Guest Blogger

Through a Child’s Eyes

Today, Museum Minute welcomes our first guest blogger! Take it away, Jenn:

Thank you to Lindsey for letting me guest blog.  Having both attended Eastern Illinois University’s Historical Administration program at different times, then serving on the alumni board of same program, we’ve known each other semi-professionally over the years.  Then, when she moved to my home state of Iowa, I’ve been following her adventures there with much interest, thanks to the internet and the ever ubiquitous Facebook.

Today, I’m looking at the museum through the eyes of a child.  Mine to be exact.  It takes my children to make me take a step back.

Girls fascinated by chrysalis in the butterfly garden

I came at this field trip with a unique perspective; I have spent most of my museum career working on, talking about, and being in what I would consider museum education.  How people learn in museums.  I am biased because a large portion of my training and career has been in living history museums, which means getting to do and touch a lot more than at a traditional museum.  Living history, quite literally, tries to make the past “come alive.”  Many “traditional” museums have learned from this and try to add elements of experience to their exhibits.  I’ve been led to believe that tactile and experiential are often more engaging for children and many adults.  Our visit was to the Milwaukee Public Museum, which I would classify as traditional.


You could get close and personal with the butterflies.

While it does offer some tactile or immersing experiences, most of its exhibits are static scenes that were put in during the 1960s or 70s, which I would describe as bland labels, tired dioramas and poor faded stuffed animals.  I worried my second grade charges would be bored.  Much to my surprise, they were not.

The fascination with the life sized dinosaurs, the runs through room after room of “stuff,” and the fun the girls had with peeking in the windows in the recreated turn-of-the-last-century downtown Milwaukee exhibit surprised me.  This was a definitely look and see trip, very little doing.


Tired diorama? Girls don't think so.*

Upon more thought, I realized this museum set up is just like one of the museums that sparked my interest in history.  The big State Historical Society of Iowa, before the new building (which was built when I was in high school, more than 20 years ago) where stuffed animal dioramas, native costume displays, hanging airplanes, and a whole wall of telephones grabbed my attention.  The opportunity to at least look and look at everything they could possibly have sparks our creative imagination to make stories in our head and prompts us to ask and find more information.  Which is essentially what we want to happen in museum education.

Static exhibits still have a story to tell and we don’t know whose imagination we’ll spark to become the next museum educator or curator.  I should know better.  Take a look at your museum experiences and see what sparks interest.  The trip will follow you home.

*eyes have been blurred for privacy purposes

Jennifer Van Haaften received an MA in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University and is the Curator of Interpretation at Old World Wisconsin. She was recently selected to be a peer reviewer for the MAP program with the American Association of Museums. View Jennifer’s profile on Linkedin.

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