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Children touching a mummy puzzle

How does my child learn?

by Claire Thoma Emmons, Research and Evaluation Associate 

How does my child learn?

As caregivers, we often think about how to best support our children as they develop into healthy, thriving human beings. Providing a range of learning opportunities is an important part of that support. These opportunities can come in many forms, including the rich age-appropriate experiences found at children’s museums. Children’s museums excel at creating a setting where, as children play, they develop strong cognitive, social, emotional, and physical foundations.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, in partnership with the Association of Children’s Museums’ Children’s Museum Research Network, participated in a national study about how caregivers see and understand their children’s learning in the context of children’s museums. The study found that during their museum visit, caregivers observed instances of their children learning and in turn learned things about their children, such as how their children learn as well as newly developed skills and preferences.

Children playing with the ScienceWorks water table at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Research + Findings

The Network conducted this study to gain a better understanding of what caregivers learn about their children during a trip to a children’s museum. Through online questionnaires and follow-up interviews, the Network found:

In a children’s museum setting…

…caregivers discovered things about their children related to the process of learning. They observed details about how their children learn.

“My daughter, who is going to be six, was playing with the electronics. I tried explaining how the circuit needs to be complete… She wasn't really understanding until we sat down with the wires and traced a circle-like shape over the circuit. Once we broke the 'circle,' the little fan didn't work. The hands-on approach was more beneficial to her than my attempt at simplifying electricity verbally/conceptually."

…caregivers identified factors of the museum environment that promote learning and allowed them to observe how their children learn.

…caregivers felt that children’s museums offer a unique opportunity for them to observe how their children learn, unlike other places or experiences.

“I actually can see him learn in a lot of places. … What makes children's museums unique is that the structure and the setting is designed for exploration and for children to experience things that are not as accessible in other venues. At the park on the slides or the swings or watching other children in the sandbox, they learn. But when they go to the museum there are things there that support them and that encourage them that you don’t get in other venues.”

Children playing with baby sea turtles in Take Me There: Greece at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

On Your Next Visit

Next time you visit The Children’s Museum, take time to observe the process of your children’s learning. Observations can provide insight into their interests, motivations, and the way they gather information about the world. You can use what you see to help foster your children’s learning outside of the museum.

Keep an eye out for:

  • How they experiment with new materials, tools, or objects
  • The steps they take to figure out how something works
  • Ways they talk about what they are doing
  • Their interactions with other children in the space
  • Their emotions as they make new discoveries
  • Expressions of accomplishment or frustration
  • New materials, processes, or topics you did not realize they are interested in
  • Activities you could recreate at home
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Categories: Family Learning
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