Whether your space is physical or virtual it needs to look like its open to kids. This means child-friendly (but not patronizing) language, signage and activities at child-height, colorful and relaxing spaces and an element of fun. Avoiding ‘Do Not…’ signs is a good start. Find a good way to communicate that you want kids in your space.
Find ways to form good long-term partnerships. This could be through a membership program, outreach events or joining with other local organizations.
Noise often equates to learning and engagement. Sure, quiet reflective spaces are valuable too, but kids like to make noise, ask questions and engage socially. To make children feel comfortable and to encourage their engagement, encourage noise. This might be a physical space to talk, share, perform or ask. Or it might be an online space filling the same purpose.
If you embrace kids and work with them positively, all your hard work can be undone by one other staff member who dismisses them, yells or simply makes it very clear they find kids pesky. The kids will pick up a negative attitude straight away, causing them to act out and leading teachers/parents to avoid your organization. Spend the time with your staff building a belief in the value of children-visitors, arm them with good tips and tools to respond to ‘pesky’ behavior.
Wherever possible it is always worthwhile to have an aspect of hands-on learning. Allow kids the opportunity to touch. Children’s attention spans are shorter than adults and as such they are much more easily engaged when they are doing something with their hands. It also allows for a diversity of kids to get involved, it’s an opportunity for non-English speakers or those with learning difficulties. It’s also a way for them to digest what they’ve heard and seen and construct their own new understanding.
Further to hands-on, participation in any form is crucial. Have kids curate an exhibition, publicly critique an artwork, publish their own poem, find a solution to a social problem or recreate a historical event. Where possible, give them an authentic audience or platform to be really heard or make real change. Challenge them and they’ll thrive.
A ripping yarn is always a winner. If you can’t have kids touch or participate, tell them a good story. Learn how to build suspense, create surprise, and shock children.
Try to always approach kids with a positive attitude and respect for them and their prior knowledge. They will often respond with delightfully inspiring moments and the very best questions.