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ABSTRACT

This article reports on a study of young children and the nature of their learning through museum experiences. Environments such as museums are physical and social spaces where visitors encounter objects and ideas which they interpret through their own experiences, customs, beliefs, and values. The study was conducted in four different museum environments: a natural and social history museum, an art gallery, a science center, and a hybrid art/social history museum. The subjects were four- to seven-year old children. At the conclusion of a ten-week, multi-visit museum program, interviews were conducted with children to probe the saliency of their experiences and the ways in which they came to understand the museums they visited. Emergent from this study, we address several findings that indicate that museum-based exhibits and programmatic experiences embedded in the common and familiar socio-cultural context of the child's world, such as play and story, provide greater impact and meaning than do museum exhibits and experiences that are decontexualized in nature.