Why Do We Need Children’s Museums?

In December, ACM’s executive director Laura Huerta Migus traveled to Poland for “Why Do We Need Children’s Museums?” a two-day conference jumpstarting the conversation around starting a children’s museum in Warsaw. The meeting was organized by the arts organization Artanimacje Association and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

Six ACM member institutions sent staff to give presentations about their museums: Boston Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Children’s MuseumThe Children’s Museum of IndianapolisLondon Children’s MuseumMUZEIKO – America for Bulgaria, and Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling.

We asked them about their experiences traveling to Warsaw and sharing expertise with an international audience. Read their responses below!

Leslie Swartz, Senior Vice President for Research and Program Planning, Boston Children’s Museum, presented, “Boston Children’s Museum: It All Started with Collections.”

What most impressed me about the “Why Do We Need Children’s Museums” conference in Warsaw was the sophisticated, independent and progressive thinking among the organizers and participants. I was inspired by their high-level of organization and dedication to achieving the goal of starting children’s museums in Poland, a place where opportunities for creative playful learning are sorely needed. They are a group of smart, well-informed and determined people who want to effect change. They are also realistic about the obstacles they may face, and are gathering significant support to overcome barriers. By tapping into existing expertise in the field, they’re starting out more fully-equipped to reach their goals.

My talk was about collections at Boston Children’s Museum, reaching back to the museum’s founding in 1913 by progressive educators seeking to improve learning among all children and to nurture the development of good citizens. That was revolutionary at the time in the US.  (Maybe it still is revolutionary.) The history and evolution of children’s museums in the US seems particularly pertinent to Poland. The prairie fire of children’s museum development around the world is heartening and makes me hopeful.

Erin Hylton, former Education Programs Manager, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, presented, “Programming for Over a Century: Addressing the Needs of Children and their Families since 1899”

The meeting highlight was connecting with colleagues in Warsaw and hearing about the incredible projects they have created for children and young people in Poland. It was inspirational and illuminating to be a part of the beginning stages of the development of a children’s museum in Poland.

It was an incredible opportunity to connect with colleagues from around the world in Poland, as well as hear about the work happening in children’s museums across North America and Europe. The children’s museum field is as diverse as the families and communities we serve through a variety of programs, projects and exhibitions. It was encouraging to hear how we are all working through similar questions and solutions, including teaching empathy to our family and community audiences.

Susan Foutz
, Director of Research and Evaluation, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, presented, “Value of Research and Evaluation for Children’s Museums”

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Warsaw and meeting new colleagues in the children’s museum field. As a tourist, the highlight of any trip is always visiting museums, and I had an incredible visit to POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This museum tells of the rich, and heartbreakingly tragic, 1000-year history of Jews in Poland. As a children’s museum professional, the highlight of the two-day meeting was the passion of everyone involved—from the presenters to the attendees and most especially the organizers.

I really appreciated the opportunity to hear from those representing museums in Europe and Canada. I am always amazed at the diversity of ways we meet our missions—we might use many different approaches (like art-making, facilitated play, object-based learning), but ultimately all children’s museums are powered by passionate people who are driven to enrich the lives of children. Seeing how this plays out in communities around the world is truly inspiring.

Milena Savova, Learning Team Leader, MUZEIKO – America for Bulgaria Children’s Museum, presented, “Design of Educational Programs for Children’s Museums”

The highlight of the trip for me was the possibility to meet my colleagues from other children’s museums. Since Muzeiko is the only children’s museum in Bulgaria, it is very motivating for us to know that we are not alone in our noble work. Seeing so many professionals dedicated to their work with kids gives us the sensation that we are a part of a big family.

After participating in the meeting, I understood that we can widen our focus of interest and further enrich our programs.

Jennifer Ifil-Ryan,
Deputy Director & Director of Creative Engagement, Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling, presented, “The Power of Storytelling and the Arts for Young Children”

The highlight of the trip was learning about the genesis and continued work of my colleagues in the field. There are so many approaches to working with children and families, all of them valid and important. Some were focusing on cognition, while others focused on investigation and program assessment. The opportunity to learn from each other was rich and I have taken many valuable lessons home with me.

The size range of children’s museum represented gave me a broader perspective on what our work looks like in different areas across the globe, as well as the consistencies in our values of honoring the spirit and potential of the child. That reinforcement was priceless.

Amanda Conlon, Executive Director, London Children’s Museum, presented, “Family Learning as a Tool in Children’s Museums and the Role Permanent Exhibitions Play in This.”


These presentations generated fruitful discussions that brought together the past, present, and future of the children’s museum field. Each speaker shared their museum’s story in a way that broadened the audience’s understanding of what children’s museums can do. We can’t wait to see how children’s museums continue to develop in Poland and beyond!

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

Photo courtesy of Susan Foutz.