BABY STEPS: NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUMS AND EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
So why and how should natural history museums provide outreach for young children? Educating early learners (ages 2-5) is an investment in our future. Currently, the United States ranks behind 26 other countries in the share of college students who obtain undergraduate degrees in science or engineering. Early experiences with natural history have the potential to spark a child’s enthusiasm about the sciences and inspire them to pursue STEM careers.
The Museum of the Earth at the Paleontological Research Institution is an 18,000 square foot facility that offers a unique mix of natural history exhibits, art exhibitions, and public programs all with a focus on Earth science. The Museum launched a campaign in May 2013 – the Early Learners Initiative – to improve the visitor experience by creating a family of exhibits that utilize exhibit design theory to teach our youngest visitors about paleontology. In one space, “Jurassic World”, visitors will understand that dinosaurs were animals that ate, breathed, and reproduced, like those alive today. Another space, an outdoor Coelophysis dig site, will give visitors the experience of using tools to uncover a fossil and imagine what it was like in life. The design of both spaces will follow early learner standards laid out by New York State Early Learning Alignment and Head Start. Exhibits in the Initiative will promote gross and fine motor skills, tactile experiences, cooperation, art, basic knowledge of the natural world, and scientific thinking.