Kate Wells is the CEO of the Children’s Museum of Phoenix (CMOP). Located in the center of downtown Phoenix, the Children's Museum is dedicated to engaging the minds, muscles, and imaginations of children and the grown-ups who care about them. The Museum’s hands-on exhibits are designed for children from birth to age 10. The Museum focuses on learning through play, and encouraging experimentation and fun. The Children’s Museum of Phoenix has been awarded a number of prestigious awards including being named the 3rd Best Children’s Museum in the Nation by Early Childhood Education Zone. In this Member Spotlight, Kate discusses Phoenix’s unique character and current trends in museum education.
How are Phoenix’s culture and museums unique?
Phoenix is a very young city - its real growth can be tied directly to the availability of modern air conditioning, and because of this, our major cultural institutions are relatively young too. While there are certainly benefits to having history and tradition behind museums, there is great freedom from convention that comes with being younger and more agile, and this has allowed the museums in Arizona to connect with the community, and other cultural organizations, in a unique and truly "Arizona" way.
What are some current trends in museum education that you find particularly important?
The movement away from didactic learning towards very hands-on, experiential learning has gone from a trend to a new way of doing business, and is one that we whole-heartedly support. Recognizing that people (not just children) learn in many different ways is the key to serving all of our patrons- and creating exhibits and experiences that appeal to people's minds, muscles and imaginations goes a long way in covering the many ways people experience our museums.
Another trend that is picking up speed involves museums partnering with higher learning institutions that encourage research to happen in museums with museum visitors. As part of our Living Laboratory Program, CMOP partnered with the School of Psychology from Arizona State University to study empathy in three to five year olds. The researchers set up a small research area, recruited parents with young children, spent 10 minutes with the children and parents playing specially designed research games, and concluded with conversations with the parents about encouraging empathy through play. The program is a win for all involved, including the Museum because after taking part in the study, parents reported having a new appreciation for the importance of play in their children's lives.
How does the Children’s Museum of Phoenix design exhibits and programs that meet the needs of different age groups and learning styles?
Our focus is on birth to ten, so designing exhibits can certainly be tricky. When designing exhibits for the main museum floor, our goal is for a 2-year old to be able to walk up to the exhibit and interact with it based on where they are developmentally, and a 10-year old can walk up to the same exact exhibit and interact with it in a way that involves them trying out their more developed skills. We do this by ensuring that every exhibit is multi-sensory and open-ended. For the youngest children, we mimic the themes that are found throughout the larger exhibitions on a smaller scale - there are special exhibit rooms just for the littles, and special areas within each exhibit space that are similarly themed but are more developmentally appropriate for our youngest visitors.
What would you like to say to attendees as they prepare for WMA 2016 in Phoenix?
Pay close attention to the myriad of partnerships that exist between our museums and our other partners. There are endless creative combinations of fine arts, performance arts, academia, government, non-profit, corporate and private collaborations happening everywhere, all the time. These partnerships are rooted in necessity, however, the creative confluence drives an incredibly rich and vibrant city. Enjoy!