My partner and I recently celebrated our anniversary with a trip to San Francisco. It happened that our anniversary was on the first Thursday of the month, which is also when the Exploratorium hosts “After Dark” – an adult evening program which features speakers, extra activities in addition to the amazingly hands-on experiences they already offer, cash bar and music. Luckily, my partner is a museum fan too, so the idea of spending our anniversary at a museum event appealed to both of us.
The Exploratorium has been an example of best practice in museums for many years so my expectations were high. I was not disappointed. By attending in the evening, we had full access to every activity without having to negotiate the younger visitors who frequently visit. Being in an all adult environment, we also felt like we had “permission” to play, something that I don’t always feel like I am getting when visiting a museum. Please don’t think that I am an advocate for “child-free museums” – as a provocative post did recently – but I did feel more at ease and willing to try everything I could during the evening program.
What I appreciated most were the number of interactives that were designed to play with another person. Visiting museums is often social, but the interactives are not always designed to be used by more than one person at a time. The Exploratorium made it explicit that you needed to try this activity with someone else and often we both had a different role in the activity. This encouraged us to switch sides and try it again and then discuss what we experienced.
There were also a variety of ways to interact with a theme. Instead of one interactive about magnets there were probably a half dozen. The advantage of this was that I could try the one that appealed to me most or try them all, a great technique to appeal to different styles of learning.
With so much to see and do, we spent four hours at the museum – a new record for me . The experience was living proof to me that interactives can increase enjoyment, learning and social interaction making the museum visit more engaging .