What ACM Can Do For You?

Start a Children's Museum

ACM has helped many dedicated individuals take the idea of starting a children's museum from a dream to a fully functioning reality. We can help you too.

A Growing Field

There are 341 ACM Children's Museum Members, representing a total of 23 countries. Approximately 24 percent of these children's museums are in the start-up phase. In 1975 there were approximately 38 children’s museums in the United States. Eighty new children’s museums opened between 1976 and 1990. Since 1990, an additional 100 have opened.

Starting a children's museum can be a long process and takes a large investment of time, talent and funding. The good news is that there are many resources available to help you along the way.

Resources to Get Started

Frequently Asked Questions

ACM Membership

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a children's museum?

A Children's museum is defined as an institution committed to serving the needs and interests of children by providing exhibits and programs that stimulate curiosity and motivate learning. Children's museums vary greatly in style, size and content. Because of this creativity and diversity, the field is on a continuum of exciting change.

To more fully understand the definition and use of children's museums, ACM offers some useful publications.

Collective Vision: Starting and Sustaining a Children's Museum
This 325 page publication includes 14 chapters and a list of resources and recommended reading. The only book of its kind, it addresses all the considerations in starting a museum for children including finding space, hiring staff, developing programming, beginning an endowment, writing a business plan and much more.

Collective Vision: Online Toolkit
A compliment to the Collective Vision book, the online toolkit identifies key stages and steps for start-up children's museums and the common issues associated with each one. The toolkit provides questions and answers, templates and sample documents, as well as bibliographies and links to online references. You must be an ACM member to access the complete toolkit.

Capturing the Vision
The visual companion to Collective Vision, this book includes beautifully photographed images of children's museums from the inside out. As an extra bonus, the publication also include a CD of most of the images found in the book. It is useful for developing presentations to potential funders and for the community.

The Case for Children's Museums
This slim publication packs a collection of noted research, quotes from early learning experts and statistics from the children's museum field that frames the argument for why children's museum are an important and worthy community investment.

ACM Online Membership Directory
ACM periodically collects detailed data about children's museums in ACM's membership. You can access individual museum profiles that include the number of staff, museum square footage, operating budgets and expenses and more by logging on as an ACM member and visiting the Children's Museum Data section. The online directory is also a great networking tool to help you find peers located at other children's museums.

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Are there professional practice standards for children's museums?

Yes, to be a respected institution in the children's museum field, your museum will need to follow the standards that have been documented by the Association of Children's Museums. Additionally, should you choose to have your museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, your museums will be judged in part by your adherence to ACM's Standards for Professional Practice in Children’s Museums. Good news: the standards outlined in this document are within reach of most non-profit institutions. Click here to download a free copy.

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Is there a children's museum near me, either established or emerging?

This is an important question. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, two-thirds of new employer firms survive at least two years, and about half survive at least four years. While there are many factors that determine the survival success of a children's museum, location and demographics are an important part of the mix.

You may discover there is another group of individuals in the process of launching a children's museum. Starting a children's museum takes a group of dedicated people in a community; joining forces with another project near you can provide an even stronger contingency for success.

To learn where ACM member children's museums are located, either established and under development, please go to the Find a Children's Museum Search pages; you can filter your search for Emerging Museums.

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What is the ACM Query Service?

ACM Emerging Museum Members are entitled to three free queries from ACM's comprehensive statistical database. ACM's basic museum data is updated annually and fully updated biennially. Members can submit queries to generate museum metrics and field reports. Queries are extremely valuable for marketing, fundraising and general museum planning for an emerging children's museum.

If you are an ACM Member, please visiting the Children's Museum Data section for details on how to request a query.

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On average, how long does it take to open a children's museum?

According to ACM data , the average planning time for starting a children's museum is five years.

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How are children's museums funded?

Generally, non-profits rely on grants and donations to sustain their work.

Visit these organizations' Web site for additional funding information.

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What is a non-profit? Are all children's museums non-profits?

Most (99 percent) of ACM member children's museums in the United States are non-profit 501(c)3 organizations. A non-profit is an organization established for charitable, educational, or humanitarian purposes which receives tax relief from the Federal Government as their work is for the "greater good." Requirements to register as a nonprofit organization are outlined by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

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How do I form a Board?

As a non-profit, you are expected to have a Board of Directors, as well as a mission statement, to ensure the proper operation of your organization.

ACM recommends two resources to help you form a Board.

First, ACM's comprehensive publication Collective Vision: Starting and Sustaining a Children's Museum has two chapters dedicated to the subject: Chapter 3 "Audience & Mission" and Chapter 4 "Governance."

Collective Vision is a 325 page publication that includes 14 chapters and a list of resources and recommended reading. The only book of its kind, it addresses all the considerations in starting a museum for children including finding space, hiring staff, developing programming, beginning an endowment, writing a business plan and much more. To find out how to this and other ACM publications, please visit the ACM Publications Page.

Secondly, you may find several recommendations and resources by visiting ACM's ally BoardSource.

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What is a feasibility study?

Particularly important in museum planning is a professionally done "feasibility study" that addresses the demographics, profile, and economic stability of a community to determine whether a children's museum is economically viable. More information on this topic is included in Collective Vision: Starting and Sustaining a Children's Museum Chapter 2 "To Start… Or Not to Start."

Collective Vision is a 325 page publication that includes 14 chapters and a list of resources and recommended reading. The only book of its kind, it addresses all the considerations in starting a museum for children including finding space, hiring staff, developing programming, beginning an endowment, writing a business plan and much more. To find out how to order this and other ACM publications, please visit ACM Publications page.

Feasibility studies range greatly in price and, therefore depth, from initial audience profiles to site selection, to full-on museum planning. Contacting consultants who are trained to work with start-up children's museums on feasibility studies and preliminary plans is highly recommended. Visit ACM's Products & Services page to search for consultants and companies that are ACM Corporate Members. Please note: While ACM is pleased to highlight its Corporate Members, it is unable to endorse any one product or service organization or consultant.

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How do I develop exhibits? Where do I find exhibits?

Children's Museums get their exhibits through several routes: they rent or buy them from other organizations, they develop them with the help of exhibit designers and fabricators or they develop exhibits themselves in-house in their own exhibits department. Many do a combination of the three above.

Most smaller children's museums do not have large exhibits departments where exhibits are developed and built on-site. Exhibit design firms, can be very helpful even in the beginning stages of developing a children's museum. Because children's museums are so unique, designing ideas start at the very basic stages of your project. Talking to experts is a key to doing it right the first time.

More information on this topic is included in Collective Vision: Starting and Sustaining a Children's Museum Chapter 6, "Exhibits."

Collective Vision is a 325-page publication that includes 14 chapters and a list of resources and recommended reading. The only book of its kind, it addresses all the considerations in starting a museum for children including finding space, hiring staff, developing programming, beginning an endowment, writing a business plan and much more. To find out how to this and other ACM publications, please visit the ACM Publications page.

Visit ACM's Products & Services page to learn which exhibit design firms are ACM Corporate Members. Please note: While ACM is pleased to highlight its Corporate Members, it is unable to endorse the products or services of any member.

Visit the ACM Classifieds Exhibits page for a list of exhibits available for rent or for sale. ACM Exhibit Marketplace listings include exhibit descriptions, rental fees, available dates and contact information for the producing museum or company.

The Youth Museum Exhibits Collaborative (YMEC) is another resource for exhibit rentals. YMEC was founded in 1990 to develop and travel engaging exhibits for children, their parents, teachers and caregivers. Each exhibit targets children 5- to 12-years-old and their families and occupies a 1,200 square foot area. The exhibits include a range of hands-on experiences designed to meet the American Disabilities Act (ADA) specifications and contain dual language text (English-Spanish and English-French). They are available for rent by museums outside of the Collaborative and come complete with an educational program manual, marketing and sponsorship information and detailed information on installation and support.

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How can I learn about educational theory?

For those who do not have an degree in Education, there are a number of excellent resources available to gain a basic understanding about educational theory. Here are just a couple.

Collective Vision: Starting and Sustaining a Children's Museum Chapter 5 "Educational Theory & Learning Styles" covers some of the basic issues and ideas about educational theory and the surrounding issues that make the children's museum field so powerful. Children's Museums are designed around the concept that learning through play is an effective tool for children and adults alike.

Collective Vision is a 325 page publication that includes 14 chapters and a list of resources and recommended reading. The only book of its kind, it addresses all the considerations in starting a museum for children including finding space, hiring staff, developing programming, beginning an endowment, writing a business plan and much more.

The Case for Children's Museum bibliography contains more than 30 references to well-respected books, specific education journals articles and independent published studies. Additionally, this slim publication packs a collection of noted research, quotes from early learning experts and statistics from the children's museum field that frames the argument for why children's museum are an important and worthy community investment.

Hand to Hand, ACM's quarterly journal, has several issues that provide an excellent primer to educational theories as well as cutting-edge research. Back issues of Hand to Hand are available for purchase. Additionally, ACM maintains a Hand to Hand index to help you identify those issues that match your interests.

To find out how to order any of the above ACM publications, please visit the ACM Publications Page.

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How do I develop a business plan?

Even though your museum may be a non-profit, it is still very much a business and like any other business, careful planning is needed to help ensure its longevity and success. Developing a business plan is a very important step to starting a children's museum. Following are a few resources.

Collective Vision: Starting and Sustaining a Children's Museum Chapter 10: "Planning & Budget" discusses the issue of museum planning and includes an outline of key tactics to include in a business plan as well as examples of budget projections.

Collective Vision is a 325 page publication that includes 14 chapters and a list of resources and recommended reading. The only book of its kind, it addresses all the considerations in starting a museum for children including finding space, hiring staff, developing programming, beginning an endowment, writing a business plan and much more. To find out how to this and other ACM publications, please visit the ACM Publications Page.

You may decide to seek help developing your business plan from a museum planning firm. Visit ACM's Products & Services page to learn which museum planning firms are ACM Corporate Members. Please note: While ACM is pleased to highlight its Corporate Members, it is unable to endorse the products or services of any member.

Finally, ACM can provide copies of sample plans from its member institutions to current members. Contact ACM Membership Manager This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to request sample plans.

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P: 703.224.3100 E: acm@ChildrensMuseums.org

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