The museum's plans for permanent exhibits are only conceptual at this point. We plan to hire an exhibit design firm in 2003 to expand our vision. The following text, taken from our Feasibility Study, provides a more in-depth vision. If you'd like to be involved in working with the design firm, please let us know.
During the consultation process we heard from those interviewed what they would like children to learn when visiting The Childrenís Museum.
There is a strong sentiment among parents that knowledge about the sciences, particularly the physical sciences and technology, was essential for all children. This belief is related to the expectations about future employment opportunities and required job skills, which is not surprising given the major employers in the area. The second factor in the desire for a science focus is that parents want their children to understand how science explains and influences our daily lives. Being knowledgeable is essential to being able to make informed decisions about choices at a personal or community level. The Robotics Contest that involves youngsters and adults in creative problem solving and The Education & Business Partnership initiatives are two examples of programs in the area that are addressing these kinds of issues. By making science a core focus of The Childrenís Museum there will be an opportunity to reach even younger children as well as provide an environment for parents to learn how to provide enrichment to their children. Parents expressed concern about their own level of competence to provide what they feel their children need to know.
Topics that could be presented within the context of this theme include:
Natural Environment Theme
The natural environment may more appropriately be regarded as a sub-theme of Science, but for the purpose of emphasis it is identified as a major interpretive theme of The Childrenís Museum. Within Somerset County there are distinctive landscapes and features that make the County attractive as a home for humans, plants and animals. The coexistence of humans in the natural environment presents on-going challenges and at times confrontations, such as when the Raritan River flooded. Many of those interviewed expressed an interest in the Museum presenting topics related to the nature of the environment as a system, and the impact and relationship of human activity on the environment.
Topics that could be presented within the context of this theme include:
The Community Theme
During the consultation parents, teachers and others involved in working to make the area a better place expressed that there is a real need for residents to develop a greater sense of "community" and an awareness of the historical and contemporary nature of the social and cultural character. There is no cultural or heritage organization currently meeting this need and there is no place where these stories and discussions can take place. This content theme is also related to the very strong need that was expressed for a place where all members of all communities can come together for social interaction that is supportive of people in need.
Topics that could be addressed in the context of this theme include:
Creative and Cultural Expression Theme
Creating awareness of the variety of means of creative expression in all the arts and how people of different cultures create art forms that are particular to their own experiences and values provides a wealth of opportunities for exhibits and programs at The Childrenís Museum. By becoming the place where children and adults are free to explore their own creativity and learn more about how other art forms from a wide range of perspectives The Childrenís Museum would be unique and meet a broader community need for awareness of cultural diversity.
To communicate this theme exhibits and programs could include topics such as:
The exhibits will be the core of the Museumís public program. While collections-based museums develop exhibits based on the type and scope of its material objects, The Childrenís Museum will select topics or experiences that are interesting to children. This section presents recommendations pertaining to the Museumís exhibition program.
We recommend that the Museum allocate 6,400 sf of space to exhibits, and that this space be programmed to meet the broad range of needs of its young visitors. In planning for the exhibits and the space they will occupy it will be important to parents that they have clear views of the entire exhibit floor in order to keep track of older children while being involved with their babies and toddlers. Furthermore, the exhibit floor will need to be secure so that parents can feel confident about allowing their children to explore the exhibitions with some level of independence.
Within each exhibit zone it will be important to over the full range of communication modes. As noted earlier, children have a wide range of needs for stimulation to optimize learning opportunities.
The exhibitions could be developed as follows:
Exploration Zone: This would be an exhibit area specifically geared to the needs of the Museumís youngest visitors, ages 1-5, who have specific developmental needs. This Zone would offer special opportunities for parents and young children to interact, role play, read together, learn together, develop motor skills, and play. Within this area, further delineation and programming should be available for babies and toddlers (up to age 3) since they need to be in a more protected environment. The exhibits and activities presented in this Zone would explore the four themes using a variety of hands-on activities, toys and play stations sized for this age group. Here the exhibits would focus more on providing opportunities for open-ended, creative play using a wide variety of materials in simple yet designed environments. For the Nature theme the play area could be an enlarged tree where children can play inside and see how different animals make their home in the forest. Children could dress-up as different kinds of animals, hunt for food and find a "home". Specialized programming may include a Parents and Tots program, pre-school classes, and activities which help parents learn about and how to communicate with their children during these important formative years.
Long-term exhibits would explore each of the Museumís core themes with components on a wide variety of topics. The "permanent" exhibitions oriented primarily to children aged 6-12) would incorporate interactive activities, contextual experiences and multimedia. Interactive, hands-on creative play will be the general focus, allowing children and accompanying caregivers to explore their creativity, use their imagination, and interact with each other in meaningful ways. Furthermore, the use of multimedia, with an emphasis on problem solving and cognitive learning, will be a key element in engaging older children in the exhibition themes.
These exhibits would be in place for a minimum of five years, thereby offering the familiarity that young children prefer. They would be of the highest production quality to withstand the wear and tear over this period of time. These exhibits would be purpose designed and built, unique to this childrenís museum.
It is recommended that for each of the four themes that the experience of living in the Raritan Valley region be used as the connecting theme, to build as much of the exhibit experience in relation to what children are familiar with, thus providing children with a reference point while participating in the exhibits. This will also encourage parents and care givers to continue to draw their childrenís attention to their environment when they leave the Museum, thus continuing the learning experience.
The Museumís Board has already developed a wide range of topics that could be turned into activities or actual exhibits at the Museum. The next step will be to link potential exhibit components into the core themes to provide an integrated and comprehensive approach that, will lead to the achievement of the Museumís mission and educational goals.
Temporary exhibits will allow the childrenís museum to offer new exhibits and programming opportunities, thus boosting repeat visitation. While younger children like the familiarity of the long-term exhibits, parents and older children tend to be more interested in "something new." These exhibits would be in place for 2-4 months. They may be developed in-house, in collaboration with other institutions or community organizations, or be developed by other institutions. A number of childrenís museums and science centers have developed exhibition consortiums to develop and circulate exhibits to other institutions. These packaged exhibitions can be supplemented by the Museum and new programming developed to broaden the impact of these types of shows. We recommend that the Museumís temporary exhibition space be 1,200 sf. The space should be highly flexible to accommodate different size shows for different periods of time.
Magic Circle: This is both an exhibition and programming space serving as orientation to the magical experiences of The Childrenís Museum. It would provide group orientation, be a gathering point for families who may split up to enjoy different areas of the Museum. Programs, daily events and encouraging visitors to "please touch" will be communicated via graphics or multimedia. Visitors will naturally gravitate towards the Magic Circle, which should be readily visible upon entry into the Museum.
The Magic Circle would also serve as a multipurpose area for activities such as:
Outdoor exhibits could include a natural garden, weather station, animal exhibits, such as bees, butterflies or other insects. Another type of outdoor exhibit could be a themed play zone that would include climbing and other types of play equipment.