Kids are just Small Adults (and Adults are just Big Kids)

When it comes to Audience Centered Experiences for our youngest visitors, the play book is largely the same. Children and young adults are deeply curious, love self exploration, and thrive on self-expression. In many ways, they can be even more open to expression and engagement than their parents and adult counterparts. Many of the social biases and a reticence of sharing haven’t been baked in yet.

Younger audiences are open to deep experiences. They love to find out about new cultures, connect with others, and find social spaces for interacting in our parks and sites. They also feel that museums should be about something bigger – making the world a better place. According to a study of young museum-goers in 2019 by Wilkening Consulting, “the majority of us think museums should ‘absolutely’ be forums for civil discourse on controversial issues affecting us today. And we are nearly 50% more likely to think museums should do more to help cultivate empathy for others.”

Our youngest audiences want deeply meaningful experiences. And that curiosity is catching. When parents who accompany young visitors are engaged and curious, their experiences are far more positive as well. Getting visitors – old and young – to share their experiences helps that curiosity cross-pollinate.

Every Junior Ranger Activity can be audience centered, it just takes some imagination and thinking first-and-foremost about what our visitors want from their experience. Here’s a few quick pointers:

What Makes Great ACE Junior Ranger Activities?
  • Places for Expression – Provide open space for visitors to write or draw their response to a ORACLE, dialogic question.
  • Be Present in the Moment – Encourage visitors to explore a landscape or area with all five senses, then record the observations.
  • Sharing is Caring – Prompt visitors to learn a new story, then share it with someone else that they’re visiting alongside.
  • Open for Exploration – Allow visitors to choose what they see and in what order, rather than asking for them to analyze a particular object, plant, artifact, or monument.
  • Let Curiosity Spread – Encourage parents to work with their children on activities, letting their curiosity feed off each other to create shared experiences and memories.
  • Healing through Art – Allow space and the freedom for visitors to express themselves in different art mediums to help them understand difficult topics, process them, and heal.
  • Thinking Critically – Offer visitors opportunities to look for bias in a historical or scientific source (e.g. “Do you think they’re not telling the truth? Why or why not?”)
  • Movement in Space – Allow space for physical activity that is sensitive and respectful to their environment and ability.
  • Learning About Others – Encourage social bridging and generational sharing by asking participants to interview and get to know the people they’re visiting alongside.

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  2. Huzzah and well done! This article is a beyond superb resource for the nation and world.

    Of special note, encouraging critical thinking via the wonderfully courageous question of whether or not any particular person or group of people, whether past or present, is or are telling the truth, is a vital practice for the survival and success of liberty.


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