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Written by Jeri Robinson
The History of Early Childhood Exhibits at The Children's Museum
In their 1984 book, Playspace: Creating Family Spaces in Public Places, Jeri Robinson and Patricia Quinn call the Before You Were Three exhibit, "a 'live laboratory' for observing the audience for early childhood programs" and one that reinforced museum staff's "growing awareness that there was a large audience of parents and young children who were eager to use the museum." Robinson and Quinn tell the story of how this brief "live laboratory" developed into one of The Children's Museum's continuously evolving cornerstone exhibits in its new location on Museum Wharf.
Their book additionally situates Before You Were Three along the continuum of early childhood programming at The Children's Museum over several decades. Just as the roots of Playspace are clearly seen in Before You Were Three, similar themes, practices and problems weave in and out of other museum exhibits both before and after.
In typical fashion, struggling to get it right resulted in multiple iterations of the exhibit, but Playspace ultimately revolutionized attitudes about serving family audiences in children's museums—and later all museums—and became one of the most replicated exhibits in children's museums.
The following passage from their book has been adapted for inclusion in this chapter.
History We present this history to show that we did not start with a full-blown program. Any one of the following early models may be a way for you to begin.
In the Beginning... Unlike the seemingly insolvable riddle of the chicken and egg, it has been the experience of The Children's Museum that the audience of parents and preschoolers preceded the exhibits designed for these visitors. In response to this persistent audience the museum developed several precursors to today's Playspace over a period of nearly fifteen years.