The ABCs of Museum-Children’s Hospital Collaborations

Written by Lesley Markham

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM), and C.S Mott Children’s Hospital provided a fun and heart-warming end to the formal conference sessions.

With teddy bears wearing bandages, medical masks and hairnets, bubbles, and other fun medical-related gadgets on the tables, the team of presenters described how their museums work with their community hospitals to provide science fun and learning for children.

The programs not only reach sick children, but are also designed to demystify hospitals and medical treatment for children and their families should a visit to the hospital be needed in the future – many of us have been there with our own children!

Andrea Reynolds, outreach workshops manager, and Robin Little, grants manager, represented Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. They talked about their highly successful collaboration with Julie Piazza, project manager in the Patient Family Center at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Piazza talked about her experience working with the museum to provide a well-balanced view of the partnership.

Ann Arbor visits the hospital twice a month with activities. They also offer a Teddy Bear Clinic Sciencefest for the general public at the museum.

Christina Martinez, coordinator, programs and special events at SMM described their model that focuses on public programs with health professionals at the science center. They run two programs reaching different audiences. Social Science events are held in the evening for an adult audience. The popular sessions unite neuroscience students with the public and allow for some fun experimentation and learning. The Science Fusion series combines diversity programming with events for children and families.

The session provided a lot of useful information on logistics:

  • Program materials must conform to hospital infection control standards.
  • Finding the right partners at the hospital is key to a successful program.
  • Consider the physical and cognitive abilities of sick children.
  • Create mobile activities for patients to meet them where they are.
  • Emphasize the importance of distraction as well as, or even instead of, learning.

Robin Little provided solid advice on seeking funding for museum-hospital partnerships:

  • Identify decision makers at the hospital to work with
  • Build relationships
  • Create a vision for the partnership
  • Start locally with community foundations for funding
  • Be honest with funders about the numbers likely to be reached by the program and emphasize quality rather than quantity
  • Get a ‘seal of approval’ from one funder to open doors to other funders

The presenters concluded that there are lots of opportunities for connecting to the local community through children’s hospitals and health programming at a surprisingly low cost.