A global vision for children-focused museums



A global vision for children-focused museums

In order to illustrate the overall development of the self-conception of the sector’s role in and for society, we use a generation model inspired and loosley based on ideas of Gail Dexter Lord (1st & 2nd Generation),  which was developed further as part of the 21stCH project (3rd Generation).


1st Generation: Hands On! – Interactivity/Play

The first generation of children’s museums, which lasted from 1899 – 1980s, is tailored to the needs of the industrial economy. ‘The industrial economy required children (and adults) to be compliant, rote learners, who follow directions well’ [1]

For example, first generation children’s museums often offered environments exploring everyday-life situations by inviting them to simulate adults, focusing on teaching children how to adapt expected social behaviour, which is considered adequate for those situations. Hence, the main aim is to playfully educate children towards functioning within the existing norms of society.


2nd Generation: Hands On! Minds On! – Interactivity/Play x Knowledge/Critical Thinking

Second generation children’s museums, which started to develop around 1970, feature a broader range of topics, (ethnology, art, history, science, etc.) and follow an approach of offering multiple perspectives on one issue by asking critical questions and demanding the reflection on one’s own behaviour.

The need for critical thinking corresponds with society transforming from the industrial economy to a post-industrial ‘knowledge economy’, where everything evolves around the power of assessing, processing and possessing information.

It is not a coincidence, that the children’s museums boom starting in the 1990s falls right into the time of the adoption and ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, showing the emancipation of second generations children’s museums from classical museum values to becoming true advocates for children and 21st century learning spaces.


3rd Generation: Hands On! Minds On! Hearts On! –
Interactivity/Play x Knowledge/Critical Thinking x Soft Power/Change Agents

Homes of 21st Century Education

Today, we are once again confronted with the need to take this audience-orientation movement even further and replacing outdated educational and institutional paradigms and finding adequate ways to address new societal demands. This urgency to offer new approaches in order to stay connected to contemporary society, becomes evident in many ways and is mirrored in current discourses of the cultural scene, like the infamous debate about adapting ICOM’s museum definition for example.

The conjunction Hearts On! represents the new focus on the role of fostering soft power as change agents.

Sensing what a society will need in the future to respond to the constant information and sensory overload of our disposable society is due to mark another chapter of children-focused museums. Catering to the immediate needs of communities has become even more relevant throughout the current pandemic.

In the course oft he past two years we have elaborated this vision of museums serving as change agents by being Homes of 21st Century Education. This vision serves as a lookout, but also reminder on how we can stay true to the children of the 21st century


[1] Gail Dexter Lord in: 20 Jahre Zoom Kindermuseum = 20 years of Zoom Childrens’s Museum, pg. 26 ISBN: 978-3-200-03610-9


-Tereza Krejčí & Sarai Lenzberger




The over-all objective of this project, which is generously supported by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union, is to showcase and to tackle the potential of the unique quality and character of children-oriented museums for benefiting society as future-oriented, 21st Century learning spots.

Actions of the project:
  • Unite stake holders of the field to create a global mission & quality standards
  • Create a global brand and marketing tools for the sector
  • Map the sector and provide capacity building tools and content for professional development

Learn more