Fellowships  
in Museum 
    Practice

"Hold that Thought: The development and use of interdisciplinary handouts as an effective methods of increasing understanding in young museum visitors"

Joe Cox
The Conservancy Museum of Natural History

 A visit to a museum is a different experience for each child who walks through the front door despite the fact that they are all confronted with the same exhibits. As each child is different, the recall for particular objects or experience may be unique to each particular child. The experience of a child in a museum may depend on a number of factors, pre-trip preparation, presence of an interpreter, participation in a specific activity or use of a handout.

How large a role in influencing the child’s museum experience do these factors have? This proposal aims to investigate the use of interdisciplinary handouts (activity sheets, site guides and other printed media) with children on museum visits. Museums worldwide invest significant funds in the development of handouts, activity sheets, site guides and other media in the hope of enhancing a visitors’ experience. An increased understanding of interdisciplinary handouts will be advantageous to museums, aquaria, zoos, and educational institutions regardless of their size or budget. Developing more effective handouts will improve children’s understanding to the subject matter and potentially improve their attitude towards museums in general.

 In many museums, handouts are directed towards a specific exhibit. Interdisciplinary handouts are designed to do far more than simply teach a child about a specific exhibit. Project MUSE has addressed the issue of interdisciplinary guides especially in art museums and it is apparent that this form of guide could be used in museum of any type. Rather than addressing a specific exhibit, the guide would address issues related to the exhibit, show links to other exhibits as well as introduce children to the concept of developing their own thoughts about an exhibit. It may be possible to expand the idea of interdisciplinary guides to exploring concepts by visiting not only different exhibits in one museum but visiting different museums. By increasing understanding of the effectiveness of interdisciplinary handouts, museums will be able to produce innovative new handouts designed to achieve maximum effect. A handout that will not only increase a child’s recollection of a visit to a museum but also encourage greater cognitive gain in children should be a goal of all educators. In many cases, handouts designed for children are also effective tools for increasing the general public’s understanding of a subject.

Bibliography

Davis, J. Project MUSE: Museums Uniting with Schools and Education. Cambridge: Harvard Project Zero, 1992. 

Wolins, I.S., N. Jensen and R. Ulzheimer, Children’s Memories of Museum Field Trips: A Qualitative Study, Journal of Museum Education, Vol. 17, No. 2 (1992): 17-27.

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