Learning Center vs High Art - Children's Museum vs "Regular" Museums
Beyond having great value in and of themselves, the arts promote the health and well-being of children, including academic and personal growth, critical thinking and analytical skills, and the motivation to stay in school and excel.
— Center for Arts Education
Although the earliest established children’s museums both followed and were inspired by the original 19th century structure and orientation of existing museums, in the decades that followed, the concept of children’s museums morphed unequivocally into practicing a child-centric methodology that provides age-appropriate experiences for children to learn how to conduct themselves in real museums as opposed to hosting and exhibiting a permanent collection. Nowadays, children’s museums are more likely than others to cite their learning orientation, education and audience development thus shifting their attention toward interactive educational programming and representations of fun, playful, and enthusiastic environments at the expense of the preservation of tangible cultural heritage. As a matter of fact, in a National Survey conducted by the American Association for Youth Museums, nearly 80 percent of museum professionals agree that children’s museums are characterized exclusively by their hands-on interactive approach to learning and exhibition in order to introduce the transformative power of the arts to all children (and their families) through fun and advanced art projects in professionally equipped studios, across a variety of techniques and mediums, including printing, drawing, painting, weaving, sewing, photography, animation, filmmaking, editing, songwriting, sculpting, graphic novel, and more.
At first sight, it seems to be an intentional conversation happening between "Learning Centers" aka Children's Museums (the abstract concepts of accessibility, heritage interpretation, and inclusivity emphasized in critical museum studies are already implicated within children’s museums) and "High Art" aka Art Museums (generally, museums have integrated a stronger educational emphasis into their programming, and many have developed programs specifically for children and families to engage cultural narratives through a more interpretive approach than in the past). Yet, I am still resistant to the idea that young children’s main contact with art concept should be negotiated solely through what children’s museums and art centers have to offer.
I routinely take my seven and nine year old on trips to “real museums” (full disclosure, as New Yorkers we are lucky to live in close proximity to some of world's best art museums) because I believe that especially for children, museums introduce them to unknown worlds and spark their imagination (while also providing them with valuable learning experiences). Despite popular belief that museums only help fuel academic education, they, in fact, help broaden their horizons and provide knowledge regarding all spheres of life.
Museums have the ability to leave its visitors in awe of its grandeur and the amount of information it holds. They provide inspiration to young children via its resources and the artworks that arouse the creative mind. All in all, museums encourage children to dream, wonder and fantasise.
PROVIDE AN EFFECTIVE WAY OF LEARNING:
A single visit to a museum near you will provide children with in-depth knowledge about different subjects that they can acquire slowly for museums let you stay as long as you want. As informal learning environments, museums are a culmination of resources that promote informal education which is a process by which individuals acquire values, knowledge, skills etc. that are not applicable to the only field but will aid them for a lifetime.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST: One of the biggest perks of visiting a museum is that since it is so packed with exhibits and information, it gives children the opportunity to analyse and compare between different exhibits and pinpoint what information is important. Being able to thus compare and contrast is crucial towards developing critical thinking skills in children.
Museums are well enough equipped to awaken curiosity in young minds which in turn will lead to these children asking questions. Some of these questions may have immediate answers, some of them might need a great deal of thought to answer and some of them might not have any answers at all. No matter what they asked, all of these questions must be equally encouraged and children must be given the confidence to find the answers to them on their own.