Children's Museums: A Little Slice of Home

June 26, 2013

Colin Cronin

Colin Cronin

This week, we're welcoming a new blogger to the JRA blogging team: Colin Cronin! 

Colin brings his fun and whimsical style to his work as Designer at JRA. His enthusiasm for all of his work makes Colin an asset to have working on any JRA project.

Colin was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in industrial Design. Colin interned with Hasbro Inc. and Disney Stores where he designed vehicles, action figures and other toys that will be on the shelves within the next few months.

Colin utilizes his strong sense of user-interface and his understanding of how people react with objects around them on every project he works on at JRA. Colin has provided planning and design for most of JRA’s recent children’s museum projects, including Magic Bean – Beijing Children’s Museum, Oslo Barnemuseum, Children’s Museum of Siouxland, Imagine It! Atlanta Children’s Museum and C’MON – Children’s Museum of Naples. Colin has also provided design support on many of JRA’s other museum and attraction projects, including Los Angeles County Fire Museum, Go For Broke National Education Center and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

So without further ado, we begin with Part 1 of Colin's first blog, Children's Museums: A Little Slice of Home.


Children’s museums can be a whimsical and fantastic window into the world for children of all ages. In the best examples, visitors can experience everything from the wonders of the solar system, to the workings of a farm to even the structure of a human cell – all without leaving their hometown. However, each children's museum also has the opportunity (or one could even say the duty) to celebrate its home.

Children’s museums can be, at their best, a way for children to experience the world they live in through unique and interactive attractions. And there is a reason why kids love to play and learn in spaces like grocery stores, garages, and homes – they want to re-create what they see around them. To this same end, creating a Children’s Museum that embraces its hometown, and applauds the community it serves, can create an experience that is exciting, but also comforting and familiar.

But how can a children's museum accomplish this? How can it leverage those elements that make it uniquely “here”? Following are just a few examples of how JRA has created distinctive spaces and experiences celebrating the local flavor of a few choice children’s attractions.

Branding & Sponsorship

One of the more common ways to integrate a community into a children's museum is through sponsorship and naming of signature attractions and galleries. Not only is it a great way to support the experience financially, it sends a clear message that this museum is for the entire community and supported by its neighboring people and organizations.

Many museums for children include retail-based roleplay experiences, with grocery stores being a common (and very popular) example. And why not? Children see their parents shopping in grocery stores every week, and so much of what they learn is by roleplaying as the adults they see around them.

Most communities have local grocery stores that some families have been shopping at for generations, and leveraging those feelings of nostalgia can make for a rich experience for guests of all ages.

At Kohl Children Museum, the grocery store is identified and branded as Dominick’s, a corporation based in the greater Chicago area, where the museum is located. By using Dominick’s colors, identity, and other details, a common children’s museum experience can become something unique and specific to this place.

A group of visitors roleplay together at a recreation of a Dominick’s check-out line.

By using your imagination, and thinking outside the box, there can be opportunities for sponsorship and branding throughout any gallery in a children’s museum. For example, in the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples, a blue-screen weather station interactive is branded as the local news station. In fact, this is a very unique example, as the exhibit is sponsored by both the ABC and NBC affiliates in Naples, Florida:

...or at Imaginosity in Dublin, Ireland, where a small activity for police roleplay is uniquely designed as a Garda (Irish police) station, inspired by Dublin Castle, a local landmark and tourist attraction:

The Imaginosity Garda Station on the left, with Dublin Castle, its design inspiration, on the right.

Through these simple touches of branding and possible sponsorship, it instantly makes a museum gallery feel unique and specific to it’s home. And in the case of thematic roleplay, it can give the theming that extra layer of realism and detail. There are so many different things that bring up memories, or feelings of nostalgia, and children’s museums can use those emotions to help create rich and thoughtful experiences. It’s fascinating how a utility company logo, or just some architectural references, can make a place feel like home.


Another way to make a children’s museum feel local and “of this place” is through unique activities and “only here” experiences. Not only will these help a museum stand-out from the crowd, it is also a great way to celebrate local culture for both residents and visiting tourists.

At McKenna Children’s Museum in New Braunfels Texas, there are several unique “Texan” experiences, including roleplay area based around camping, a common local activity:

Or a Space gallery, inspired by how important the aerospace industry is in Texas:

And what Texan children’s museum could be complete without a full-size Texas Longhorn?

Another way to create unique activities is through giving common experiences a local “spin” or “flair”. Roleplay farms and gardens are common in children’s M=museums, and Golisano Children's Museum of Naples tasked JRA with creating a roleplay experience on farming that was uniquely “Florida”.

One unique aspect of Florida agriculture is the fact that so much of their produce is exported all over the world. Visitors to the museum first pick and sort all sorts of Florida-grown produce:

And then learn through interactives all the varied places Florida’s produce ends up, giving them a better understanding and appreciation of Agriculture, but also their hometown.

By offering activities evocative of the local environment, and by incorporating hometown brands, children's museums can help their pint-sized guests feel like they can have an impact on their neighborhood, while still maintaining a sense of enjoyment.

Next week, we'll look at how children's museum create more "home spun fun" through unique play and learning environments and by placing an emphasis on local color and culture.

Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Team

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