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Research Contributes to Creation of BC’s First Children’s Museum

I want to highlight a recent success story, one suggesting the value of community-based research in the social sciences and humanities. Our Small Cities CURA’s work on the family and quality of life in smaller cities—in particular, our partnership with the Kamloops Museum and Archives–established the groundwork for developing the first children’s museum in BC.

Our lead university researcher on this project was Helen MacDonald-Carlson, who worked tirelessly on studying, critiquing, and developing museum and community programing, beginning with storymapping workshops with school children, walking tours exploring what she called “Jewelry for Buildings” (teaching children about the architectural features of local buildings), and a cemetery project (a heritage study used by local elementary school teachers, the Regional Heritage Fair, and the Museum). In addition, with Museum Director Elisabeth Duckworth (our principal community partner on this project) she surveyed children’s museums across North America, considering best practices and alternatives to commercially-produced historical displays. Together their take on the ideal children’s museum was significantly influenced by MacDonald-Carlson’s scholarship on what’s become known as the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education: Reggio is a small city in Northern Italy, a city famous for integrating artistic practice and research into the education of small children. It was my pleasure to work as a team member with Helen and others on the Heritage Fair and Reggio research.

Further background research, helping to frame the museum development, was conducted with a second partner, the Make Children First Learning Initiative. With Director Val Janz, MacDonald-Carlson prepared a parent survey report, Growing Up in Kamloops (available online via the Small Cities Website)

Subsequently, Make Children First, working with City partners, developed independently the Kamloops/Thompson Community Mapping Study: Healthy Families, Healthy Places (with research lead Jennifer Casorso). Most recently, we helped organize and facilitate a community conference, Working Smarter for Child and Youth Health: Improving Quality of Life in Our Region (final report prepared by Sue Lissel and Dr. Terry Kading of our CURA team):

Professor MacDonald-Carlson died of cancer in 2007, but her vision and that of the Museum Director and staff was honored at the opening of the Children’s Museum, where Elisabeth Duckworth acknowledged the CURA’s contributions–especially those of MacDonald-Carlson, the student research assistants who worked on the project, the advice offered by MacDonald-Carlson’s colleagues following her death, and the importance of the community-based research that has helped elevate the Children’s Museum from a simple renovation to a nine-year example of community-university collaboration and friendship.

Drawing and Memory Mapping at the Kamloops Museum & Archives.

A video podcast featuring MacDonald-Carlson and Elisabeth speaking briefly about the project can be found as part of the video Introduction to the Small Cities CURA.

I think that part of the genius of these community-university research alliances is that they create possibilities for networking within projects and among projects. The announced opening of BC’s first Children’s Museum in the small city of Kamloops is only part of the story; behind the scenes, at least some of the success of this opening arises from the research activities of the CURA partners–field testing museum materials, studying best practices, considering both the needs of young families in small cities and a host of other community-based research questions.

To see a recent story about the Museum project, check out the recent edition of Dialogue Newsletter (published by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada).

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