As someone who develops programs and resources for families, I often think about the role of adults during a museum visit. In MoMA Art Lab: Places and Spaces, our interactive space, we are sensitive to the fact that each family has their own way of relating to one another, which might change from day-to-day. Some caregivers read a book while their child builds a tower on the floor; others might work with their child to design a structure at the art-making table; while another adult/child pair might work side-by-side as they draw the place they’re from on paper Google Map Pins. It’s up to the Lab facilitators to gauge the kind of interaction each family desires and to help them engage with the activities and ideas in the Lab.
At a recent facilitator meeting, we focused on caregivers in the Lab. In preparation, I read a volume of the Museums and Social Issues Journal entitled “Rethinking Parent Engagement in Children’s Learning.” A few articles helped me better understand caregivers’ motivations and behaviors when visiting museums as a family.
I gleaned that caregivers recognize areas like MoMA Art Lab as a safe space where they can step back, and that standing back doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t engaged. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis learned from caregivers that they enjoyed watching their kids discover on their own. The majority shared that they didn’t want to interrupt their child’s experience, or didn’t want to take space from another child. A smaller number of caregivers shared that they needed a respite from playing with their child, some felt somewhat uncomfortable with playing in public, and a few just wanted to socialize with another adult. It was helpful to hear from caregivers why they might hang back. I was surprised that the majority of respondents said they chose to distance themselves so that their child could be more engaged.
It was also interesting to recognize that caregivers might defer to our staff because of their role in the space. The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia found that some caregivers want help and/or expect staff to interact with their kids. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis found that many caregivers recognized museum staff as “experts.”
Since caregivers have a range of motivations and expectations, we discussed how, as facilitators in the space, we might navigate those diverse needs. We identified ideas like providing challenges to kids and caregivers who want to work together, and modeling behaviors for caregivers who aren’t sure how to join in their child’s play, and also shared tactics for engaging adults when we need their help.
The goal was to be more mindful of caregivers in the space, to understand they have a range of motivations, recognize how their participation can be beneficial, and to share strategies for engagement.
Have you visited MoMA Art Lab? What were your motivations for coming? What do you value about the space? What do you like to do when you visit the Lab? Share your experiences in the comments section below.