Children and families
Elements that particularly appeal to family groups include:
Families spend longer at exhibits where there is something to do, particularly if this requires interaction between group members. If possible, interpretation should encourage conversation, discussion and play.
Suggestions for older children include:
For younger children, exhibits should stimulate play but also enhance learning. For example, children's areas could include:
Whatever their age, the important thing is to design experiences that will not only interest children but also link to or 'bring alive' the topic under scrutiny. They do not have to be large and expensive to achieve this aim.
Some examples include:
|Be a pirate for a day||Pirate ship
Pirate dress-up clothes
|Hoisting the sails|
Walking the gangplank
Steering with the ship's wheel
Loading and 'firing' canons
|What did dinosaurs look like?||Replica archaeological dig with hidden 'bones' and fossils||Brushing and chipping away rock to reveal 'fossils' and 'bones'|
Classifying dinosaurs according to size/colour (younger children) or eating habits (older children)
|What do birds eat?||Plastic worms and bugs||Digging through piles of leaves to find plastic worms and bugs|
Incorporating children's needs into regular displaysMany displays are too high and too complex for children, and parents soon tire of lifting them to view displays that in some cases are too difficult to explain!
Design elements that combat access problems include:
- displaying items at 'child-friendly' heights;
- providing a viewing platform for children to stand on;
- cutting 'peep' holes into the front of exhibits at various levels to allow viewing by children of different heights;
- creating 'discovery holes' for children to crawl into;
- placing labels and text at a child-friendly height; and
- incorporating display boxes in the floor (this is particularly good for displaying models of ground-dwelling creatures, relief maps, archaeological ruins etc).
Design elements that enhance children's enjoyment and stimulate learning include:
- tactile displays at child height;
- models/exhibits with exaggerated elements (eg. giant insects; rabbit warrens that children can crawl into);
- models of display objects for children to handle (ensure these are robust and safe for small children);
- information hidden behind flaps/sliding panels;
- numbers/letters that children have to search for to answer questions or puzzles;
- quizzes, riddles, games;
- 'hidden' objects within displays;
- audio visual displays;
- exhibits with elements that respond to children's actions (eg. noises when buttons are pressed; figures that 'pop up' when children stand on a particular spot);
- humour, satire and cartoons;
- displays that portray popular television/film/book characters; and
- formats that 'tap into' the mindset of younger visitors (eg. traditional TV game shows).
Outdoor settingsThe ideas and principles above can also be used in outdoor settings.
- agility, balance and co-ordination activities can be incorporated into trails by building low level balance beams, swinging bridges, climbing frames and flying foxes.
- you could hide some 'treasures' such as carvings, numbers, animal statues, fake jewels (whatever fits within your theme) along the route for children to search for. Ensure these are clearly pictured at the beginning of the trail so that adults as well as children know what they are looking for!