The number one question posed to those of us at Kid Time is, "What exactly is a children's museum?" The fact that so many people are unaware of the concept is understandable; The word "museum" conjures up images of quiet spaces with exhibits behind glass; places designed for looking, not touching. Adding children to that concept seems unnatural.
In fact, a children's museum is the exact opposite of a traditional museum in that it's a place where kids can learn through play and exploration. Everything in a children’s museum is designed to be hands-on and interactive. Exhibits, furniture, and props are child-sized and designed to encourage imaginative activity or, what scientists call "free play", as well as interaction between the child and her parent(s). You might also call a children's museum an early learning center because free play is vital to proper brain development. 90% of a child’s brain growth occurs before the age of 6 so, failure to engage in free play at an early age can seriously hamper critical thinking skills and social
interaction, as well as the development of fine and gross motor skills, attention span, problem solving skills, and visual and cognitive abilities. If a child is struggling in such areas before even starting kindergarten the ramifications down the line can be significant. Here in Oregon where preschool and daycare are more expensive than in any other state, Jackson County reported a 2016 high school graduation rate of just 75%.
The importance of children's museums is recognized worldwide. Kid Time is one of 243 children’s museums in the U.S. alone (with 70 more in development). Globally, the Association of Children’s Museums reports 341 museums in 22 countries. And many more communities offer some version of a children's museum attached to a science center or history museum.
Pick a country, any country, and the reality is that not every child has a safe, nurturing space in which to play and explore. And with technology taking over more of our lives many kids are spending up to 8 hours a day in front of a TV or cell phone screen. Regardless of the reasons why a child might not be engaging in imaginative play the repercussions are the same: stunted development, which leads to being unprepared for school, which leads to greater struggles down the line. Isn't it great to know that all it takes to prevent a child from heading towards many adult problems is a safe space and a little imagination? Both of which you'll find at your local children's museum.