Child-friendly museums are a great opportunity for your child to immerse themselves in play, learn about new subjects, and explore their imagination. Though the museum experience may cater directly to your child, that doesn’t mean you should be totally hands off and take a back seat during your museum visit. In fact, research shows that adult guidance combined with hands-on interaction provides an optimal learning experience for children in a museum setting.
Next time you’re at a children’s museum—it doesn’t matter if it’s a science center, natural history museum, or specialty museum—try these simple tactics to guide your child’s learning.
1. Let Your Child Lead
“During museum activities, parents should try to strike a balance between providing their child with assistance and maintaining a child’s sense of autonomy,” explains Helen Hadani, Ph.D., Head of Research at the Center for Childhood Creativity at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. “This adult guidance technique, often referred to as scaffolding, can be challenging but it is an invaluable part of the learning process.” If your child is stumped and having trouble starting a project, provide a few ideas and suggestions – but don’t take over. Simply help them get their creative juices ﬂowing.
2. Ask “Wh” Questions
When your child is engaging with museum activities join in by asking “Wh” questions. This means asking questions that start with words like “who,” “what,” and “why.” For example, “What is this called?” or “What would happen if you use this block instead of that one?” In a study published in the journal Developmental Psychology, researchers found that children (4 to 8 years) were more successful in museum activities and challenges when their parents engaged in elaborative “Wh” questions and conversations. “Guided questions and attention can have a meaningful effect on children’s learning in a museum setting,” says Hadani, an early childhood development expert.
3. Use Grown-Up Words
“Use grown-up words and ideas when you talk to your child about their project,” says Hadani, “it helps expand their vocabulary and develop critical thinking skills.” A growing body of research shows that mature conversations between adults and children combined with hands-on experiences leads to deeper learning in museum spaces.
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