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Herminia Wei-Hsin Din Ph.D.
The Ohio State University, 1998
Professor Vesta A. H. Daniel, Adviser

My dissertation topic involved children's museums and implications for art education and museum education. My study was consistent with dual interests in education for children as well as museum education.

Nationwide, children's museums have proliferated at a rapid rate during the last half of the century. Their educational innovations have had a tremendous impact on museums throughout the rest of the world and have changed countless minds in public and educational settings concerning the way children ought to be taught. Children's museums are designed specifically for children to learn, to spark their curiosity and imagination, and to provide a holistic understanding of themselves and the world around them.

The practice of children's museums reflects the philosophy of "learning by doing." The goal is to engage contextual understanding, emphasize participatory learning experience, focus on a thematic approach in programming and exhibition design, promote cultural diversity, and provide community services. A study of the history of children's museums provides a strong historical foundation for children's museum practitioners to have a better understanding of its past and present while also demonstrating the dynamic rationales for practices in today's art education and museum education in art museums.

American museums in the middle of the 19th Century were established for the purposes of collecting, preserving, and exhibiting art, natural specimens, and cultural artifacts. Traditional museums encouraged learning through passive listening and seeing and not by physical interaction with the object. They were primarily designed for adult interests. Children were expected to visit and enjoy the museums as adults did. Children were to be seen and were definitely not allowed to touch the museum collection. Nothing special or unique existed for children until the Brooklyn Children's Museum opened its doors on December 16, 1899. This museum was dedicated as a place for children to learn, to discover, and to satisfy their natural curiosities. Its opening marked the beginning of the development of children's museums across this great nation.

During its 100 years of history, the evolution of children's museums has been enthusiastically supported and recognized by parents, educators, community leaders, and boards of education. Consequently, there has been a continuing demand for the establishment of children's museums that became the fastest growing branch of the museum community. For example, there were over 40 children's museums, youth museums or junior museums by the 1960s. The number doubled during the 1970s and 1980s and more than 75 children's museums have opened to the public between 1990 and 2000. Approximately one dozen more children's museums are scheduled to open during the year 2001.

The purpose of my research was to identify how the changes in educational theories, as well as social and cultural issues, have affected the development of children's museums during their 100 years of evolution. My research also addressed the potential and importance of children's museums and their connection to the principles and delivery of art education and museum education. My primary research goal was to understand what a children's museum is and, in relation to educational, social, and cultural issues, understand how these causes have affected the development of children's museums in the United States.

My research was conducted as a historical research concerning the period of time between 1899 and 1997 to draw an overall picture of the development of children's museums in America as well as to provide a better understanding of the context of the children's museum movement. This study focused on the motivations for children's museums establishment; mission statements, impacts from various educational theories and practices, and the changing nature of social and cultural environments. In particular, it examined four periods of the children's museums development:

  • Derivation and Innovation (1899-1928);
  • The Importance of Children's Leisure, Institutional Sponsorship, and Community Joint Endeavors on the Development of Children's Museums (1929-1957);
  • Redefining the Philosophy of Children's Museums (1958-1980); and
  • Blossoming Development Nationwide (1981-1997).

I adopted these four periods because they reflect the broad historical shifts among applications of educational theory and learning strategy; the changes in social and cultural aspects; philosophical approaches to exhibition and program design; and the significance of children's museums in relation to the community.

The importance of this historical investigation lies in its attempt to explore the further possible collaboration among art education, children's museums, and museum education in art museums. With its presentation of the origins of children's museums and application of educational theories and methods in those institutions, the importance and significance of my research is to provide valuable information regarding current practices in the area of art education and museum education.




1. Introduction
1.1. Purpose of the Study
1.2. Research Questions
1.3. Methodology
1.4. Limitations of the Study
1.5. Significance of the Study
1.6. Definition of Terms
1.7. Outline of the Chapters

2. Derivation & Innovation (1899-1928)
2.1. Overview of the Period
2.2. The Brooklyn Children's Museum: The First of Its Kind
2.3. The Children's Museum in Boston: Place for Exchanging Ideas and Materials
2.4. The Children's Museum of Detroit Public Schools: A School Museum
2.5. The Indianapolis Children's Museum: Where There is a Will, There is a Way
2.6. A Summary of the Period

3. The Importance of Children's Leisure, Institutional Sponsorship, and Community Joint Endeavors on the Development of Children's Museums (1929-1957)
3.1. Overview of the Period
3.2. Needs for Children's Leisure Time Activity
3.3. Institutional Sponsorship

  • Department of Recreation and Parks
  • The Friends of Children's Museums Inc.
  • The Children's Museum Section--American Association of Museums
  • The American Association of University Women
  • The Junior League
  • The William T. Hornaday Memorial Foundation

3.4. Community Joint Endeavors
3.5. A Summary of the Period

4. Redefining the Philosophy of Children's Museums (1958-1980)
4.1. Overview of the Period
4.2. Science Education Reform
4.3. Michael Spock: A New Direction and A New Definition
4.4. Play and Fantasy: Integrating Architectural Concepts
4.5. Driving Forces of Involvement: Extending Alternative Learning Environment

  • Parents' Participation
  • Learning from Existing Children's Museums
  • Diversify the Face of Children's Museums

4.6. A Summary of the Period

5. Blossoming Development Nationwide (1981-1997)
5.1. Overview of the Period
5.2. Extend the Diversity: Types of Children's Museum

  • Regional Museums for Children
  • Informative Learning and Resource Centers and Cultural Institutions
  • A Children and Family Museum
  • Children's Museums with Special Focus

5.3. Motivations and Initiatives: The Need to Have a Children's Museum

  • Response to the Community Need
  • The Junior League's Sponsorship and Learning from Other Children's Museums
  • Seminars that Supported the Development of Children's Museums

5.4. Visions and Philosophies: What a Children's Museum Should be Like

  • Philosophical Approach
  • Theoretical Approach

5.5. The Partnership: Children's Museum and the Community
Collaborative Efforts
Resources for Urban Development and Downtown Revitalization
Community Service and Action
5.6. Reach the Need of Children: Foci and Ideas on Exhibit Design and Display

  • Applications of Modern Architectural Design
  • Special Topics in Exhibition Design

5.7. A Summary of the Period

6. Conclusion
6.1. Overview of the Study
6.2. Significance of the Study
6.3. Recommendations
6.4. Suggestions for Future Research
6.5. Final Thoughts


Appendix A: A Chronological List of Children's Museums (1899-1997)

Appendix B: Children's Museums and Resource Organizations on the Web

Appendix C: Example Record from the Children's Museum Database

Appendix D: Example Record from the Reference Database