Museums, Society, Inequality

By Richard Sandell | Go to book overview

14

Children’s museums in hospitals

Despina Kalessopoulou

Hospitalisation can have a highly significant impact on children’s lives: often unsettling, isolating and traumatic. What place do children’s museums have in the hospital environment, what impact might they have and how might this be achieved? Drawing on the experiences of recent programmes developed by the Hellenic Children’s Museum, this chapter considers these questions, and in doing so, raises issues about the wider social role and responsibility of all museums.


The social role of children’s museums

Originating in the US over a hundred years ago, children’s museums have now spread all around the world and have developed their own niche in the traditional museum scene. Collections are not the primary focus for this genre of museums. Rather, objects, exhibitions and programmes are viewed as instruments for stimulating curiosity, enabling interaction, and motivating learning (Maher 1997:2). Children, parents, educators, and their needs and interests are central to their role and function.

This focus on people and their needs informs every aspect of the museum’s work and community involvement is fundamental to the establishment and operation of a children’s museum. Children’s museums are set up by people, usually educators or parents, who want to create an environment that encourages exploration and helps children better understand the world in which they live. They are responsive to local circumstances and frequently function as social venues where adults and children can cooperate, play, learn and have fun. They are widely perceived as an educational resource for the local community with an important role to play in meeting social needs.

Children’s museums have assumed the role of social support centres in many different ways: they offer parenting services, they conduct after-school and evening programmes, and they act as community centres inviting all types of audiences to participate and share experiences in a safe, supportive and enabling environment. Lastly, children’s museums often seek to become fully integrated into the life of the community in which they are located by developing programmes

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