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Adult play in a children's museum

Dickey, Kristi L.
As play declines in homes and schools, children's museums are safe, family-friendly environments that offer hands-on, exploratory, inquiry-based play activities for children and their caregivers. Children's museum practitioners often have expectations that visiting adults will participate in play activities with their children, which frequently differs from the parent or caregiver agenda. The purpose of this study is to explore and describe the adult play experience in a children's museum: the nuances of adults' views of the meaning of play, their perceptions of the adult role in children's play, and their behaviors while in the museum.
Using hermeneutic phenomenology as the methodological approach, this study examines and describes the experiences of 17 adults in a children's museum: two full-time staff members, three part-time staff members, three volunteers, and nine visitors. The findings are consistent with the theory that each adult's museum experience is individual and unique based on his or her background experiences, beliefs, and motivations for being at the museum. The results of this study indicate that staff members and volunteers often have differing agendas from visiting adults; however, parents and caregivers exhibit a wide range of acceptable roles while at the children's museum--which may or may not match the expectations of museum practitioners. Findings also illuminate the ways in which a small children's museum meets the needs of both children and adults in the surrounding communities.