Summary Report: 21st Century Children Training Courses 2019



21st Century Children Project Kick-off and and first activities


22.-26. October 2019 at Junges Museum

The 12th edition of our biennial Hands On! conference took us to Frankfurt.
Together with more than 60 speakers, we explored the latest developments in the field of children’s education in museums, children’s museums and science centers. Participants from 28 countries were inspired by keynote speakers, interactive sessions and exclusive museum visits.

As part of our 21st century children project, we were launching our children in museums industry evaluation during this conference. Throughout the conference participants helped us map and evaluate our sector in order to brand museums as places for learning. An extra day’s worth of sessions was added to the conference in order to provide in-depth training sessions dedicated to collecting and defining the unique roles and functions children-dedicated museum spaces can take on in providing relevant means of education tailored to the needs of a new generation.

-Operational Enquiry: 22-26.October. Find out more
-21st century brainstorming: 22-26 October
-Workshop criteria of quality of children-focused museum work: 25 October 1-5pm
-Training sessions: Children’s Museums of the 21st CenturyWorld Café & dedicated keynotes.
Children in Museums Award ceremony: showcasing and honoring best practice examples to political stakeholders and a wider public.



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





by Tereza Dobiasova, 29/11/2019

The biennial re-union of professionals working with children in museums, happened this year in Frankfurt. Naturally, an international gathering like this, strongly reflects changes happening in children’s museums and museums, but also in global society

This text aims to collect the major ideas and themes emerging „in the air of the conference „as an take-home inspiration to act and interweave into fibres of our every-day actions.


Something is changing

Amidst the “never-ending peace “-bubble of European museums, it became evident that out there in the world something is happening what might turn into a serious threat to the treasurers of European culture, heritage and richness: to the museums themselves.

Given the distinct focus topics of the conference, the current environmental threads to the world children grow into were not directly addressed in the conference programme or the conversations in the corridors and lobbies.

No, those most burning, most uncomfortable questions stayed most of the time decently out of the table. Yet, there were some hints, some important eye-openers – although very delicately served – which made it clear that the tides (also for museums) are changing and that also museums will have to change.


Mission in the centre

The discussion of changing the definition of museums at the last ICOM general conference in Kyoto (in September 2019) echoed also in Frankfurt. Although the new definition of museums has not been approved in Kyoto, it announces a possible major shift in the role museums can play in the society:  a shift from the national identity „treasurers“to cultural hubs, where  the heritage meets the diverse „today“ audience and where its needs are taken into an account. This is good news for Hands On! Because this uplifts the importance of children-oriented programmes and their values, as they are promoted by Hands On! since its founding 20 years ago.


This importance of strong audience and mission-oriented museum institutions has been also reflected in the round table on quality standards for museums targeting children. The fact of strongly mission driven and future-oriented operation of museums, with willingness to change, to adapt and to accept and serve children with their needs was collaboratively confirmed as the key quality of museums for children of 21st century.

The upmost importance of quality of the intention and real relevance for society where the organisation serves was fully and beautifully approved by the choice of this year ‘s  winner of Children in Museums Award, KerImagiNation from Senegal, a little NGO, which brings children’s museum activities to children with no or very limited access to any education or culture. The whole hall of German Emperors bowed to a lady, who was able to make it happen.

This moment in my eyes was perhaps the most meaningful one from the whole conference gathering, as it proved the power of empathy transformed into a really realised mission.


Audience again re-remembered

The programme of the conference had the title „All inclusive. Museums as places for All children“ and as such, it highlighted many good practices of including minorities and audiences with special needs or obstacles in approaching museums. The conference showcased some really striking examples of museums’ work in reaching out to those who really need their services, as well as methods of adapting exhibitions and content design to be truly inclusive, (and in this way also, truly democratic).

The general mosaic of these examples from the whole world strongly inspired the museum professionals to the sensitivity of their audience and their very concrete needs and challenges.

The vision of perfect and fascinating exhibitions, presenting richness and beauty became little shadowed by concrete and touching situations of unusual social and human encounters: encounters with those who would be otherwise left on the margin.

This shift might be not so glossy, but it brings humanity and art to be truly human to the focal point instead of material richness.


New forms for museums and children museums of 21st century?

As ICOM thinks of changing the definition of „what a museum is “, museums globally re-question their mission. Organisations recently highest praised for their elaborate designs and exhibitions turn to targeting their audience with more open formats, specifically, identifying real needs and with a „straight-forward “, simple and effective open-ended solutions. In this it becomes evident that the type of museum created in 19th century needs to be transformed and perhaps even replaced by other forms.

This development does more radically show when it comes to big national museums, but it might become true also for children’s museums.

The museum we know has successfully served its timely role, yet now all signs are on change. They have to update their role or possibly also vanish as independent entities. Claudia Haas and Petra Zwaka presented an overview of the children’s museums achievements in Europe in the last 30 years and questioned which functions and relevancies they have in today’s world.

Perhaps it’s too early to talk about possible future forms of museums, as the cultural paradigms are just starting to shift yet the search for new and relevant forms has definitely launched.

The way indicated by this conference is gentle, yet clear: By getting as close to the audience we serve as we can, understanding it, accepting its needs, and including it, we will re-question our missions and our concrete deeds. Inviting in and serving mighty and educated, but also those usually left on the margin.