The series of design strategies described on this page constitute a robust, yet flexible set of guidelines that produce family engagement and learning in exhibits and programs. Together the nine strategies constitute conditions necessary to support active participation and enjoyment for all ages. Whether developing a brand new experience for families or revamping an existing one, use these design strategies as your guide.
These strategies are backed by extensive research and testing. Seven of the characteristics (Multi-User, Multi-Sided, Multi-Modal, Multi-Outcome, Relevant, and Accessible) were identified by the Philadelphia-Camden Informal Science Education Collaborative (PISEC) through a National Science Foundation research study on the characteristics of family-friendly exhibits in informal science learning environments.
The USS Constitution Museum conducted extensive testing of the PISEC findings in its own exhibits and programs through an Institute of Museum and Library Services-funded National Leadership grant. The USS Constitution Museum’s study further identified the principles of Encourage Conversation, Authentic and Distinctive, and Fun and Play.
To learn more about the PISEC study, visit the Franklin Institute’s Museum Learning Research page.
Use this matrix as a design strategy checklist when creating a new experience or elevating an existing one.Design Strategies Worksheet
Families are looking for experiences that they can share together. Multi-user experiences allow for several sets of hands and bodies to participate at the same time.1Involve all
Multi-sided experiences allow families to gather around an exhibit element or program activity. This encourages family members to interact in ways that promote conversation and learning.1Gather everyone around
Multi-modal experiences offer different ways of interacting with content. Delivering content through a variety of methods produces a more dynamic experience where there’s something for everyone. 1Provide multiple access points
Family conversation leads to shared understanding of the exhibit or program’s subject matter and provides families with the opportunity to learn more about each other.Get families talking
Exhibits and programs that end differently based on participants’ choices and actions are multi-outcome. Building this into experiences supports family conversation, agency, bonding, and learning. 1Build an open-ended experience
Authentic and Distinctive
Families value authentic and distinctive content, materials, environments, and activities. Experiences that they can’t get elsewhere are especially meaningful.Keep it real
Relevant experiences help families make connections between exhibit content or program activities and their own lives. 1Help families make connections
Families represent a range of ages, abilities, and interests. Accessible experiences meet families where they are and encourage all members to participate fully in ways that feel safe and comfortable to them. 1Create inclusive experiences
Fun & Play
Families want to have fun. Fun and play in programs and exhibits encourages families to laugh and learn together. When families are having fun, they are more receptive to learning.Find the fun
Museums and libraries are doing great work engaging families through programming. How do they do it? Explore these examples from the field and try some techniques at your site!