Museums Done RightJuly 17, 2004
On this vacation, we're trying to focus more on relaxing and having time together than on returning with an impressive list of what we saw and did. While we're in Denver, we've chosen a single attraction for each day and today's was an afternoon at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We had a great time there, including many exhibits, a visit to the planetarium, and watching the IMax movie, Coral Reef Adventure. In fact, I would say that this museum is the best museum I have visited in the last 10 years. Why?
Having a 8+ year old son, we've visited a fair number of museums and zoos over the years, and the trend has been inescapable.
1. Regularly add exhibits that involve Learning Centers where a screen shows video or computer images and the visitor can push a single (preferably glowing red) button to make something happen. In fact, that button is why they are now called Interactive Learning Centers.
In watching this spectacle time after time, with many different children, I can say with confidence that I have never seen a child learn anything from these. I have seen them hold a child's attention for between one and five minutes, but if that is the only goal, simply showing Sponge Bob cartoons every 100 feet or so would have a much more reliable effect.
2. Remove all human beings except those who take tickets or work in the gift shop.
3. If 40-60% of the Learning Centers are defective or simply not broken, simply tape a hand-written Out of Order sign on the screen and be comforted in the knowledge that we require payment upfront.
The DMNS was the first museum that was different. First, there was educated, enthusiastic staff everywhere, similar to what I remember as a child. Each group of exhibits had people giving demonstrations, acting out skits, answering questions, and pro-actively seeking out children who looked interested in a display. Second, the learning centers that did exist were the best I've seen and the first that Ben actually talked about afterwards. I only saw one that was not functioning over four floors.
Encountering people who are happy to see you and eager to share their knowledge makes all the difference. If you visit Denver, be sure to make DMNS part of your trip.