Teaching the art museum to play : enhancing early childhood education in art museums through play theory
This study investigates the impact of implementing play in the art museum to educate and engage children aged 2 to 5, utilizing lessons learned from children’s museums. In order to establish themselves as welcoming and educative resources for children, the programing and exhibit design of art museums must support the unique needs of early learners, namely, learning through play. Within the museum field, children’s museums offer best examples of how play can be integrated into a museum environment to encourage early learning. This study was conducted in three stages using the methodology of grounded theory. The first stage investigated the educational practice grounded in play theory of the Boston Children’s Museum in Boston, Massachusetts by observing the play of children aged 2 to 5 at an exhibit in the Boston Children’s Museum. Based on this data, the second stage developed a play-based workshop for local pre-kindergartners. The third stage implemented this workshop at the Blanton Museum of Art, in Austin, Texas, collecting data through video recording and interview. Findings from this workshop led to the formation of the following grounded theory: the integration of play in the art museum affords children aged 2 to 5 a context for making meaning about the artworks, encouraging engagement with artworks and providing opportunities for child agency. Art museums can help children develop an awareness of themselves and the wider world, offering experiences to engage, teach, and empower young learners. But, first, they must learn how to play.