Kids and text in museums

By: Deborah White, Category: At The Museum, Date: 25 Aug 2010

What do kids think about museum text? Want to hear directly from them?

School student looking at text

School student looking at text
Photographer: Jennifer Miller © Australian Museum

On Monday, I spent the day with year six students from MLC and year seven students from Granville Boys’ High. I was part of a team conducting a kids’ college workshop to find out what the kids thought about our upcoming exhibition on Birds of Paradise. I was interested in the kids’ views on exhibition text and other ways to tell a story in an exhibition. What I discovered was very useful indeed! While much of our research already confirms the following outcomes, it was great to hear directly from kids what they thought about sample texts and layouts.

Kids liked:

• short, bold text
• overview information rather than detailed labels
• well designed and spaced labels that were placed in close proximity to the object
• simple language that did not exclude young children or those whose first language is not English
• catchy second-person text that engaged them personally to ‘imagine’, ‘consider’ or contemplate a scenario
• humour
• clever or interesting topic sentence or heading
• text in an interactive or on a digital screen
• bullet points in labels
• labels that directed you to look at a particular aspect of an object or display that wouldn’t initially be apparent
• a mystery trail throughout the exhibition
• different points of view in text or in interpretive strategy (i.e. POV of an animal or predator)
• exhibition-themed booklets that offered take-home information and activities
• ‘magic paper’ in a sample exhibition booklet shown to them.

Kids disliked:

• text in general
• too much text
• plain colours
• cluttered design
• descriptive language when it didn’t have obvious information
• excessive use of bolded text that distracted the eye from reading the sentence
• exhibition-themed booklets that required too much immediate attention and distracted them from the displays.

Kids’ College was a great day for staff and students. A big thank you goes out to the MLC girls and the GBH boys!


Deborah White - 10.09 AM, 01 September 2010

Yes, the 'Plain English' approach seems to be the best one for a number of reasons. I was most surprised by the fact that the kids weren't keen on the booklets inside the exhibition. Although I probably shouldn't have been - anything that distracts from the experience isn't a good thing! But they were keen on a take-home keepsake - in the form of an activity booklet! So it's good to get to the bottom of exactly what they like - in what form and at what point in the exhibition.

Jennifer Miller - 4.08 PM, 26 August 2010

Yes! It was good to have these contrasting voices from these two schools. I think we take it for granted that we speak English. I think this is often the case in many places. It was good to have this reiteration (from several students).

Lynda Kelly - 4.08 PM, 26 August 2010

Great post Deb. I agree that the day was really fantastic and we got such great feedback. One thing that struck me was the emphasis some of the students (boys in particular) gave to using language that could be understood by non-native English speakers.

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