Alum's New Book Seeks to Make Museums More Accessible to Children
November 10, 2021
Growing up in Philadelphia, Nhi Nguyen MA '19 (Museum Education) was surrounded by world-class museums and cultural attractions but never set foot in one until she was 16.
Cost and her parents' limited time were the primary factors in her delayed visits, but Nguyen also pointed out that many museums are often not equipped, physically and pedagogically, to welcome young people appropriately. She hopes a new book she co-authored, Welcoming Young Children into the Museum: A Practical Guide, due out later this month by Routledge, will help change that.
The book, which Nguyen penned with educator Sarah Erdman and exhibition designer Margaret Middleton, is a guide for museum professionals seeking to cater to young audiences in ways that benefit both visitors and museums. Through the lens of early childhood education ideals, it provides actionable steps for hiring staff, developing programs and shaping physical spaces.
"How do we use the trust that guardians give museums to build thoughtful programming that really encourages children to grow, think deeper and affirm their own value?" Nguyen said of the book's intent. "How do we talk about things like racism or the pandemic or anything in a way that is understandable and digestible to a kid under 8, and how do you train your staff to do so, too?"
The connections Nguyen made at University of the Arts led directly to her involvement in the book. She met Erdman through Mickey Maley, program director of the university's Museum Studies and Museum Education programs. (The latter has since transitioned into a part of the Museum Studies program.) Erdman helped Nguyen devise her thesis, which focused on incorporating early childhood racial identity into museum education.
Following Nguyen's graduation, the two kept in touch, and Erdman approached Nguyen to contribute to the book because of her thesis research. Her contributions to the book are centered on staff training and professional development, emphasizing anti-bias and anti-racist education.
"I think there are a lot of misconceptions that if the kids are young, they're not really learning things or they don't understand what's going on around them," Nguyen said. "So often, as adults, we don't take the time to understand and break down what impacts the real world has on young people, because we expect them not to care and not to understand."
That philosophy is something that is reflected in Nguyen's day-to-day work, too. As the Philadelphia YMCA's Best Buy Teen Tech Center director, Nguyen leverages her research to foster an inclusive and creative learning community while broadening young people's access to technology. Anyone in Philadelphia ages 12 to 22, Nguyen says, can access the center's equipment, which includes a complete music studio, 3D printers, cameras and computers.
"We're just really here for teens and young people to make sure that they have a space where they're heard and they're valued," she said. She added that the overarching mission of the center is to ensure that young people feel empowered and supported in exploring their chosen creative pathways.