Playscape

Problem:

How might we make the Playscape exhibit more collaborative between parents and children (ages newborn to five) and use the arts to promote children’s physical and cognitive growth through the Montessori method?

Background:

Children’s museums across the country aim to educate children and encourage parent-to-child interactions[1]. Using physical spaces and digital technology, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (ICM) takes a hands-on approach to active learning. The museum’s current exhibits focus on many topics, such as archaeology and natural science, and uses many creative digital tools to explore those subjects. However, the ICM does not currently run an exhibit focused on the intersection of creative arts and digital technologies, which would be highly beneficial to the museum and its users.

After the implementation of No Child Left Behind in 2001, focus on arts education and creativity in the public school system declined drastically in both funding and resources2. It has been proven that involvement in the arts at a young age increases academic success, mathematic achievement, and development3. By introducing users to the concept of arts and technology, the ICM could become a front-runner of education for the modern child, as well as fill a void where the public school system is found lacking.

During user research conducted at the ICM, we learned through interviews and observations that an exhibit space should be informative and entertaining to both children and their parents. Certain exhibits had limited parent-to-child interaction. Additionally, most parents were not opposed to integration of technology; however, the technology should not distract children from learning or prevent physical activity. Parents expressed that independent exploration, creative expression and active learning is essential in an exhibit.

Many other children’s museums, art museums, and local organizations have attempted to address the lack of arts and technology education in early childhood development. For example, the Children’s Museum of Houston features the Made in Your Mind exhibit, in which children physically build artistic creations at project tables, such as “Things that Fly” and “Music Makers.” London’s Barbican museum features an exhibit titled “Digital Revolution,” where users interact with digital technologies to learn about special effects, video production, and other digital arts. However, few museums integrate artistic self-expression and creative digital technology for children. But in order for Playscape to remain a traditional Montessori learning environment, the exhibit must remain aesthetically pleasing and compatible with multiage learning groups.

Solution:

The Playscape exhibit should integrate the digital arts, such as electronic music makers, visual media technologies, and digital display artboards to integrate digital expression and skills early into childhood development. The extension of the music and art areas of Playscape should require at least two individuals to complete tasks, either a child and child pairing or a child and adult pairing. For example, one of the pair can play the keyboard while the other records a music video on a child-like version of a video camera. These activities should be sophisticated enough that help is required of older children or adults so that the adults also feel creatively and actively fulfilled in the exhibit. Each activity should promote some form of artistic expression, but should not have a right or wrong answer.

References:

  1. Catterall, J., Chappleau, R., & Iwanaga, J. (1999). Involvement in the arts and human development: General involvement and intensive involvement in music and theater arts. Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts and Learning. Washington D.C.
  2. Puchner, L., Rapoport, R., & Gaskins, S. (2010). Learning in children’s museums: Is it really happening? The Museum Journal, 44(3), 237-259.
  3. Sabol, R. (2010). No Child Left Behind: A study of its impacts on art education. The AEP Wire.