Everyone belongs in a museum, and that includes young people.
Yes, even that museum.
Even your museum.
We often hear it said that some museums are ‘adults only’, such as modern art galleries, historic buildings, or those that explore sensitive topics. But here at Museum Hack, we believe there’s a place for young people in every museum.
But my museum is different, isn’t it?
Regardless of size, location, or subject matter, kids do belong in your museum. There may be exhibits or displays that are inappropriate for small children, but there’s almost always a way to get young people involved. The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, UK has programs and tours for schoolchildren of all ages, and the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk, Poland has educational workshops for kids as young as four. Don’t shy away from letting kids explore tough subjects – just make sure its in a safe, supported, and age-appropriate way.
So who are these kids anyway?
There are many different kinds of young visitors: school groups of all ages, families with children, extracurricular clubs, or teens visiting in their free time . It’s important to segment your child audiences as diligently as you would for adults. Putting all young people into traditional “families” or “schools” categories will create blind spots for your institution and obscure opportunities for growth.
Why bother about bringing in more young people?
In a 2015 report by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester, 100% of respondents agreed it was “important” or “extremely important” for museums to provide cultural activities for children and young people.
Because young people are your museum’s future. By engaging with people at a young age, you are actually securing the next generation of adult visitors, funders, volunteers, advocates, and employees.
On a more practical level, providing kid-friendly activities, exhibits, and facilities actually reduces bad behavior and disruption for other visitors. It makes sense – if young people are absorbed in an awesome activity or experience, they’re far less likely to be running around wreaking havoc.
OK, you’ve convinced me. Now how do I do it?
The best way to find out what your museum needs to make it kid-friendly is to get kids involved. Some great examples include youth panels, work-experience programs, and volunteer opportunities.
The Blikopeners (‘Eye-openers’) program at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam recruits teens to become peer educators, tour guides, and event organizers for the museum. And in the UK, the Kids in Museums charity helps museums engage young people as visitors, volunteers, and mentors.
Making your museum kid-friendly not only brings more visitors through the doors, but could also bring fresh perspectives to your exhibits and programs.
But what about the naysayers?
There will always be those who don’t think kids belong in your museum. It’s important not to underestimate the resistance museums can face when trying something new. But don’t let this scare you away from engaging with young people, even if your institution has never done it before. Resistance is a sign that you are doing something interesting and making an impact, so keep going.
If you have colleagues or visitors who are less keen on engaging young people, explain the reasons behind it (or even better, show them this article).
Museums are for everyone, regardless of age. Bringing in young people can only make your museum more awesome, both now and for generations to come.