operations and Staffing Decisions:

When making staffing decisions, CEOs took into account their museum’s reserves, insurance, relief opportunities, and unemployment options (which vary state by state). All children’s museums are nonprofits, and most are lean organizations with limited reserves that rely on admissions to cover operational costs. Based on an analysis of the 34 museums that shared information about their staffing decisions during these calls, 32 percent reported furloughing staff and 26 percent reported laying off staff.

Some CEOs were advised to lay off workers so they could collect unemployment, rather than slowly reduce their hours over time. Museums also considered staffing decisions with their museum’s business interruption insurance in mind. (See CEO discussion on business interruption insurance on Groupsite here).

CEOs shared their staffing plans over the next few months. These staffing plans fell into a few broad categories:

  • Continuing to pay all staff, with plans to reassess after a few weeks or months.
  • Continuing to pay all full-time staff, but laying off or furloughing part-time staff.
  • Laying off or furloughing the majority of both full- and part-time staff, but keeping a few key positions (often with reduced pay and/or hours).
  • Keeping on all staff, but reducing pay and hours across the board.
  • Laying off the majority of staff, but continuing to pay healthcare and benefits for the next few months.

CEOs suggested additional strategies to mitigate costs, such as letting full-time staff use all vacation and sick leave and freezing 403B contributions.

Furloughs and layoffs were the most common options for reducing payrolls. CEOs discussed the many considerations that went into their decisions to furlough or layoff staff.

  • Unemployment Options: Unemployment options in each state affected whether museums opted to furlough or lay off staff. Some states have softened unemployment criteria, such as search for work requirements, making layoffs a better choice for staff without work.
  • Furlough Categories: Some CEOs said they furloughed staff through “unemployment without job seeking” as the best option. Others furloughed staff under “standby” category, which allows staff to collect unemployment, without having to look for other jobs.
  • Legal implications: CEOs noted the need to consider the legal implications for laying off or keeping on staff, in consultation with an employment attorney.
  • Health Insurance: CEOs considered the issue of layoffs vs. furloughs through the lens of health insurance coverage. One CEO recommended touching base with your organization’s health insurance carrier, as some are delaying payments without penalty to help businesses preserve cash.  
  • Relief Funding: One museum had furloughed staff, but was deciding whether to terminate to meet the fifty employee threshold to qualify for SBA loans.

CEOs also discussed their communications with major funders over the past few weeks.

  • Several CEOs reported their funders had encouraged them to continue to pay all staff.
  • One CEO scheduled one-on-one discussions with all key funders. As a result, some funders come forward with operating support or released funding ahead of schedule.
  • Some funders were allowing museums flexibility within existing grants, as long as museums could report out on their work.
  • CEOs requested an example of letters museums are sending to donors and supporters. (See one example on Groupsite).

Virtual Activities

CEOs also discussed the work their museums are doing to bring the museum experience online, with virtual activities, often retaining staff to create this virtual programming. Content is often designed to keep the museum’s community engaged. It focuses on repurposed museum activities families can do at home, such as experiments, physical activities, storytimes, and more. (ACM is tracking these virtual activities—see our ongoing list here).

CEOs shared other virtual content ideas.

  • Some museums are sharing lesson plans for various grade levels, and developing lessons for caregivers to support children with different developmental needs.
  • Additional content models include live events, interactive parent sessions on Zoom, Facebook groups, and virtual field trips.
  • Several museums surveyed their members to get their input on their preferred content and distribution methods.
  • Many museums are sharing content from other museums, to supplement making their own.

CEOs shared positive results so far.

  • Some CEOs found that major donors as well as corporate partners appreciate their museum’s virtual activities, and share it with family members with young children.
  • Some museums had seen an increase in engagement on social media, resulting in fun stats to share with their board members and funders.
  • Activities are seen as a good way to connect with the museum’s community and members. CEOs cited seeing familiar faces from the museum during live events. They create “normalcy” by taking a museum’s already-existing programs online.
  • One CEO shared they’re thinking about the content they’re developing as a new toolset. They may put it behind a member’s-only site or use it in other ways when their museum reopens.

CEOs noted a need for support around a few areas related to virtual activities, as well as posed questions for consideration.

  • Because museums are getting requests to offer content for different ages and needs, how can museums collaborate to create content that’s segmented by audience? 
  • CEOs flagged the need for a standard hashtag for social media (ACM launched the hashtag #ChildrensMuseumsatHome).
  • CEOs asked, how do we not bombard our members, who are receiving a glut of information? Should museums resist creating too much content, and rather encourage parents and kids to take a break and play at home? How do museums ensure they don’t “get lost in the craziness”?
  • CEOs noted that the current virtual activities model may change, asking, how do we leverage this crisis to articulate the big message about children’s museums and our reach, impact, connectivity to family, and community?

As most virtual activities are offered free of charge, CEOs discussed different creative money-makers they can explore related to their current efforts.

  • Offering gift certificates to local business with membership push.
  • Creating pay-to-attend digital camps (i.e. one hour daily via Zoom) to expand on their free activities to keep some revenue coming in.
  • One CEO shared they had converted a state arts council grant to from a performance at the museum to a livestreaming event, allowing them to keep the funds while delivering on their grant project.
  • One CEO shared that a local restaurant franchise had reached out to sponsor their online resources.

CEOs also discussed some of their museum’s offline activities.  

  • One CEO is considering redeploying their staff to help run regional enrichment childcare centers for essential workers.
  • One CEO noted their museum may use Zoom to connect educators with childcare centers, such as local YMCAs, for program delivery.
  • One museum noted specific efforts to serve children with disabilities in this time.

ACM will draw from the conversations of the first CEO Calls as we continue to identify opportunities for museum leaders, and all children’s museum professionals, to convene and share knowledge. Stay tuned for more information!

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Are you a children’s museum with online programming? Contact Alison.Howard@ChildrensMuseums.org. Follow and share museums’ virtual activities with the hashtag #ChildrensMuseumsatHome.

Children’s Museum Virtual Activities

Update: ACM has launched Children’s Museums at Home, a searchable database sharing virtual programming from more than 240 children’s museums around the world! This post will no longer be updated—please see Children’s Museums at Home for an up-to-date listing of children’s museum virtual activities.

Last updated: April 21, 2020. Follow and share children’s museums’ virtual activities on social media with the hashtag #ChildrensMuseumsatHome.

As of March 19, 2020, ACM research shows that most children’s around the world, including every children’s museum in the U.S., has temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Throughout these incredibly challenging times, children’s museums around the world are continuing to fulfill their missions to promote playful learning—by supporting families at home. Museum staff are facilitating interactive activities via YouTube and Facebook Live. They’re sharing educational resources for caregivers suddenly teaching young kids at home while schools are closed. And they’re providing daily sources of joy and inspiration in this time of stress.

Check out this list of virtual activities offered by children’s museums, which we will continue to update regularly!

Above & Beyond Children’s Museum (Sheboygan, WI)
Posting daily videos of music programs and storytimes. Posting at-home activities, crafts, and project ideas using common household items on social media.
Check out “ABCM First Steps in Music for ages 0-2
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Twitter | #ABCMactivities

Adventure! Children’s Museum (Eugene, OR)
Sharing daily Adventure! Museum @ Home posts via Facebook and their email newsletter.
Check out “Museum @ Home – Issue 10
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Amazement Square (Lynchburg, VA)
Sharing daily videos through Amazement Square, Anywhere.
Check out “Try-It Tuesday with Officer Ramirez (Making Play-Dough)
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube 

Amelia Park Children’s Museum (Westfield, MA)
Launched their “Bridging the Gap” series, with new activities posted to their Facebook page and website daily.
Check out “A Cloud in a Jar
Website | Facebook

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and Leslie Science & Nature Center (MI)
Kicked off their online programming with “Virtual Spring Break Camp,” with a series of STEM, environmental education, and camp-style activity videos, plus live workshops.
Check out “How to Practice Social Distancing
Website – AAHOM | Website – LSNC | Facebook – AAHOM | Facebook – LSNC

Bay Area Discovery Museum (San Francisco, CA)
Launched “Bringing BADM to You,” including a newsletter with research-backed activities and tips for parents and caregivers. Each week is organized around one of three themes: Math & Science, Body & Brain, and Talk & Play, including a weekly live event.
Check out “Raft Design
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum (Milwaukee, WI)
Offering “Play in the Cloud,” a collection of online resources, including daily tips for hands-on, educational activities. Facilitating weekly online meetups for caregivers of preschoolers via Zoom. Introducing an online version of its Tot Time program.
Check out “Inspire Daily: Paperclip Sculptures
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Boston Children’s Museum (MA)
Offering a wealth of free learning resources on their website. Sharing resources and activities on social media!
Check out “100 Ways to Play”  
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Bucks County Children’s Museum (New Hope, PA)
Sharing activities and online educational resources on their website.
Check out the “Think Spring at Home Mural” coloring page
Website | Facebook | Twitter

Building for Kids Children’s Museum (Appleton, WI)
Posting daily activities every weekday at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. CST, including movement exercises and musical performances.
Check out “Afternoon Activity: Baby Bath Time
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Creativity Museum (San Francisco, CA)
Updating their blog and social media with resources and safety tips for families at home
Check out “Mystery Box Challenge: Create A Zoo Animal
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #CreativityEveryday #CreativityKids

Children’s Discovery Museum (Normal, IL)
Posting a “Daily Dose of Play,” with playful activities for families for e-learning days.  
Check out “Spaghetti Kitchen Sensory Bin
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #DailyDoseofPlay

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose (CA)
Launched Virtual Purple Museum, sharing live and recorded broadcasts around science, math, the arts, storytime, and baby rhyme time, as well as activity sheets.
Check out “Treasure Maps
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Hands-On Museum of Tuscaloosa (AL)
Launched CHOM at Home, with themed daily programming: Movement Mondays, Time Travel Tuesdays, Wacky Science Wednesday, Theatric Thursday, Friday Fun, and Weekend Challenge.
Check out “Theatric Thursday – Hand Masks!
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine (Portland)
Offering daily online “At Home Together: Wild Life and Makerspace Series,” “Maine Youth Playwriting Challenge,” and “Onstage and Off: Theatre Together (Online) Series.”
Check out “Beachwalk Scavenger
Website | Facebook | Instagram

The Children’s Museum in Easton (MA)
Posting a daily #socialdistancelearning challenge on Facebook, with a video of a staff member demonstrating the activity.
Check out “Hands, Feet, Oh My! (Introduction to Measuring)
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #socialdistancelearning

Children’s Museum of Atlanta (GA)
Posting an activity, vocab list, and music playlist or book recommendation each weekday at 11 a.m. EDT on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Check out “Music Monday: Bean Tambourine
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #CMAatHome

The Children’s Museum of Cleveland (OH)
Posting daily online programming on social media, with movement exercises, storytimes, music and STEM lessons, and more. Sharing additional activities and video archives on their website.
Check out “Movement – DIY Laser Maze
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus (CO)
Launched the “Museum Fun 101” Facebook group for sharing at-home activities from the museum. Also offering resources on their website.  
Check out “Teaching Kitchen Recipes
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

The Children’s Museum of Evansville (IN)
Delivering dynamic programming to children and their families, with educational content, playful Quack Pack tutorials, and more!
Check out “Build a Blanket Fort
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac (WI)
Sharing educational and supporting videos for both children and their grownups.  
Check out “Maker Lab – Corner Bookmarks
Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

The Children’s Museum of Green Bay (WI)
Offering daily videos every morning at 10:15 a.m. CDT with live and pre-recorded programming.
Check out “Getting Messy with Salt Dough
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of Houston (TX)
Producing a series of videos related to COVID-19 featuring “Mr. O,” in partnership with ACM. Providing resources on their website and social media channels.
Check out “It’s Snot Funny
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of La Crosse (WI)
Sharing suggestions for at-home activities, adapting museum programming for kids at home.    
Check out “Wee Move – Wiggle & Giggle
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #SillySmart

Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (Charleston, SC)
Sharing videos with instructional, at-home activities for young children and families. Sharing mindfulness resources. Letting their mascot, DooDash the Dragon, take over Twitter and Instagram!   
Check out “Brown Bag STEM Challenge with Mr. Kevin
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of Manhattan (NY)
Launched CMOM at Home, with daily videos, sing-a-longs, games, and more. Also sharing educational resources for families.
Check out “Magic Monday: Fizzy Hidden Surprise
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (Dover)
Bringing families and educators resources, with STEAM, storytime, and other activity videos, community connections, and activity boxes.
Check out “First Friends Rhymes & Songs
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #PlayTogether

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (PA)
Launched Museum at Home to bring maker activities from the museum and MuseumLab home. Posting creative do-it-yourself projects every day!
Check out “Let’s Try Making Our Own Watercolor Paints
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of Phoenix (AZ)
Sharing daily virtual activity videos on social media, with themes from Movement Monday to Arty Party Friday to Storybook Sunday!
Check out “Water Bottle Bowling
Website | Facebook | Twitter

Children’s Museum of Richmond (VA)
Launched a blog to share videos, activities (including art projects and storytimes), and caregiver resources.
Check out “Ten Tips for Helping Kids Play Ahead
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Children’s Museum of Sonoma County (CA)
Sharing resources and at-home activity ideas. Creating how-to videos on YouTube and live programming videos on Facebook Live. Sharing content in their blog and newsletter.
Check out “Balloon Blow-Up Science Experiment
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Children’s Museum of South Dakota (Brookings)
Posting “Recipes for Play” on their Seize the Play blog, sharing how to make family trees, puffy paint, prairie beads, and more.
Check out “Process Art with Lauren and Charles
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #PlayAlongSD

Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota (Mankato)
Launched #CMSMatHome, with daily activities for families and children to complete at home.
Check out “Be a City Planner
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #CMSMatHome

The Children’s Museum of Wilmington (NC)
Designing creative activities for families to do at home, with brain games, exercises, and more.
Check out “ABC Exercise Cards
Website | Facebook | Instagram | #atCMOW

The Children’s Playhouse (Boone, NC)
Sharing short versions of their popular music classes, “Musical Adventures with Miss Laura,” on their website and social media.
Check out “Weather Songs
Website | Facebook | YouTube

Children’s Science Center (Fairfax, VA)
Creating experiential videos including demonstrations, DIY experiments, keeper talks, and their Budding Bookworm program. Also continuing to care for the 100 animals that live at the Children’s Science Center Lab!
Check out “Baby Elephant Toothpaste
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

C’mon (Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples) (FL)
Offering Play & Learn online programs, such as Little Learners Storytime, STEAM, and C’mon at Home, on social media and Facebook live.
Check out “Little Learners Storytime – La Oruga Muy Hambrienta (The Very Hungry Caterpillar)
Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | #cmoncares

Creative Discovery Museum (Chattanooga, TN)
Launched Creativity TV, sharing lessons from the museum, including critter encounters and science shows, as well as activities that can be done with materials found in the home.
Check out “Great Balls of Fire – Fiery Lycopodium Powder Experiment!
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Delaware Children’s Museum
Sharing fun activities and recipes that adults and kids can safely and easily do at home to continue to learn and play together.  
Check out “DIY Ping Pong Mazes
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Discovery Center Museum (Rockford, IL)
Launched #PlayfulLearningatHome, sharing daily videos with instructional, at-home science activities and demonstrations, art projects, storytimes and sing-alongs, weekly “Ask a Scientist” Facebook Live Streams, and the humorous misadventures of Captain Discovery Center.
Check out “Make Your Own Fizzy Colors
Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | #PlayfulLearningatHome

Discovery Children’s Museum (Las Vegas, NV)
Sharing resources and educational links for families figuring out how to entertain and educate kids at home.
Check out “How Does Static Electricity Work?
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #AtHomeDiscoveries

Discovery Museum (Acton, MA)
Launched Discovery at Home, an online resource guide with hands-on learning activities and curated resources.
Check out “Tracing Shadows
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Discovery Place Kids (Huntersville and Rockingham, NC)
Created Stay-at-Home Science, a digital learning center with experiments, projects, activities, and more resources to keep learners of all ages engaged.
Check out “A Livestream from our Rainforest
Website | Facebook – Discovery Place Kids-Huntersville | Facebook – Discovery Place Kids-Rockingham | Twitter – Discovery Place Kids-Huntersville | Twitter – Discovery Place Kids-Rockingham | Instagram

The DoSeum (San Antonio, TX)
Created “Do It At Home,” an online hub with educational resources for families at home, including DIY Activities, Storytimes, and Questions from Kids.
Check out “Ask a DOer: Meet Dr. Richard
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Duluth Children’s Museum (MN)
Launched “Stay@Home, Play@Home,” with new videos every day!
Check out “Learning to Juggle
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Dupage Children’s Museum (Naperville, IL)
Build a robust online community to support families, with new programming and experiences to keep the learning growing at home.
Check out “Sensory Snow
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Explore More Discovery Museum (Harrison, VA)
Offering “Explore More at Home” activities five days a week. Each day explores a different theme through play-based, interactive experiences that families can easily do at home.
Check out “Explore More at Home: Pet Party
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Explore & More – The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum (Buffalo, NY)
Launched their “Sanity Savers” blog—an at-home guide for bringing play-based education into the home.
Check out “Sanity Savers: Nursing Home Mail
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram  

Flint Children’s Museum (MI)
Taking the museum’s program to a virtual setting, with a focus on projects families can do together with things found around the house.
Check out “Rainbow Kaleidoscope
Website | Facebook | Twitter

Glazer Children’s Museum (Tampa, FL)
Launched “GCM at Home” to share virtual content with families.
Check out “Wiggle a Little, a playlist
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #GCMatHome

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (MI)
Creating Play@Home content to help families engage in open-ended play at home—“so they can transform their living room, backyard, or bedroom into their very own mini-GRCM.”
Check out “Try-It Tuesday: Upcycled Crayons
Website | Facebook | Instagram

Great Explorations Children’s Museum (St. Petersburg, FL)
Posting a weekly challenge each Monday, sharing community resources, creating videos, and offering “Blow Off Some S.T.E.A.M.” kits by mail.   
Check out “Morris Scavenger Hunt
Website | Facebook | Instagram

Greensboro Children’s Museum (NC)
Launched “explore (at home),” with educational resources and activities to bring the joy of meaningful play into families’ homes.
Check out “Violet Jelly Recipe
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center (Honolulu)
Launched an At Home Learning video series, with storytimes, STEAM activities, and yoga.
Check out “Yoga for Kids
Website | Facebook | YouTube

HealthWorks! North Mississippi (Tupelo)
Sharing virtual lessons and at-home resources such as family-friendly healthy activities, exercises, and assignments. 
Check out “Health Works! At Home – Healthy Mindset
Website | Facebook

Imagine Children’s Museum (Everett, WA)
Conducting video programming, as well as facilitating virtual activities like a drawing contest and pen pal exchange with the museum.
Check out “How to Build a Hoop Glider
Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | #AtHomeDiscoveries

Imagine Nation, A Museum Early Learning Center (Bristol, CT)
Launched Imagine Nation At Home, a new online community, sharing links, activities, and messages that promote positivity, fun, and learning through play.
Check out “Recycled Material Fun #1: Simple Bird Feeder
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #ImagineNationAtHome

Imaginosity – Dublin Children’s Museum (Ireland)
Sharing daily activities on social media, with full instructions on Instagram Stories.
Check out “DIY Fossil Excavation
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, Inc. (INK) (Gainesville, GA)
Offering daily play prompts and craft ideas.
Check out “At-Home Play Challenge – Young Chef
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube  

The Iowa Children’s Museum (Coralville)
Posting a variety of at-home activities, creative prompts, and interactive livestream events (like sing-alongs on Instagram).  
Check out “Games from around the World
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Jackson Hole Children’s Museum (Jackson, WY)
Offering a Jackson Hole ONLINE Play Museum, with virtual programming including science and art activities, sensory and song-filled Toddler Time activities, and weekly events like family yoga and virtual Touch-A-Truck tours!
Check out “Rain Cloud in a Jar! Wacky Wednesday Science with Anna
Website | Facebook | YouTube

Kaleideum (Winston-Salem, NC)
Posting daily videos of content around parenting, arts & crafts, and science learning families can do at home on their social media, blog, and website.  
Check out “Meet Huey, Our Blue and Gold Macaw
Website | Facebook – Kaleideum Downtown | Facebook – Kaleideum North | Twitter – Kaleideum Downtown | Twitter – Kaleideum North | Instagram | YouTube | #kaleideumathome

Kansas Children’s Discovery Center (Topeka)
Producing a series of educational content pieces designed to get families playing and learning at home.
Check out “Pretend Vet Clinic
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube | #DiscoveryatHome

Kentucky Science Center (Louisville, KY)
Collaborates with other organizations in Kentucky on My Big Little Adventure, an early childhood-focused home resource funded by PNC Grow Up Great. Also posting science experiments on social media! 
Check out “Paper Helicopter Plans
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | #DoScience

Kidspace Children’s Museum (Pasadena, CA)
Launched Kidspace-At-Home: Virtual Learning and Play Resources, developed to spark connection, creativity, laughter, and inspiration.
Check out “Birthdays During Social Distancing
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue, WA)
Sharing ways to play and learn at home on their website and social media.
Check out “Early Math Skills: Sorting and Classifying
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Kidzu Children’s Museum (Chapel Hill, NC)
Regularly posting new activities for families on their website and Facebook along with sharing links to additional resources for playful learning at home.
Check out “Messy Morning: Fun with Baking Soda and Vinegar
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago (Glenview, IL)
Adding videos to their Home Zone series, with activities to help families take the museum experience home, plus their Story Time series!
Check out “Mathematizing Weather
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Lincoln Children’s Museum (NE)
Providing meaningful fun through both online and in-home activities, like a daily Boredom Busters Facebook Live event at 10:30 a.m. CDT (with accompanying resources) and curbside pickup activities.
Check out “Boredom Buster: Earth, Paint, and Rocks
Website | Facebook | Twitter

Long Island Children’s Museum (Garden City, NY)
Has online resource guides for playing outside safely and talking about art. They’re also sharing resources on Facebook, and hosting a “Visit LICM at Home” event on March 28, 2020.
Check out “Bookface Friday
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Louisiana Children’s Museum (New Orleans)
Launched “In Dialogue,” a weekly series on Zoom and YouTube featuring experts from the Tulane Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.
Check out “In Dialogue: Positive Parenting
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Madison Children’s Museum (WI)
Sharing educational programming for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, along with quick activity ideas, tips, news from the museum, and partner resources. Also launched a Facebook group for museum members and friends.
Check out “Brain Builders with Heather: Indoor Obstacle Course
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Marbles Kids Museum (Raleigh, NC)
Providing a daily dose of play on YouTube and social media, as well as posting Play Tools and resources on their website.
Check out “Kitchen Percussion
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #dailydoseofplay

Minnesota Children’s Museum (St. Paul)
Sharing super ways to play at home, with open-ended play activities, play tips, videos, plus blog posts and other resources.  
Check out “Coloring Pages from a Local Artist
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Mississippi Children’s Museum (Jackson)
Launched MCM at Home on all digital platforms, with hands-on educational videos, book readings, individual activities, and activity kits.
Check out “Farm Bureau Spotlight: Honey Bees
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #MCMatHome

Museo Tin Marín (San Salvador, El Salvador)
Posting videos, activities, and custom graphics sharing educational resources and activities.
Check out the correct way to wash your hands
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Museum of Discovery and Science (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Launched MODS Virtual Camp Discovery across all digital platforms, with a new science-focused demo or activity posted each weekday.
Check out “Ooey Gooey Chocolate Slime
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation (Santa Barbara, CA)
Launched Moxi at Home to share daily activities for families at home, drawing from the museum’s popular programming and exhibits.  
Check out “Toddler Tuesday: Mystery Shakers
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #moxiathome

MUZEIKO – America for Bulgaria Children’s Museum (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Sharing online resources and livestreams to stay in touch with visitors and friends, including activities and storytimes.  
Check out “Crawling Exhibits at Muzeiko
Website | Facebook | YouTube

National Children’s Museum (Washington, DC)
Going live on Facebook each day at 2:30 p.m. EDT to share activities, including science experiments, storytimes, and Design Build Challenges.
Check out “#STEAMwork Climate Action Challenge
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #STEAMwork

The New Children’s Museum (San Diego, CA)
Launched #thinkplaycreateathome, encouraging visitors, members, and staff to send short videos or photos of how they are being creative at home!
Check out “DIY Scramble Screens
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #thinkplaycreateathome

North Country Children’s Museum (Potsdam, NY)
Created a YouTube channel to post STEAM project videos!
Check out “DIY Balloon
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Omaha Children’s Museum (NE)
Sharing daily “Museum Minutes” and “Playful Projects” videos, including storytimes, at-home science experiments, and Tinker Challenges. Also offering free printables on their website.
Check out “Ben’s Tinker Challenge: Will It Float?
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum (IL)
Offering video-based StoryTime and Career Days, inviting children from around the world to contribute to the PlayHouse Times, and a Summer Maker Challenge supported by other ideas for art and making projects around the home. Also offering resources related to parenting through this difficult moment.
Check out “Summer Maker Program Bingo Card” 
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Port Discovery Children’s Museum (Baltimore, MD)
Sharing At Home Play Tips, with activity ideas, resources, and updates from the museum.
Check out “Kinetic Sand Play Bin.” 
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Pretend City Children’s Museum (Irvine, CA)
Offering daily story times as well as real-time programming through Zoom and Facebook Live.  
Check out “Brown Bear Activity
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Providence Children’s Museum (RI)
Moved all museum programming online, posting daily videos on Facebook as well as at-home activities.
Check out “Make It Rain with DIY Rainsticks
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube | #PCMCreates

Sciencenter (Ithaca, NY)
Hosting daily live activities at 10:30 a.m. EDT on Zoom, which are also shared on Facebook. Also sharing a live YouTube feed of their Animal Room!
Check out “Paper Mountains
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Scott Family Amazeum (Bentonville, AK)
Launched Amazeum YOU to share activities and stay in touch with families at home, including twice-daily check-ins via Facebook Live.
Check out “Plushie Pillow
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | #AmazeumYOU

Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum (Winchester, VA)
Sharing themed activities six days a week, around subjects like chain reactions and the five senses.
Check out “Five Senses Detective
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Stepping Stones Museum for Children (Norwalk, CT)
Encouraging playful learning at home with their “Every Day Fun! DIY Home Extension” video series, featuring Fitness Fun, Music Makers, Science Central, and more!
Check out “Music Makers | Wash Your Hands!
Website | FacebookInstagram | Twitter | #SteppingStonesAtHome #BooZoosBookBuddies

Staten Island Children’s Museum (NY)
Created “At Home with SICM” a constantly updated collection educational and inspiring videos, print-at-home activity sheets, and live-stream sessions. Topics include arts and crafts, the museum’s exhibits and animal collection, dance and play circles, and storytime.
Check out “Morse Code Explained
Website | FacebookInstagram | Twitter | YouTube

The Strong (Rochester, NY)
Sharing DIY activities, imaginative play ideas, and videos that include storytimes, animal showings, and fun facts about toys.
Check out “Stories About the Stuff—Mr. Potato Head
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Thinkery (Austin, TX)
Producing a “Thinkery At Home” video series, featuring smart, fun things to do with kids at home.
Check out “10 Great Hands-On Activities To Do At Home
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | #ThinkeryAtHome

Treehouse Children’s Museum (Ogden, UT)
Sharing online activities in partnership with authors, illustrators, puppeteers, storytellers, and filmmakers who have previously served residencies at the museum. Running “Children’s Challenges” competitions, with submissions reviewed by weekly guest artists. Also creating music videos with staff.
Check out “Treehouse Tales 1: Storyteller Randel McGee
Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City (Shawnee, KS)
Providing virtual programming twice a day, Tuesday to Friday, as well as sharing “pop-up” activities on YouTube.
Check out “The Three Little Pigs – Puppet Show
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

The Woodlands Children’s Museum (TX)
Sharing Storybook Theatre and Puppet Theatre videos with their Literacy Specialist, Miss Jan, on Thursdays and Fridays at 11 a.m. CST.
Check out “Shadow Puppet Theatre-When Spring Comes
Website | Facebook | Twitter

WOW! Children’s Museum (Lafayette, CO)
Offering “WOW! @ Home” activity guides and recipes on their website! Posting activities and storytimes on Facebook.
Check out “Forest of Light at Home
Website | Facebook | Instagram

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Follow and share museums’ virtual activities with the hashtag #ChildrensMuseumsatHome.

ACM Resources to Help Guide Your Museum’s Response to Coronavirus

Check out our updated COVID-19 Resources on the ACM website (Updated March 26, 2020) .

In recognition of the global response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) recommends the following actions to children’s museums to guide their rapid response to this developing situation.

Your museum has strong existing practices around cleaning and safety protocols, as well as other procedures that keep your museum in top shape during cold and flu season. Given the public response and concern around COVID-19, we encourage our members to review their existing practices, as well as consider potential new processes to help your institution remain responsive as public spaces—and public resources.

These recommendations are not intended to provide a definitive answer for your museum, but can be used as a starting point for discussion at your museum’s leadership or board level.

Internal Protocols:

Cleaning and Safety Protocols:

  • We recommend that all children’s museums review their cleaning and safety protocols in light of the current risks. If changes are needed, museums should inform all staff of the changes made, especially frontline staff who directly engage with visitors.
  • We recommend that your museum review its sick child policy, and update your museum’s front desk signage to reflect this policy.
  • The situation is rapidly changing. To stay up-to-date on latest developments, museums may consider designating a staff member to conduct a daily review of news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) and sharing this information with museum leadership.

See the Safety & Risk Management section of ACM’s Online Member Resource Library for examples of cleaning and safety protocols.

Administrative Considerations:

  • We recommend that executive leadership at all children’s museums review their emergency disaster and succession plans, making changes as needed. For example, how does your museum’s phone tree work to inform staff if the museum is unexpectedly closed?  
  • We recommend museums review their insurance policy, such as how an outbreak in your museum’s community may affect your business interruption insurance or general liability policy. Under your policy, is it possible to obtain a COVID-19 endorsement or rider on your institution’s general liability policy? The National Underwriter Resource Center (NURC) may be a resource for exploring this option for U.S.-based museums.
  • We recommend that executive leadership at all children’s museums engage in scenario planning. In the event of an outbreak in your community, schools may close, or local government may even choose to temporarily close cultural institutions. While we cannot predict what will happen, putting plans in place for different scenarios will help facilitate your museum’s responses no matter the situation.
    • What is your museum’s plan if other systems—such as schools—are closed, but the museum is able to stay open?
    • How will your museum prepare for a mandatory shutdown, especially in terms of staff compensation?
    • Are there creative ways for your museum to continue operations in case of a shutdown?

Potential Sourcing Issues:

  • Because of the global nature of COVID-19, there is a possibility supply chains may be affected by the outbreak. We recommend that children’s museums take into account lines of supply that may be disrupted in terms of consumables, office supplies, and cleaning supplies. It may be prudent to stock up—for example, expanding your museum’s typical one-month supply of toilet paper to a three-month supply.

External Actions:

Hosting Gatherings:

  • Not only do children’s museums host events, but they are gathering spaces for visitors of all ages. We recommend that children’s museums review WHO guidelines for organizing mass gatherings in the context of COVID-19, with recommendations for planning, risk assessment, and other considerations.

Serving as a Resource:

  • We recommend that museums consider their external messaging about health and safety practices. Is there an opportunity for your museum to serve as a trusted resource to your community, such as sharing information in your newsletter or on social media?
    • Your museum may consider sharing resources from the CDC or your local health and human services department.
    • You may also consider sharing resources about handwashing and update your bathroom signage to encourage best handwashing practices.
  • We recommend that museums consider their external media plan. For example, local media may contact your museum about your cleaning plan. Identifying your museum’s spokespeople and messaging plan will help position your museum as a trusted local resource. 

These recommendations draw from best practices for all communicable diseases. As local destinations, children’s museums are well versed in many of these practices and protocols. Part of what makes COVID-19 scary is that it’s new—but our field has tested practices that work to keep kids safe while playfully learning. By reviewing and updating our existing practices, and leveraging our roles as trusted resources, children’s museums can remain responsive in service to our communities.

Resource List:

These resources will be updated as new information becomes available.

ACM Groupsite:

ACM Groupsite is the Association of Children’s Museums’ central hub online. It’s a space where children’s museums professionals can ask for advice, share ideas, and access resources on our discussion boards. Log in or create an account.

Discussion Posts on ACM Groupsite

Resources in the Online Member Resource Library

Messaging from Children’s Museums

More Museum Resources

Health Organizations

World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/

Environmental Protection Agency:

Directory of Local Health Departments (U.S.): https://www.naccho.org/membership/lhd-directory

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

What Do You Love about Your Children’s Museum?

There are more than 300 children’s museums in the world serving millions of families, but each one is unique. We know that children’s museums are joyful spaces for learning and play, but they are much more than just places to visit. In fact, all children’s museums—regardless of size —function as local destinations (with designed spaces, like their exhibits), educational laboratories (with programming for children and families), and act as community resources and advocates for children.

There’s so much to love about children’s museums everywhere. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we asked children’s museum staff: What do you love about your children’s museum? Here are some of their answers!

Children's Museum of Findlay
Children’s Museum of Findlay

“I love that we are a safe place for kids to learn and grow through self-guided play. They get to experience different careers and practice the examples they see in our homes and community in our different exhibits. I love that I get to use my formal education background to help the kids learn in an informal setting… without even knowing they are learning new things!”

-Erica Bickhart, Children’s Museum of Findlay (OH)

“I love working for a children’s museum because every day welcomes a new adventure! Whether it’s leading one of our fun educational classes or dressing up as a princess for an event, no day is ever the same.”

-Allison Armstrong, Sacramento Children’s Museum (CA)

“Sacramento Children’s Museum is a great place for young guests to grow, learn, and explore! Our programs and classes are so much fun. Our Van-Go mobile museum is a great way to reach out to the community when it’s hard for them to come to us. We play, we inspire, and we reach out.”

-Denver Vaughn, Sacramento Children’s Museum (CA)

“I love how embedded our museum is within our downtown community. When there are events in our town we are right in the middle of it. We have built longstanding relationships with the other downtown businesses.”

Sacramento Children’s Museum

-Gracie Chaffin, Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center (Hammond)

“I love watching kids be able to play and learn and have a safe place to come to! I love our nature room—and one thing we just added to it is a tower garden. We always wanted to have plants, and this is so easy and kids love to see the veggies growing each week!”

-Robin Kussmann, Playzeum Yuba Sutter (Yuba City, CA)

LOVE seeing families playing together. Less heads down with phones and more heads up for play!

-Mandy Volpe, Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, Inc. (Gainesville, GA)

“We love that we are the first children’s museum in the state of Mississippi located one block from the Gulf of Mexico in the renovated Mississippi City Elementary School, constructed in 1915 and an architectural exhibition itself. Lynn Meadows Discovery Center offers 15,000 square feet of indoor hands-on exhibit space, seven and a half acres of outdoor play space, a spacious theatre, Viking kitchen and other great facilities for children, families and community use. Just like the children who enter our doors, Lynn Meadows Discovery Center is continually growing and improving, expanding and changing our exhibits, adding and enhancing our offerings and constantly learning along the way!”

-Sonja Gillis, Lynn Meadows Discovery Center (Gulfport, MS)

There are so many things to love about Cheshire Children’s Museum! One special thing we do is recognize early childhood educators in our region. Each year, we celebrate all early childhood educators at an event at the museum, culminating in naming one Early Childhood Educator of the Year! He/she is selected by a panel of judges ahead of time after reviewing nominations from colleagues, directors, and family members of children they serve. We have donated prizes for the winner and door prizes. This year we will have a proclamation from our mayor.

-Deb Ganley, Cheshire Children’s Museum (Keene, NH)

“There is so much to love. On the amusing side—I really love how kids dress  for PLAY.”

-Sharon Stone Smith, Sacramento Children’s Museum (CA)

What do you love about your children’s museum?

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

Top photo courtesy of Lynn Meadows Discovery Center.

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.

Disaster Resources for Children’s Museums to Share with Families

The children’s museum field has a long history of stepping up to support their communities in times of need. We’re heartened by the strength of California children’s museums as they offer children and families a retreat for playful learning to families affected by widespread fires in the state.

The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, California, has dealt with the devastating impact of both fires and a flood in its community over the past three years. Throughout these challenges, the museum has pursued its mission to inspire curiosity and creativity through joyful, transformative experiences.

Even though the museum was closed temporarily due to nearby evacuations, they still put their community first by developing a resource list, as well as compiling a list of museums throughout California that are offering free or reduced admission to families affected by the Kincade fire.

Resources for Children and Families Coping with Trauma

In recognition of the effects fires have on the communities it serves, the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County has compiled a list of helpful resources for children and families coping with trauma. The museum provides this list as a reference tool and does not endorse or claim to have personal knowledge of the abilities of those listed.

Museums offering FREE Admission to Families Displaced by the Fire

The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County is updating this list in real time as it receives confirmation of museums offering free admission. This list may not include all museums offering free admission; list is current as of October 30, 2019.

Thank you to the following California museums for supporting our community:

These resources first appeared on the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County’s website.

The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, California, provides hands-on, interactive exhibits and activities in a safe environment that are custom designed for families with children aged ten years old and younger. Follow the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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

What Is A Children’s Museum?

By Laura Huerta Migus

Children’s museum professionals face a unique challenge in the museum field: people often ask us, “What is a children’s museum?”

Children’s museums have led the way in so many important trends in the museum community: a focus on using objects, hands-on learning, and putting children first. But this work can be invisible to those unfamiliar with it.

Over the past couple of years, ACM has grappled with this question, resulting in our new document, “What Is A Children’s Museum?,” which articulates how every children’s museum–regardless of its size–functions across four key dimensions: local destinations, community resources, educational laboratories, and advocates for children.

We debuted this document at InterActivity 2019: FearLESS. Since then, we’ve fine-tuned it into a two-pager that shares “What Is A Children’s Museum?” and “The Four Dimensions of Children’s Museums.”

Laura Huerta Migus is executive director of the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM). Follow ACM on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

11 Mascots from the Children’s Museum Field

Many children’s museums around the world have mascots that represent their museum’s mission, history, and sense of fun. We talked to eleven ACM members about what their mascots mean to them. 

Sparky the Art Dog at Buell Children’s Museum (Pueblo, CO)

When Buell Children’s Museum was first founded, the name of the museum was P.A.W.S., for Pueblo Art Works. The dog theme originated from the idea of paws. Sparky the Art Dog has a black spot in the shape of a heart, and he loves reading and birthday parties!

Moe Monster at Children’s Museum of Houston (TX)

Moe Monster was imagined by the Children’s Museum of Houston in 2013 with the idea of a quirky character who embodied childlike qualities—fierce and free spirited; unique but relatable; and with a willingness to take on the world head on! Moe Monster first made an appearance as an animated character during the Children’s Museum of Houston “Summer of Epic Adventure” commercial in 2013.

Mary at Children’s Museum of Sonoma County (Santa Rosa, CA)

Mary is short for “mariposa”—Spanish for “butterfly.” Inspired by Mary, the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County uses the lifecycle of a butterfly woven throughout the exhibits in their outdoor space, Mary’s Garden. The museum has evolved from a small, volunteer-only mobile museum to a medium size children’s museum—and Mary’s lifecycle supports their evolution as they continue to grow. Every year, the museum sets up a small voting booth and holds elections for President of Mary’s Garden. This encourages children and families to engage in their communities, stay informed, and (most importantly) learn the process of voting and how important it is.

Kidoodle at Children’s Museum of South Dakota (Brookings)

The name is a combination of two words: Kid and Doodle. Kidoodle was designed to be inclusive with the hope that everyone could see themselves in Kidoodle, and to showcase the museum’s playful, creative, and fun spirit. The colors of the museum’s logo and the Kidoodle shape were chosen with the help of children who identified green, purple, and pink as their favorite crayons to draw with. Kidoodle was introduced at the museum’s groundbreaking in October 2008, and has been serving as the museum’s ambassador ever since! Right now, a plush Kidoodle is traveling Germany with one of the museum’s play guides who is studying there (@prairieplaysd).

Gnarkles at Children’s Museum of Tacoma (WA)

Gnarkles was created by Ben Brown for the museum in 2009. Gnarkles isn’t one specific thing, and can be interpreted to be something different based on the perspective you have! His name was chosen from a local contest. Gnarkles is completely created from kitchen pots, pans, and utensils!

Geo at The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (Greenville, SC)

Geo is made up of colorful 3-D shapes forming a person. He represents a playful spirit, based in an educational foundation. Geo stands outside the museum in statue on top of a podium scaling around ten feet tall! He also is in the museum’s logo and represents the museum’s brand to their community.

Bessie the Dinosaur at Discovery Museum (Acton, MA)

The museum didn’t choose Bessie—Bessie chose the museum! Visitors like to climb, sit on, paint, wash, and hug Bessie. She stands at the front of the museum’s property, and children love to look for her as they pass by in their parents’ care to see what hat she is wearing that day!

Can Can at Discovery Place Kids-Huntersville and Discovery Place Kids-Rockingham (NC)

Before Discovery Place Kids opened in Huntersville, the museum worked to develop Can Can as a physical representation of the spirit of their efforts to create a children’s museum. Can Can was developed as someone children could identify with. To this day, the mascot represents the personality of Discovery Place Kids, now in two locations. Both Discovery Place Kids museums have an overall focus of encouraging children to believe in themselves, evidenced in the exhibitions all being named “I CAN …,” which is how Can Can was named!

Wooly the Mammoth at Fairbanks Children’s Museum (AK)

The Wooly Mammoth is the Alaskan State Fossil. The museum has an enormous chicken wire Wooly Mammoth sculpture, made by local artist Lacie Stewing, that visitors are encouraged to tie yarn to as a collaborative art project!

Squiggles at Please Touch Museum (Philadelphia, PA)

The mascot was born as part of Please Touch Museum’s rebrand in May 2018 and was unveiled in October 2018 through a PTM Birthday Bash. Squiggles’ name was chosen in a citywide naming contest with more than 1,400 creative entries. As part of the museum’s commitment to inclusivity, Squiggles is gender non-binary and referred to using the pronouns they, their, and them.

Wilbur Wonderscope at Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City (KS)

Wilbur is based on the sun in the museum’s logo. He was created to serve as the mascot for their grocery store in the Farm to Market exhibit. The museum wanted a fun and whimsical mascot who would make people smile just looking at it. Another goal was to replicate a mascot kids might see in a real grocery store, adding a level of reality to the imaginary play happening in the exhibit. In April 2019, the museum is continuing their 30th anniversary celebration with a campaign called “Where’s Wilbur?” Wilbur will hide in the museum every day, and children who find him will get their photo with Wilbur on our photo wall.

Thanks to Buell Children’s Museum, Children’s Museum of Houston, Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, Children’s Museum of South Dakota, Children’s Museum of Tacoma, The Children’s Museum of the Upstate, Discovery Museum, Discovery Place, Fairbanks Children’s Museum, Please Touch Museum, and Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City for sharing their stories!

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

The First Four: Origin Stories of the First Children’s Museums in the United States

Pictured clockwise from top left: Brooklyn Children’s Museum (1899), Boston Children’s Museum (1913), The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (1925), and Detroit Children’s Museum (1917)

The following post appears in the “History and Culture Summit” issue of Hand to Hand, ACM’s quarterly journal.

By Jessie Swigger, PhD

In the first twenty-five years of the twentieth century, four museums for children opened in the United States: Brooklyn Children’s Museum (1899), Boston Children’s Museum (1913), the Detroit Children’s Museum (1917), and The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (1925). These four museums—opened by different individuals and groups in different places and at different times—were linked by more than their shared focus on young audiences.

First, they were all shaped by the progressive education movement, which was then at the height of its power and influence. Second, at each museum, women played significant leadership roles (which was unusual in the museum profession, or anywhere). Many of these women knew one another and created a new professional network for their particular brand of museum work. Reflecting on the origin stories of these pioneer children’s museums sheds light on current trends and directions in the children’s museum movement.


Brooklyn Children’s Museum (BCM) opened in 1899, less than one year after Brooklyn became a borough of New York City. The museum originally operated under the umbrella of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (BIAS), then in the process of moving into a new and much larger building under construction on Eastern Parkway. The children’s museum opened just a few blocks away in what was known as the Adams House in Bedford Park (now Brower Park) in Crown Heights.

BCM was open to the public, free of charge, and sought to provide young people with an introduction to the natural sciences that supported the “various classwork of the public schools,” particularly along the “lines of nature study.” The BIAS Annual Report of 1901-1902 included a special invitation to teachers encouraging them to draw on the museum’s resources when developing “class work in nature-study.” This focus on nature study is perhaps unsurprising—New York’s recently appointed superintendent of public schools, William Henry Maxwell, was an advocate for nature study in the curriculum.

The nature study movement, part of the increasingly popular progressive education movement, encouraged young people to learn by observing and interacting with the natural world. Historian Sally Gregory Kohlstedt explains that “at the core of nature study was a pragmatic insistence on using local objects for study emphasizing the connection between those objects and human experience.” It was particularly popular in urban areas, where progressives feared the lack of contact with nature in America’s growing cities would be detrimental to the Americanization of newly-arrived immigrants.

In 1902, Anna Billings Gallup, a teacher, nature study advocate, and recent graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined BAIS as an “assistant” at the children’s museum. Two years later she was named curator-in-chief. At a time when few women held significant positions in museums, Gallup was a pioneer.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s collections certainly reflected a commitment to nature study, but they also addressed the wide range of childhood interests and the breadth of the public school curriculum. Inside BCM, children found collections illustrating zoology, botany, U.S. history, mineralogy, geography, and art. Gallup explained in an article for Popular Science that the exhibits were “attractive in appearance, simple in arrangement, and labeled with descriptions adapted to the needs of children, printed in clear readable type.”

Gallup’s work was well recognized by her peers. In 1907, she was one of five women who attended the Second Annual Meeting of the American Association of Museums (AAM) in Pittsburg, PA, where she presented a paper titled “The Work of a Children’s Museum.” For the next thirty-four years, Gallup and her staff worked to expand the museum’s collection and physical presence.


Delia I. Griffin was one of the other women attending the 1907 AAM meeting, where she presented her paper, “The Educational Work of a Small Museum.” At the time, she was director of the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, VT. Like Gallup, Griffin was trained in nature study techniques and had even produced a pamphlet titled Outline of Nature Study for Primary and Grammar Grades. At St. Johnsbury, she created lesson plans in nature study at the museum for local public schools. Griffin and Gallup became friendly, and when a second museum for children opened in Boston, Gallup recommended Griffin for the job of curator.

In 1909, members of Boston’s Science Teachers’ Bureau began building a collection of natural history objects that could be used in public school classrooms. By 1913, the bureau had founded the second children’s museum in the United States, the Boston Children’s Museum. Like Brooklyn Children’s Museum, it was housed in a former mansion. Located at Pine Bank in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, the museum offered children access to ethnographic, natural history, and historical collections. Griffin would later write that the goal of the children’s museum was to train the “plastic minds of children to observe accurately and think logically.”


In 1917, the Detroit Museum of Art, undergoing its own growth, opened a children’s museum, with yet another woman at the helm. Gertrude A. Gillmore, a supervising teacher of the Martindale Normal School, was appointed curator. She explained that the museum’s purpose would be “two-fold: to loan illustrative material to the schools and to attract the children to the Museum through monthly exhibits appealing directly to their interests.”

In 1919, Gillmore reflected on the Detroit Children’s Museum’s (DCM) progress in a report. Like Brooklyn and Boston, the museum’s work developed in tandem with that of public schools. While the collection was drawn from the Detroit Museum of Art’s holdings, the children’s museum reported, “in general our policy has been not to organize material as a collection until a wish for it has been expressed.” This approach meant that collections were created in response to requests from public school teachers in an even more direct way than at Brooklyn and Boston. By 1919, the children’s museum had hosted exhibits on the “History of Detroit,” “Common Birds and Mammals of Michigan,” and several exhibits on “phases of art of interest to children.” In 1927, the Detroit Museum of Art changed its name to the Detroit Institute of Arts and moved to a new and larger building on Woodward Avenue. Two years earlier, the DCM had been placed directly under the Detroit Board of Education. The Detroit Children’s Museum found a new home in a building type that was now a familiar one to children’s museums—a former mansion—the Farr Residence at 96 Putnam in Detroit.


The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis opened in 1925. Discussions about children and museums had begun two years before, when the Indianapolis Progressive Educational Association (PEA) held its first meeting at the Orchard Country Day School. Founded in 1922, the Orchard School was a fitting location for the meeting. The curriculum followed Marietta Pierce Johnson’s “Organic School Model.” Johnson drew from progressive educator and philosopher John Dewey’s ideas about learning by doing. Two of the school’s nine founders were Martha Carey and Mary Carey Appel, daughters of wealthy socialite Mary Stewart Carey. In fact, Mary Stewart Carey had donated her home and apple orchard for the cause.

There were several items on the PEA agenda, but most pressing was a desire to make the museum collections housed in the Statehouse available to the city’s public school children. Faye Henley, newly appointed director of the Orchard School, argued, “The material should be put into traveling cases and sent around to the schools.”

Mary Stewart Carey may not have been at this meeting, but it’s quite likely that she knew about the Indianapolis PEA and their conversation given her association with the Orchard School.

The next year, Mary Stewart Carey visited Brooklyn Children’s Museum while on vacation in nearby Asbury Park, NJ. Soon, she was on her way to the Adams House. When she returned to Indianapolis, she was determined to create a similar institution in her hometown.

Carey was well positioned for this kind of endeavor. Her philanthropic activities expanded beyond the recently founded Orchard School. For example, she played a key role in selecting the Indiana state flag in 1917, and was a member of the Indianapolis Woman’s Club and the Art Association of Indiana. Carey’s connections would prove useful in garnering support and resources for the museum.

Soon, an organizational committee was formed with Carey at the helm. They quickly formalized their commitment to creating a museum centered on their intended audience rather than a collection, writing that “the viewpoint of the child should be considered in providing for the equipment and installation of all materials.” Over the next few months, the museum wrote a constitution, elected a board of trustees, and began developing partnerships with the local public schools and with clubs for children.

The museum board had members and interest, but they lacked the funding to purchase a collection. So, the board called on the local community to donate objects they believed would educate children. Museum lore claims that the first donated objects were a few arrowheads that Carey’s grandchildren had found and given to her. They received an overwhelming response from community members. One woman tried to donate a live alligator, perhaps knowing the Brooklyn Children’s Museum included a live animal collection, but the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis turned it down. While its sister institutions had solicited collections from established sources, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the children’s museum was the first to directly invite the community to participate in the creation of the collection.

In July 1925, the museum found its first home when the board rented a carriage house behind the Propylaeum, the city’s women’s literary society. By November, the board hired E.Y. Guernsey as curator. Guernsey was formerly an archaeologist for the Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles and at the Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Indiana. When Guernsey oversaw the museum’s first opening to public school classes the following month, there were no cases. Instead, the objects were placed on tables, out in the open.

Two years later, primarily due to high rent, the museum moved out of its first carriage house home and into Carey’s former home on North Meridian, where children visited a larger collection distributed among themed rooms that included the Geology Gallery, the Natural Science Gallery, and the Pioneer Gallery.

Connecting Past and Present

The four museums discussed here were created more than 100 years ago, but their origin stories raise questions for the contemporary movement. Each museum had strong links to the progressive education movement and to public schools. In many ways, the first four children’s museums saw themselves as partners with public schools. How do current children’s museums work with schools, and how do they view their relationship with them? Second, women played a central role in founding each museum. As an extension of the public schools, where a majority of the teachers were women, it was acceptable for women to take on the role of curator or director of a children’s museum. These women formed an unofficial but important network as they shared ideas about how best to do children’s museum work. Do women continue to play a larger role in the children’s museum profession than in other fields, or has this changed over time? How has the presence of women from the very beginning impacted the approach of various children’s museums?

There are many other similarities that these first four museums shared. In studying the connections among Brooklyn, Boston, Detroit, and Indianapolis, we can learn more not only about the foundational history of children’s museums, but also about the current state of the field.

Jessie Swigger is the director of Western Carolina University’s Public History Program. She earned her MA and PhD in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to presenting at numerous regional and national conferences, her work has appeared in The Encyclopedia of Culture Wars and The 1980s: A Critical and Transitional Decade. In 2013, she received the North Carolina Museums Council Award of Special Recognition. Her award-winning book, History Is Bunk: Assembling the Past at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2014.

To read other articles in the “History & Culture Summit” issue of Hand to Handsubscribe todayACM members receive both digital and printed complimentary copies of Hand to Hand. ACM members can access their copies through the Online Member Resource Library–contact Membership@ChildrensMuseums.org to gain access. 

Children’s Museums Offer Free Admission to Furloughed Employees

The recent partial federal government shutdown was the longest in U.S. history, with 800,000 federal employees furloughed or working without pay. Many ACM members around the country offered discounted and free admission to families affected by the shutdown. This list has been updated as of 11:00 a.m. EST on February 1, 2019.


EarlyWorks Children’s Museum (Huntsville, AL) – more info here.


Fairbanks Children’s Museum (Fairbanks, AK) – more info here.


Children’s Museum of Phoenix (Phoenix, AZ) – more info here.


Bay Area Discovery Museum (Sausalito, CA) – more info here. Says the museum, “We recognize that many furloughed employees are still impacted by the shutdown as they wait for back pay, and so are continuing to offer free admission.”

Habitot Children’s Museum (Berkeley, CA) – more info here.

The Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley, CA) – more info here.

The New Children’s Museum (San Diego, CA) offered free admission on January 12-13, 2019.

Paso Robles Children’s Museum (Paso Robles, CA) – more info here.


WOW! Children’s Museum (Lafayette, CO) – more info here.


Stepping Stones Museum for Children (Norwalk, CT) is hosting a free event for impacted federal workers and their families, including free admission and pizza, on January 30, 2019. More info here.


Glazer Children’s Museum (Tampa, FL) – more info here

MOSI (Tampa, FL) – more info here.  

Museum of Discovery and Science (Fort Lauderdale, FL) – from the museum: “The Museum of Discovery and Science will offer free admission to furloughed federal workers for the duration of the shutdown. Government employees must present a valid government I.D. at the box office. Admission is good for a total of 2 family members. Admission is for exhibits only.”


Children’s Discovery Museum (Normal, IL) will offer free admission from January 26-27, 2019. More info here.

The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn (Oak Lawn, IL) – $3 admission through February 1, more info here.

Edwardsville Children’s Museum (Edwardsville, IL) – more info here.

Kohl Children’s Museum (Glenview, IL) – more info here.

Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum (Peoria, IL) – from the museum: “The Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum and the Owens Recreation Center invite Federal Employees impacted by the budget shutdown, along with members of their immediate families, to visit the museum and ice rink without paid admission for the duration of the government shutdown.” Said Director Rebecca Shulman Herz, “We recognize that many families in Peoria are impacted by the Federal Government shut down. We are pleased to offer opportunities for free family fun and learning during this difficult time.”


The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (Indianapolis, IN) – through March 10, more info here.

Terre Haute Children’s Museum (Terre Haute, IN) – more info here.


The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center (Topeka, KS) – through January 31, more info here.

Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City (Shawnee, KS) will offer free admission on January 26-27. More info here.


Louisiana Children’s Museum (New Orleans, LA) – more info here.


Children’s Discovery Museum (Augusta, ME) – more info here.

Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine (Portland, ME) – more info here.

Coastal Children’s Museum (Rockland, ME) – from the museum: “All federal employees and their immediate families are welcome to explore the Museum and leave their stress and worry behind, if only for a few fun-filled hours. A current government ID is all that is required at the front desk for free admission.”


KID Museum (Bethesda, MD) – more info here.


Boston Children’s Museum (Boston, MA) – more info here.

Cape Cod Children’s Museum (Mashpee, MA) – more info here.

The Children’s Museum of Greater Fall River (Fall River, MA)

Discovery Museum (Acton, MA) – more info here.

EcoTarium (Worcester, MA) – more info here.


Duluth Children’s Museum (Duluth, MN) – more info here.

Minnesota Children’s Museum (St. Paul, MN) – more info here.


Children’s Museum of Bozeman (Bozeman, MT) – more info here.

New Hampshire

Cheshire Children’s Museum (Keene, NH) – more info here.

Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (Dover, NH) – more info here.

New York

The Children’s Museum at Saratoga (Saratoga Springs, NY) – more info here.

The Children’s Museum of the Arts (New York, NY) – more info here.

Children’s Museum of the East End (Bridgehampton, NY) – more info here.

Long Island Children’s Museum (Garden City, NY) – through January 31, more info here. Said President Suzanne LeBlanc, “Long Island Children’s Museum is designed to be a place of respite where adults and children can escape everyday concerns, as they learn and play together. We know that many families in our community are facing financial hardships as paychecks are missed, and are grappling with childcare issues. We want to support these families and show our appreciation for the important work that they do for all of us.”

Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum (Poughkeepsie, NY) has been hosting “Pizza and Play” events for furloughed workers. Said Executive Director Lara Litchfield-Kimber, “When we first conceived the idea of hosting our Pizza and Play nights for furloughed workers, we wanted to provide an evening of normalcy for those federal employees impacted by the partial government shutdown.” More info here.

Sciencenter (Ithaca, NY) – $1 admission, more info here.

Staten Island Children’s Museum (Staten Island, NY) – more info here.

North Carolina

Discovery Place Kids – Huntersville (Huntersville, NC), Discovery Place Kids – Rockingham (Rockingham, NC), Discovery Place Nature (Charlotte, NC), and Discovery Place Science (Charlotte, NC) – more info here.


COSI (Columbus, OH) – more info here.


Portland Children’s Museum (Portland, OR) – through January 31, more info here. Said Executive Director Ruth Shelly, “The partial government shutdown has put an exceptional strain on families with young children. We at Portland Children’s Museum would like to offer a little respite from that stress by offering a free opportunity to come play and learn together.”


Bucks County Children’s Museum (New Hope, PA) – more info here.

South Carolina

Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (Charleston, SC) – more info here.

The Sandbox: An Interactive Children’s Museum (Hilton Head Island, SC) – more info here.

South Dakota

Children’s Museum of South Dakota (Brookings, SD) – $1 admission, more info here.


Children’s Museum of Brownsville (Brownsville, TX) – more info here. Said Executive Director Felipe Peña III, “We understand that there has been a lot of uncertainty for a lot of these families as of late. Because of that, we’re extending this offer to all affected federal employees in hope that perhaps a day spent with family at the museum can provide at least a little ease and peace of mind.”

Children’s Museum of Houston (Houston, TX) and Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center (Sugar Land, TX) – more info here.

Thinkery (Austin, TX) – more info here. Said Thinkery CEO Patricia Young Brown, “Maintaining affordable access for everyone is a top priority for Thinkery. We know the shutdown is putting a financial and emotional strain on workers and their families all over Central Texas. We hope that opening our doors to them until the shutdown ends creates an opportunity for those families to set aside those worries for a while and spend time playing and learning together.”


Creative Discovery Museum (Chattanooga, TN) – more info here. Said Executive Director Henry Schulson, “Creative Discovery Museum is committed to being accessible to all children and families. When situations arise that are difficult for families in our community, we do what we can to support them during that time.”

The Muse Knoxville (Knoxville, TN) – more info here.


Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum (Salt Lake City, UT) – more info here.


Children’s Museum of Richmond – including all locations: Children’s Museum Downtown (Richmond, VA), Children’s Museum Short Pump (Richmond, VA), Children’s Museum Chesterfield (Midlothian, VA), and Children’s Museum Fredericksburg (Fredricksburg, VA), more info here.

Children’s Science Center (Fairfax, VA) – more info here.

Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum (Winchester, VA) offered half price admission for federal workers and their families.


KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue, WA) – more info here.

West Virginia

Spark! Imagination and Science Center (Morgantown, WV) – from the museum: “The free admission offer is good for up to four people per federal employee from Friday, January 25, until the end of the partial government shutdown. Any federal employee currently not being paid because of the government shutdown (both furloughed, and those required to work without a paycheck) are eligible for this discount. To take advantage of this offer, guests must provide any form of federal employee ID.”


Betty Brinn Children’s Museum (Milwaukee, WI) – more info here.

Madison Children’s Museum (Madison, WI) – $1 admission, more info here. Said President and CEO Deb Gilpin, “We want to do our part to make the museum accessible to these families during a stressful time. We know we can be a haven for families. If parents are now home with the kids unexpectedly and money is tight, we hope this helps them get out of the house to enjoy a day at the museum.”


Jackson Hole Children’s Museum (Jackson, WY)

Children’s museums have a long history of stepping up to support their communities in times of need. For families dealing with the stress of the shutdown, they offer a retreat for playful learning.

If we have missed your museum in our roundup in error, please do not hesitate to get in touch! And if you’re a federal employee looking to visit one of these museums, please call the museum ahead of time for more complete information.

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