Everyone is different, so design multiple entry points into your program so there's something to appeal to everyone. Once you have everyone involved, flexibility is key. Plan ahead for all contingencies during the design process to ensure success for your facilitators. Designing for multi-modality, multi-user, multi-outcomes, and family agency and choice make a program more inclusive, flexible, and accessible.
Tips & Takeaways
- Build in a multiplicity of ways your diverse audience can access engagement. Try to have something for everyone. Imagine someone asked you, "what is there for me?" Think what your answer might be for different people with different interests, different age groups, and different cognitive and physical abilities.
Quick & Easy To-Dos
- Make a list of any extra material you might need to accommodate visitors, e.g. chairs, lower tables, stools, easy materials. Put them nearby for easy access.
- If your program is really best suited to school-aged children and their families, try adding something to engage and occupy the "littles." And vice versa. The last thing you or a parent wants is a bored child.
- Brainstorm with your facilitators what unusual needs have arisen during your programs. What easy fixes could they have to help when these unusual circumstances arise? How can you alter or adjust the program to fit individual needs?
- Process is more important than product. Find ways of turning your products into open-ended projects.
- Variety is the spice of life. What’s one object, material, image, etc. you could add to an existing program that might attract someone with a different interest?
- If there’s something you as a facilitator assigns during your program (a color, team name, role), try letting the family or group do it themselves (or at least find a way to give them a choice between 2 or more).
Indicators of success: Everyone in the family has access to and uses something that works for their abilities. Participants and facilitators can adjust the materials or activities, as needed.
Because families visit the museum as a group, they tend to value experiences that will appeal to a wide variety of ages and learning experiences so that there is something for everyone and all family members can participate."
-Marianna Adams, et al. What We Do and Do Not Know about Family Learning in Art Museum Interactive Spaces: A Literature Review, 10.
Something for Everyone - A Programmatic Magic Hat
Encouraging multiple ways of engaging with works of art and interpretive devices creates broader opportunities for participation."
-Daryl Fischer, Crocker Museum of Art, Best Practices in Cultivating Family Audiences, 6.
No matter who shows up to your program, you have to be prepared to meet them where they are and give them a great experience. Families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes with various needs and expectations. Build in success for your facilitators and your programs by developing a magic hat of content, activities, and strategies to meet any need that arises. Your magic hat toolkit should be ready for everything from a chair for grandma to an activity for the toddler who comes with the older kids.
How do you figure out what those contingencies are? Prototyping!! By trying out your program you'll get to know what to expect.
It's also important that your facilitators feel empowered to make alterations to the program as necessary. During one Out Run Out Gun program, a family came with a teenager with intellectual disabilities. Our facilitator knew that the critical thinking and math needed to determine how much to spend and what to buy at our supply "store" was unfeasible for this family. So instead she just gave them tin foil, a few popsicle sticks, and masking tape. The family had a great time and still felt they had a full, engaging experience (plus, they never even knew we had changed anything to accommodate them). Building in flexibility and empowering facilitators to adapt as they see fit ensures your diverse audience will all have a fun, engaging, and successful experience.
6 Ways to Build in Access Points
Family members have varied interests and aptitudes so museum activities should offer multiple pathways to engagement"
-Daryl Fischer, Best Practices in Cultivating Family Audiences, 7.
There are various methods and strategies you can draw from during the design process to build-in ways for people to access your program. Accessibility is not just for those with disabilities. It means providing people of various ages, interests, and capacities with an entry point to engage with your program and to do it in a way that is safe and comfortable to them. Designing this on the back end will aid your facilitator in engaging families in a seamless, comfortable program, no matter what families bring to the table.
Activities designed to encourage more than one person to participate provide the kind of collaborative experiences that families value."
-Fischer, Daryl, Best Practices in Cultivating Family Audiences, 7.
Getting people working together gets them talking and building knowledge and memories. Design activities everyone can do together rather than one person watching another complete a task. Create a multiplicity of possibilities. When families work together, conversation ensues.
Families can work together and at the same time around the table for the USS Constitution Museum's quill pen program.
The updated caulking, or waterproofing, program at the USS Constitution Museum allows family members to work alongside each other either collaboratively or competitively.
“Appeals to different learning styles and levels of knowledge” 
We all know that people have different strengths. Find ways for your program's participants to engage in ways that feel comfortable for them. Part of this is pointing out connections to their own lives, but it’s also providing various ways to shine.
Adults get great satisfaction teaching their kids something and, likewise, kids enjoy showing their adults what they can do. Everyone’s good at something and has an interest in something. Find opportunities to let people make those connections.
3. Allowing for Choice and Family Agency
Visitors want to be 'served with choice'...Choice also means that galleries should present people with different ways to engage."
-Denver Art Museum, New Angles on Interpretation, 4.
No one knows the family as well as the family members themselves. Even the most adept facilitator cannot glean an understanding of what the family enjoys, what makes each of them tick, what each are good at. But the family members know, so provide them with opportunities to express familial agency. Let them choose whenever possible. Rather than assigning them roles, give them the necessary information to assign roles themselves. Rather than assuming little Johnny is too young to use a feathered quill pen, let dad decide that the steel-nibbed pen is better (who knows, maybe Johnny’s an accomplished child artist). Best of all, letting families make these decisions often leads to conversation – bonus!
The large mallet in the caulking program can be unwieldy for some. A smaller mallet is available for the comfort and access of those who need it.
Participants in the USS Constitution's quill pen program have a choice of a real goose-feather quill, a ballpoint pen quill, and a steel nibbed pen.
The "store" in Out Run Out Gun gives families the choice of supplies to build a boat they are designing as a family.
During the Under Pressure Alka-Seltzer(TM) cannon-firing activity, families choose their gun crew roles. Each role, such as powder passer and tackleman, is described by a characteristic, such as quick and precise, respectively. Family members know each other best. They decide together which one of them possesses the necessary characteristic for each job.
During Under Pressure, families are asked to do one test firing at the target using half of an Alka-Seltzer(TM) tablet. Was their shot long, short, or just right? Having had that experience, facilitators ask the family to decide how much of a tablet they want to try to hit the target. It's a family decision.
When you impart complexity into your program, it naturally engenders conversation and group thinking. Avoid the yes/no, right/wrong activities. Instead, encourage trial and error, problem-solving, and exploration.
Marianna Adams explains the benefits to a multi-outcome activity:
In our Out Run Out Gun boat-building program, we do not offer to show examples. There is no right or wrong design. The goal is for the boat to float. If the first design fails, we encourage families to revise, just like engineers and scientists do in the real world.
Materials that have multiple uses and allow for interaction and engagement at many different levels....easy for adults to figure out; easy for a child to figure out."
- Adult Child Interaction Inventory, 38 and 53.
Think about variations in materials for differences in age, ability, size, and personal preference. How you will accommodate people with disabilities or a different skill set, such as dexterity and motor skills? Consider height and weight. Vary sizes and scale (try to stay as authentic as possible but try to accommodate - DON’T make it silly).
Big mallets and little mallets from the caulking program. We should even have a size in between. Let families choose the tools that are right for them. It let's everyone get involved.
When you have little scissors, include big scissors. It is a silent clue to adults to participate and lets everyone find the fit that works for them.
When we first started the model boat building program in libraries, we used white, opaque float tubs. Some kids couldn't see over the edge. So we switched to clear tubs, so everyone can see the action.
6. Remember the Little Ones
The programs we designed for the Engage Families Project at the USS Constitution Museum were aimed at the skill sets and abilities of those above 5 or 6 years old. So what about all those families who have toddlers and preschool kids? We wanted to make sure they were included, otherwise their needs would distract adult caregivers from participating in the program with their older kids.
During our boat building program, we encouraged little ones to name the boat, color the sail, count the toy money, or play with a plastic toy boat in the water tub.
Remember: Different families engage in different ways. We cannot try to control how it looks but we can learn to recognize and support it when it happens in all its different guises.
* These characteristics that lead to family learning were identified during the transformational family learning research of the Philadelphia/Camden Informal Science Education Collaborative. Find a link to the report, which includes research methodology and examples of these characteristics in an exhibit setting, here.
Applying Howard Gardner's "Multiple Entry Points" Theory
My own belief is that any rich, nourishing topic – any concept worth teaching – can be approached in at least five different ways that, roughly speaking, map onto the multiple intelligences. We might think of the topic as a room with at least five doors or entry points into it. Students vary as to which entry point is most appropriate for them and which routes are most comfortable to follow...."
-Howard Gardner. Qtd. in Cindy Strickland, The Five Entry Points of Howard Gardner, Accessed 1.22.16.
How do you motivate family members to "enter," or initially access, with your program? What grabs their attention and takes them from passive observer to active, interested participant? Howard Gardner, of Multiple Intelligences fame, argues that learners can enter through one or more of these five entry points detailed below. By providing multiple ways to access to your program, you will pique the interest of a range of individuals, no matter their predominant or favored "intelligence." 
The Five Entry Points
"Aesthetic – The entry point through which learners respond to formal and sensory qualities of a subject or work of art. For example: the color, line, expression, and composition of a painting; the intricate patterns on the surface of a beehive; or the alliteration and meter of a poem.
Narrative – The entry point through which learners respond to the narrational elements of a subject or work of art. For example: the legend depicted in a painting, the sequence of events in a period of history, or the story behind the construction of a skyscraper.
Logical/Quantitative – The entry point through which learners respond to aspects of a subject or work of art that invite deductive reasoning or numerical consideration. For example: the question of what decisions led to the creation of an art object, the problem of calculating the overall dimensions of an automobile, or the determination of which character in a mystery is the real villain.
Foundational – The entry point through which learners respond to the broader concepts or philosophical issues raised by a subject or work of art. For example: whether and why calculus is thought to be important to society, whether metaphors depict or defy reality, or why a painting of soup cans is considered art.
Experiential – The entry point through which learners respond to a subject or work of art by actually doing something with their hands or bodies. For example: manipulating the same materials used in a work of art, producing a play about the history of a neighborhood, or setting a poem to music." 
Entry Points Worksheet
Use this tool to determine if your programs provide access using these five entry points and brainstorm how to add new points of access. Download a printable pdf.
How the Denver Art Museum Designs for Access: "Hot Spots of Choice"
In their report, "Kids & Their Grownups," the Denver Art Museum discusses how they design programs and spaces to provide families with multiple access points:
“Our goal is to provide layered content and interactive opportunities to help each family find the experiences they’re looking for…As we design family experiences, we’re mindful of the need to offer experiences that appeal to different kinds of families.” 
Heather Nielsen explains how the Denver Art Museum aims to provide families with "hot spots of choice:"
This excerpt from "Kids & Their Grownups" reveals some methods the Denver Art Museum use to ensure everyone can find a way to engage at their level: 
Click on the image to enlarge.
1. Kids & Their Grownups: New Insights on Developing Dynamic Museum Experiences for the Whole Family. Denver Art Museum, 2013. Web. 13 May 2014: 16. This report details the Museum’s process of creating new experiences for children and their caregivers by increasing the Museum’s relevance and providing opportunities for family participation.
2. Kids & Their Grownups, 18.
4. Quoted from Library of Congress. Teaching with Primary Sources. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.
5. Borun, Minda, et al. Family Learning in Museums: The PISEC Perspective. Philadelphia: Philadelphia/Camden Informal Science Education Collaborative (PISEC), The Franklin Institute, 1998.