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Creating Toddler-Inclusive Museum Experiences

Many museums provide engaging and educational activities for children, but these tend to be geared towards those age five and above. The Museum of Communication in Bern noticed that while there were plenty of toddlers visiting with their families, the activities for children were not designed for children that young.

The museum had been working on how to foster more inclusiveness in their spaces, so they decided to look for a way to improve the experience for toddlers. Verónica Reyes Carrillo from Museum of Communication recently shared how they created a toddler inclusive museum experience at the Creative Museums Summit.

Building a toddler focused Mini-Museum

The museum has an on-site day care centre, so they asked the director if they could organise a visit and observe the toddlers in the museum. They wanted to see the exhibits and activities in action to see what worked and what could be improved. So the kids were brought in, and the museum staff observed them at play.

The toddlers were excited about being in the museum; they wanted to participate and try things out. One thing that the museum staff noticed was that many times they couldn’t easily participate because the stations were too high or some of the moving pieces were too heavy. Many of the kids were also quite shy, so the museum environment was a little overwhelming for them.

This gave the museum staff the idea to create a mini-museum in the day care to offer a safer place for them to learn and play. So they created a room within the day care to be a museum space rather than a play area. The mini-museum contained items from the museum collection and stations that were made particularly for toddlers. The day care staff were helpful in creating many of the activities.

The mini-museum performed 3 functions:

  1. An exhibition space to allow children to learn in a safe and familiar space
  2. A place for children to explore different types of communication and methods of communication throughout history
  3. A collaborative space where children, parents, and the day care staff could provide ideas on how to involve children in cultural participation

One of the most popular activities in the mini-museum is the telephones. The children love playing on the telephones, pretending to be adults taking calls. They could see what telephones used to look like throughout history compared to the smartphones they are used to seeing.

In addition to creating an educational and engaging experience in the mini-museum, the gallery staff noticed that the children seemed more at ease when they visited the main exhibits at the Museum of Communication. They would recognise the stations and various museum staff, and it removed some of the overwhelm in the museum space.

The work creating the mini-museum has led to some changes in the museum too. For example footprints to help better orientate the children and a quiet space where children can take a break on a museum visit.

Verónica Reyes Carrillo from Museum of Communication in Bern spoke at the Creative Museums Summit. To find out how you can watch all the sessions from this event on-demand, click here.

About the author – Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on digital and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now spends his time championing best practice through MuseumNext.

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