Visitors may have noticed that our last two exhibits have been cultural exhibits that have focused on the lives of people who live in different parts of the world. During the first half of the year we housed the AWESOME Freeman Foundation’s traveling exhibit, Children of Hangzhou. Our current exhibit, Lindo Mexico, focuses on the beauty and culture of our Southern neighbors. But we may find ourselves asking, “why at a children’s museum?” Well, I’m here to answer that question and more!
First, let’s talk about museums and their purpose in society! All museums have one goal in common: to serve the public good. When we think of museums, we may think of fancy places where we have to put our hands behind our back to observe archived collections from a distance–but not all museums are like this! Children’s museums break that barrier and provide a space for experiential three-dimensional learning through play. The value of education is still high and there are endless learning opportunities that our visitors experience in a hands-on and engaging way!
So why cultural exhibits at children’s museums?
Like all museums, the Children’s Museum at La Habra exists to serve the public good, which means presenting opportunities for guests to have positive cultural experiences within our walls. Our goal is to foster understanding, increase awareness, and encourage respect for other cultures by representing them positively. Children (and adults, too!) not only socially benefit from positive cultural exchanges but research shows that “more diverse environments increase all students’ level of critical thinking, raise levels of their knowledge and awareness, challenge assumptions, and raise levels of their contact connections and communications” (Farhadi, 3). Children who learn about diversity and cultural differences at an early age are not only learning about the world around them and how to celebrate difference, but they are learning about who they are and their position in our global community!
The cultural exhibits we’ve housed in our Museum this past year have not only connected our guests to the world around them, but they have connected us to our guests. We have heard older guests reminiscing on their childhoods in Hangzhou, listened as parents and children sang the regional songs of their home states in Mexico, and watched as people smiled seeing bits of their own lives represented in our exhibits. What a joy it has been to expose our community to the beautiful multicultural world around them and, as a Museum, learn about the music, art, and dance of different cultures.
We hope that by opening our doors to the celebration of diversity, guests will leave with open hearts and minds and a new perspective on what it means to live in such a diverse world.
Additional resources on children’s museums, celebrating diversity, and cultural exposure:
The Benefits of Understanding Cultural Diversity in Education by Maliha Farhadi
How to Teach Children about Cultural Awareness and Diversity by PBS
What is empathy and how do you cultivate it? by NBC News: Better
Children’s Museums: Purposes, Practices, and Play by Margie I Mayfield.