Lighten Up

Family-friendly content doesn’t mean dumbing down. Families who visit museums and libraries want authenticity and accuracy. They just don’t want it to feel like work.

Lighten up

Why it is Important

Sharing content in a way that appeals to both adults and children helps engage everyone in the experience. This does not mean “dumbing down” content, but instead “lightening up.”

Put it into Practice

At the USS Constitution Museum, we’ve found that finding the fun, being conscious of voice, playing with word choice, and communicating in an easy, conversational manner are effective approaches to developing family-friendly content.

Find the Fun

It helps to have fun topics when developing content for family audiences. Eric White, former Director of Education at Old Sturbridge Village, has this to say about family-friendly content: “You can’t go wrong with baseball, animals, and chocolate chip cookies.” While no sports were played and hard biscuits, not cookies, were eaten on board Constitution, we were still able to find an element of fun when researching life on board the ship during the War of 1812.

We discovered that one of the ship’s officers brought his terrier, Guerriere, aboard. Because we were developing an exhibit for families, Guerriere the terrier avoided relegation into a file folder and found his way into the exhibit. He became so popular that Guerriere’s photo now greets visitors when they enter the museum, and his paw prints lead them to the All Hands on Deck exhibit. Visitors, especially kids, enjoy discovering the dog. This fun and friendly welcome sets the tone for the exhibit to come.

Guerriere the Terrier exhibit element
Guerriere the Terrier – a fun exhibit element that is extremely popular with kids.

Communicate in an Easy, Conversational Manner

Labels (and writing them) can be fun. Playing with word choice, voice, and tone to engage the audience makes them more interesting to read and write. Instead of dry, academic report writing, approach label writing as a creative writing exercise. Have fun with word choice (i.e. “buddy” instead of “friend”). Free yourself from the constraint of anonymously written, third-person labels, that represent the voice of authority. Simply changing the voice from third to first person gives the same content new life:

Text Delivered in Third Person

“Every morning sailors holystoned (scrubbed) the deck. They took off their shoes, rolled up their pants and then got on their knees and scrubbed with water and sand. Sailors disliked this chore especially when it was cold.”

Text Delivered in First Person

“One of the things I dislike the most about being a sailor is holystoning (scrubbing) the decks each morning day after day. The worst is when it’s cold. We take off our shoes, roll up our pants and get on our hands and knees, add salt water and sand, then scrub, scrub, scrub.