In our last blog, we discussed the first part of our experiment with SEEC kindergartners visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Golden Books exhibit. When we left off, they had just concluded their first visit. The following week, they went to the museum again and like the previous time, we split them up into small groups of three. Each group had an adult and walked through the exhibit with an educator and were given a “survey.” After these were completed in the exhibit, they headed out to a small circle to discuss their observations with another educator.
1) Look at the other people do they like this exhibit?
- Looking closely
- Pretty good
- Really liking it
- Liked it
- Enjoying everything
- Looking at computer
- Looking at all sorts of books
- Enjoying it
- One person was normal, so…so-so
- Some were in to it, some were not
- 1 vote for all 5 choices
- All the people were different
2) Look at the objects; do you like how they are displayed?
- Lots of color, some were dusty
- Loved them
- They books were having a good time because they were safe in the glass and no robbers were breaking in
- Could not see, too tall
- Pretty good
- Pretty good, a little bad though because it only showed one page of the book
- Didn’t like, hard to see
3) Look at the lights; do you like how they are used?
- Dark but good
- Pretty good
- 1 vote for Liked
- Orange, it was ok, and I liked it
4) Look at the colors; do you like how they are used?
- The ceiling was green, there were good colors
- A lot of white
5) Look at the signs, are they helpful?
- Really focused about creation, someone worked very hard
6) Look at the computers; do you like how they were used?
- I clicked on two books
- You could look at the books, I pressed the button and it read the story to us
- Really cool
- I touched it
- I didn’t get to touch it
- I chose different books, it was awesome, and not too tall
- I liked pressing buttons
- Zooming in was cool
- It shows the books
7) Look for things you can touch, did they help you enjoy the exhibit?
- Only one thing to touch
- Touching the computer
- Computer was just ok
- I wish there was more stuff to touch, more computers with newer books
- No touching uhhhhh
I was surprised that they found the lighting and signs appealing. Like any exhibit featuring paper, it is a dark space, and I assumed that would be unappealing. Interestingly when the exhibit designer talked to the students during their first visit, he mentioned that the low lighting help protect the books. I wonder if that made a difference. I also wonder if it was the spotlighting to which they felt drawn. Despite the overall darkness, light was strategically positioned to make the cases pop. There was minimal distraction.
I was also intrigued by their positive reaction to the signs. Many in the group are emergent readers and I thought the labels would have been of little or no interest to them. I wonder if they were responding to the fact that the educators, many of whom were not familiar with the exhibit’s content, used the labels to help add to their conversations.
That they responded positively to the colors and book illustrations was no shock. Children are naturally drawn to strong, vibrant visuals. They are also naturally drawn to things they can touch or tinker with. The opportunity to play with the computer at the end of the exhibit got them very excited and made them notice more about the objects in the cases, encouraging them to revisit objects and think more deeply about some of their conversations. Interestingly, the computer engaged many of the children, but not all. Some of them were frustrated because they weren’t certain how to work it, but I guess usability for young children is another topic entirely!
Although we didn’t measure this in the survey, its important to note that the children responded to the content of the exhibit. They were familiar with Golden Books and could make connections to the illustrations, many of which depicted children playing. At SEEC, we encourage our educators to utilize familiar objects or themes when teaching. Finding this thread can be difficult when considering the often nuanced and complex nature of many exhibits. Still, I would encourage museum staff to consider how they can incorporate familiar elements as a way to engage a young child’s interest in new content.