With exhibition-specific, hands-on activities that can be carried from gallery to gallery, the packs are meant to increase interactions and conversations between children and their parents about what they are seeing at the Museum and how health care has developed over time. Parents or older siblings hold the written instructions and answers, and lead children on an in-depth exploration of each gallery. The goal: create a better visitor experience for any age, with a higher retention of information.
While many local museums, including the Museum of Health Care, offer activities and programs to bring history to life and make the concepts of the museum engaging, they are usually by registration only and run at programmed times. This is understandable as they require staffing to coordinate. For the Museum of Health Care, I wanted to take it beyond the popular scavenger hunts and activity sheets already available for casual family visits by adding a drop-in program that requires no additional staffing, but still provides an engaging experience for visitors with children.
Family Activity Backpacks are a program that has been implemented in various museums worldwide, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, and the MacLachlan Woodworking Museum here in Kingston.
My research resulted in two models of backpack: one pack named Doctor on the Go is intended for an 8- to 12-year-old audience and the other is Healthy, Happy Children, intended for 3 to 8 year olds. Two very helpful and insightful families tested these prototypes, which led to some surprising results.
The first family spent two hours in the galleries exploring the activities in both Healthy, Happy Children and Doctor on the Go, which doubled the time they anticipated spending at the Museum. The first pack was so enjoyable that they decided stay and complete the second. Activities that were anticipated to be completed quickly were explored thoroughly with the family, and the participants took the activities beyond the suggested instructions and drew connections between the activity, the gallery and their personal life. The adult of the group stated on her summative evaluation form that “The girls felt more ownership of the experience.” This prototype test demonstrated that the backpack fulfilled all the goals I had set.
The second family, with 3 children under 7, tried out Healthy, Happy Children. The experience was very pleasurable and the only glitches occurred as a result of one package of crayons being shared among three children. This family enjoyed activities that the other testers had said were their least favourite activity, which reinforced my idea that the pleasure of each gallery is found in the individual family.
After these testing sessions, I was able to work out the remaining kinks in the activity packs (the prototypes went through three transformations in total), and then stationed the packs at the Museum’s reception desk, ready for visiting families.
Many thanks to the families who tested the packs for their essential contributions, and to Fleming College Museum Management & Curatorship Program for instilling the importance of projects like the activity backpacks on their students. Thanks also to Cindy Culford, Catherine Toews, and Kathy Karkut for the guidance and direction during the development of this project.
Explore the Museum of Health Care’s many other offerings for families: