The preschool audience

This page outlines how museums are responding to the needs of early learners and explores potential opportunities for partnerships and projects that can inform the processes by which museums can engage this key audience.

A range of issues and needs have been identified through various studies undertaken for the Museum's new Kidspace exhibition.

What do parents/carers want?

  • plenty of space, including outdoor areas for play, exploration, fresh air and eating
  • activities where you actively participate through sensory experiences, especially touch, and where you can 'get up close'
  • experiences that are content-rich, not superficial, and based on the organisation's strength
  • start with familiar and go from there
  • activities that are fun
  • mixture of physical and quiet activities
  • activities that are specifically catered to the age/developmental needs of children
  • activities where parents can choose join in or just sit, watch and relax
  • facilities close by (eg toilet, nappy change area, feeding areas)
  • safe environments where children can't escape (!)
  • For the Museum, an Australian focus: animals and culture, including Indigenous culture

What do visitors like about venues for preschoolers?

  • open spaces
  • outdoors: seeing and experiencing nature
  • where it's okay to be noisy
  • able to see children at all times
  • provide plenty of comfortable seating and rest spots
  • not controlled in sense that must do things in a sequence, not directive
  • places that offer a mixture of things to do together as a family group or children doing by themselves while parents relax: free choice is the key
  • variety of activities and things to do: they can pick and choose what to do
  • where you can touch and do: active, not passive

What do visitors dislike about venues for preschoolers?

Generally, venues that were boring for littlies; where you have to be quiet and can't touch anything; and where there is nothing for children to do were rated poorly. Other issues raised were:

  • experiences that were passive not active: where you just look and can't do
  • poorly maintained exhibits
  • too crowded
  • rude staff unsympathetic to their specific needs
  • not enough information to help parents know what to do: programs must be pitched at the right level/tone
  • too much reading, text panels
  • too much to do, too complex

Other findings

  • Barriers preventing children from leaving a space was a key issue for all groups - parents relax knowing that their children are safe in one area and cannot get lost or run away.
  • Minimal requirements are a nappy-change space and running water for hand-washing.
  • A separate area for breastfeeding was considered desirable.
  • Parents usually take own food and refreshments and feed the children when they are hungry due to cost savings and convenience.
  • Parents value learning and expect that it will be an important part of the experience.
  • Programs and activities must be fun.
  • Both activities that are physically active and calm and quiet are wanted.
  • Climbing structures are important.
  • A separate area for pre-walkers/crawlers is needed so they don't get trampled by bigger children.
  • Staff providing another level of interaction for the children as a facilitator, not just telling the children what to do.
  • Parents/carers want something for children to take home to remind them of the visit; to prompt long-term learning; and encourage them to tell others about what they did.
  • Comfortable seating is essential.
  • As a visit is usually aimed at the older children in the group, a heavy focus on babies is not essential: they're happy just to watch and be stimulated through this.

Lynda Kelly
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