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Symposium on Family Learning, Inclusion and the Value of Play in Museums


Join a world-renowned slate of experts in areas such as early learning, museology, the importance of play, and more!

December 4 and 5, 2019

Wednesday, December 4, 2019 — 1–7 p.m. (registration opens at 11 a.m.)
Thursday, December 5 — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Canadian Children’s Museum, Canadian Museum of History Theatre

$220: Members of Ontario Museum Association (OMA), Société des Musées du Québec (SMQ) or Canadian Museum of History (CMH); $250: Non-Members

Registration Information

Join renowned experts in fields including museology, exhibition design, childhood and family learning, as we explore the visitor experience for today’s children and their families. Featuring speakers from North America, Europe and Australia, the Symposium on Family Learning, Inclusion and the Value of Play in Museums examines topics such as the art of play, creative learning, the 21st-century family and much more. Providing a wealth of information and insight from around the world, the Symposium will offer much food for thought, while also including ample opportunities for networking and the sharing of best practices.

Key speakers include Dr. Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn; Patrice Aubertin, National Circus School; Paul Bowers, Australian Centre for the Moving Image; and Jörg Ehtreibler, FRida & freD (Austria). Also on hand will be representatives from Cité des enfants (Paris), Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Toboggan Design (Montreal), Musée de la civilisation (Québec City) and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Professionals from regional, national, and international museums, as well as anyone with an interest in family learning, play, inclusivity, and accessibility won’t want to miss this bilingual symposium, organized by the Canadian Children’s Museum at the Canadian Museum of History.

This event will also showcase research and other initiatives related to Symposium themes with a display of posters produced by college and university students in museology, early learning, the art of play and similar fields. Click here for more information or to apply.

The Museum is grateful for the support of the Cultural Services of the Embassy of France in Canada and the Embassy of Austria in Ottawa for their help in making this symposium possible.

Embassy of France in Canada logo Logo - Austrian Embassy - Ottawa

Special thanks to the Ontario Museum Association and the Société des Musées du Québec for their support.

Ontario Museums Association logo
Société des Musées du Québec logo

Big Ideas at the Museum

Registration Fees

Registration includes two days of symposium sessions; mini-continental breakfast (Thursday), refreshment breaks, admission to the Museum, and the reception in the Canadian Children’s Museum (Wednesday).

Fees are indicated below, exclusive of applicable taxes.

Buy Tickets
  • $220: Members (CMH, OMA, SMQ)
  • $250: Non-Members
  • Note: Proof of eligibility for the discounted rate may be requested.

Registration for the symposium is available online, (toll free) 1-800-555-5621, (TTY for people with hearing disabilities) 819-776-7003 or onsite at the Museum’s Box Office.

Email us: symposium@historymuseum.ca


Dr. Peter Gray

Dr. Peter Gray

Boston College

Dr. Gray is a leading international expert on the role of play in human evolution. A sought-after public commentator, Dr. Gray’s research highlights the value of self-directed play and reveals children’s natural ways of learning. He is the author of the popular university textbook, Psychology, now in its eighth edition, and of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.

Dr. Gray also writes a popular blog for Psychology Today, and is a founder and board member of Let Grow, an initiative dedicated to encouraging freedom to play outdoors without constant adult supervision.

Patrice Aubertin

Patrice Aubertin

Director, Centre for Research, Innovation and Knowledge Transfer in Circus Arts, National Circus School, Montréal

As Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Circus Arts, Patrice Aubertin directs the Center for Circus Arts Research, Innovation and Knowledge Transfer, which is affiliated with the National Circus School (NCS) in Montréal. Current projects explore the physical, psychosocial and creative impact of circus arts on both young people and professionals.

Before joining NCS, he worked with Cirque du Soleil for ten years as an acrobatic trainer and designer, senior coordinator of artist training, and director of research and development for new creative projects. His previous experience also includes work in the fields of sports, the visual arts and music.

Paul Bowers

Paul Bowers

Former Head of Exhibitions, Museums Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

Paul Bowers steered the renewal of the award-winning Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery at Melbourne Museum and helped develop designs for the multifaceted physical and technological transformation of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image for 21st century audiences.

An established museum professional, his previous work includes heading up exhibitions and design, renewals, project management, and program development at major museums in both Australia and the United Kingdom. Among other projects, Paul has previously worked on expanding Melbourne Museum’s family offer, and developing new experiences for teenagers at Scienceworks.

Alisson Boiffard

Alisson Boiffard

Muséographe, Cité des enfants, Universcience, Paris

Alisson Boiffard has been a museographer with Universcience in Paris, France, for the past 15 years, and worked on the renewal of two spaces at the Cité des enfants for ages 2–7 and 5–12. These two permanent exhibitions explore fundamental ideas via themes such as “I Can Do It” and “Let’s Work Together.” Visitors can experiment with and handle exhibition elements, thus engaging their five senses, enhancing fine motor skills and solving simple problems.

She is also the curator of Cabanes [Cabin Structures]: a popular temporary exhibition which gives children opportunities to explore on their own, enhancing both creativity and imagination as they enter, alter and build various structures, alone or with others.

Marie-Christine Bédard

Marie-Christine Bédard

Chargée de projet d’exposition, Musée de la civilisation, Québec City

Marie-Christine Bédard has worked at Musée de la civilisation for 20 years, first as a specialist in educational mediation and, for the past five years, as an exhibition project manager. Most recently, she has contributed to the production of several highly popular exhibitions for young audiences. Observer : l’expo qui déroute [Observation: More than Meets the Eye], for example, challenged visitors of all ages to second-guess their visual and physical perceptions within a series of cleverly disorienting environments.

The similarly innovative exhibition Il était une fois [Once Upon a Time] used engaging scenography to present new takes on classic fairytales. Mindful of developing projects that reflect audience needs and expectations, she often incorporates consultation and evaluation in her approach.

Laurent Carrier

Laurent Carrier

Experience and Exhibition Designer, Co-Founder of Toboggan Design, Montreal

For more than 25 years, Laurent worked internationally both heading and consulting on museum exhibition projects of a historical, cultural and scientific nature, including many projects for children and family audiences. Laurent’s hands-on experience has given him a global understanding of the overall scope of exhibition development, and the implications of decision-making every step of the way.

A solid leader and strategic thinker, he is able to organize a wealth of creative possibilities into concrete, engaging and meaningful experiences for visitors of all ages. He is currently a member of the Advisory Board for the Institute of Imagination, an all-ages creative space in London, England. Laurent and his colleagues at Toboggan Design are currently developing plans for the Canadian Children’s Museum Renewal Project.

Jason Nolan

Jason Nolan

Associate Professor, Early Childhood Studies and Director of the Responsive Ecologies Lab (RE/Lab), Ryerson University, Toronto

Jason Nolan is autistic and, through this lens, focuses his research on designing tools and technologies to support children’s learning in informal settings — from AR/VR and social media, to supports for disabled children. Current projects include technologies and tools to support learning among young children about, and with, sound as a sensory modality that is often absent from their education.

He is also working on the development of a low-cost augmented and alternative communication device, based on research with Indigenous communities in Bolivia. As a goal, the project strives to provide multilingual communication tools to disabled individuals around the world.

Jennifer Elliott

Jennifer Elliott

Director of Public Research and Evaluation, Canadian Museum of History

Jennifer Elliott has more than 20 years’ museum experience, and is responsible for visitor research and evaluation at the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum. Recently, she has overseen visitor research for the Canadian Children’s Museum Renewal project, including interviews with children and surveys of parents/caregivers and leaders of educational groups.

Jennifer serves as the Museum’s representative within the Children’s Museum Research Network — an initiative led by the Association of Children’s Museums and the University of Washington — and is active within the Visitor Studies Association. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Museum Studies from University College London, University of London, England.

Susan Foutz

Susan Foutz

Director of Research and Evaluation, Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Susan Foutz is Director of Research and Evaluation at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. She is responsible for the overall assessment of family learning at the museum. In this capacity, she works with staff teams to outline goals, objectives and outcomes relative to evaluating the success of new experiences and reports on the effectiveness of the museum’s family learning efforts.

In addition, she serves as the Children’s Museum’s representative within the Children’s Museum Research Network — an initiative led by the Association of Children’s Museums and the University of Washington — and is a member of the American Evaluation Association and the Visitor Studies Association.

Kerry McMaster

Kerry McMaster

Scenographer, Canadian Museum of History

Kerry McMaster is a scenographer at the Canadian Museum of History. Over the years, she has designed a variety of exhibitions for people of all ages, including Wind Work, Wind Play: Weathervanes and Whirligigs, the interior gallery for the Northwest Coast houses in the Museum’s Grand Hall, and Death in the Ice: The Mystery of the Franklin Expedition. Most recently, she has been working with the Canadian Children’s Museum Renewal team to establish design guidelines for the renewal project, including guidelines related to accessibility.

Kerry graduated from Carleton University with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design, and a minor in Psychology. While completing school, she also directed summer programming for children, youth and families.

Kara Lee

Kara Lee

Occupational Therapist

Kara Lee is a Registered Occupational Therapist, who has worked in pediatrics for more than a decade. She graduated with a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from McMaster University, and has worked in both the public and private sectors, gaining extensive experience with children who have various diagnoses, abilities, and developmental and learning challenges. Her career has provided opportunities to serve families from many different demographics, including urban, rural, and remote northern communities.

Kara is an Assistant Clinical Professor (Adjunct) with the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University, and a member of the Advisory Committee for the Canadian Children’s Museum Renewal Project, advising about special needs and accessibility to help foster an inclusive environment for all visitors.

Thomas Bastien

Thomas Bastien

Director of Education and Wellness, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Thomas Bastien has an engineering degree from the École Supérieure d’Agriculture d’Angers (France), and a master’s degree in Genetics from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Following four years with a Public Relation company, in 2012 he joined the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), during the first expansion of its educational and social and community areas.

He has also worked as Press Officer and as Assistant Director of Partnerships for the MMFA Foundation. Since 2017, he has served as the MMFA’s Director of Education and Wellness, with a team of 50 employees and the support of 170 docents, welcoming more than 300,000 annual participants to various activities.

Symposium Program

Click here to view the symposium program (PDF file).

All sessions will be in either English or French, with simultaneous interpretation.

Day 1: Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Canadian Museum of History Theatre and Theatre Lobby

11 a.m.
Symposium Registration
Theatre Lobby
1:15 p.m.
Opening Remarks
Maureen Ward
Advisor, Childhood Development and Learning
Canadian Children’s Museum Renewal Project
Canadian Museum of History
Mark O’Neill
President and CEO
Canadian Museum of History
1:25 p.m.

Session 1: Big Ideas

What Exactly Is Play, and Why Is It Such a Powerful Vehicle for Learning?
Play expert Dr. Peter Gray, research professor at Boston College explores the science of play, why it is important for children’s development, and the consequences of its decline. (English)
2:05 p.m.
Questions & Discussion
2:30 p.m.
Refreshment Break & Poster Session
Theatre Lobby
2:45 p.m.

Session 2: Big Ideas in Action

The Circus Arts and Expanding Play Through Physical Literacy, Creativity and Resilience
Patrice Aubertin, of the National Circus School explores the impact of circus training on early physical literacy, creativity and resilience. (French)
What Makes a Playful Exhibition Experience?
Paul Bowers, former Head of Exhibitions at Museums Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, discusses the role of neuroscience and consultation in the successful development of museum-based learning environments. (English)
3:45 p.m.
Questions & Discussions
4:00 p.m.
Poster Session
Theatre Lobby
Visit the Canadian Museum of History
Tour the Collections*
Curatorial Building

*Pre-registration required as spaces are limited. Please email symposium@historymuseum.ca to reserve your spot or register onsite at the registration desk on December 4, 2019 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

5:00 p.m.
Drinks Reception
Canadian Children’s Museum
Meet the Canadian Children’s Museum Renewal Team and enjoy hearing about the renewal plans.
7:00 p.m.
Dinner (self-paying)
Bistro Boréal*

*RSVP required as seating is limited. Please email symposium@historymuseum.ca by December 2nd to reserve your seat.

Day 2: Thursday, December 5, 2019

8 a.m.
Morning Coffee and Networking
Haida Gwaii Salon
9:15 a.m.
Opening Remarks
Maureen Ward
Advisor, Childhood Development and Learning
Canadian Children’s Museum Renewal Project
Canadian Museum of History
Michael Rikley-Lancaster
Executive Council Member
Ontario Museum Association
Katia Macia-Valadez
Director, Communications and Info-Muse
Société des musées du Québec
9:25 a.m.

Session 3: Big Ideas in Action

Creating Important Memories for Tomorrow’s Visitors
Marie-Christine Bédard, of Musée de la civilisation in Québec City, examines the importance of audience engagement and assessment in building rewarding museum-based experiences for young visitors. (French)
Experience Before Learning:
Cabanes – Towards a More Open Museography
Alisson Boiffard, of Cité des enfants in Paris, discusses new forms of exhibition design, including the impact of visitor-led museography on young audiences. (French)
10:15 a.m.
Questions & Discussions
10:35 a.m.
Refreshment Break & Poster Session
Theatre Lobby
10:50 a.m.

Session 4: Big Ideas in Action

Designing Playful Museum Spaces and Lessons Learned Along the Way
Laurent Carrier, of Toboggan Design in Montréal, discusses his experiences designing exhibitions for children and families, and the incorporation of key concepts such as inclusion. (French)
Individualizable Designs:
Helping Children Build Tools to Explore their Worlds
Jason Nolan, of Ryerson University in Toronto, looks at the importance of seeing children as individuals when developing exhibitions and programming for young visitors. (English)
11:40 a.m.
Questions & Discussions
12 p.m.
Lunch on Your Own
Poster Session
Theatre Lobby
1 p.m.

Session 5: Big Ideas in Action

What Families Are Telling Us
Jennifer Elliott, of the Canadian Museum of History, explores key issues from research into audience expectations for a renewed Canadian Children’s Museum. (English)
How Objects Can Be Used to Support Family Learning
Susan Foutz, of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, explores objects as learning tools, and the importance of developing displays that spark family discussion and engagement. (English)
2 p.m.
Questions & Discussions
2:15 p.m.
Refreshment Break & Poster Session
Theatre Lobby
2:30 p.m.

Session 6: Big Ideas in Action

Meeting the Needs of Diverse Visitors
Kerry McMaster, of the Canadian Museum of History, and occupational therapist Kara Lee, present the Accessibility Model for Experience and Physical Design, developed to guide the Canadian Children’s Museum renewal project in its approach to visitor engagement. (English)
Combining Health and Wellness with Family Programs
at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Thomas Bastien, of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts explores the Museum’s innovative approach to health and wellness for young visitors and their families. (French)
3:25 p.m.
Questions & Discussions
3:45 p.m.
Closing Remarks
Mark O’Neill
President and CEO
Canadian Museum of History
The Honourable Landon Pearson O.C.
Former Canadian Senator and a children’s rights advocate
Maureen Ward
Advisor, Childhood Development and Learning
Canadian Children’s Museum Renewal Project
Canadian Museum of History

Note: Symposium speakers and schedule are subject to change without notice.

About the Symposium

Why this Symposium, and Why Now?

As the availability of technology increases in the homes and hands of children, families are becoming more vocal about the types of experiences they want museums to provide. At the same time, as museums strive to be more inclusive and diverse, young visitors have emerged as a key audience with whom to engage.

Children who enjoy compelling museum experiences at an early age are more likely to see museums as valuable sources of learning as they grow. In addition, research continues to reinforce the importance of formative experiences during a child’s early years, when cognitive, social, and physical skills begin to develop.

Museums can be ideal venues for children to acquire and hone these skills, through immersive experiences that reinforce the connection between knowledge and play, while accommodating the many different ways in which children navigate their world. In addition, making children and their families feel welcome and engaged can also transform museums themselves, by making them accountable for providing experiences that are inclusive, exciting, and just plain fun.

The Canadian Children’s Museum at the Canadian Museum of History is currently in the midst of an extensive renewal. The Children’s Museum has 30 years’ experience and knowledge in operating a successful children’s museum, but is looking outwards as well, sharing its own best practices while welcoming the expertise of others as it seeks to remain relevant for years to come.

Throughout the symposium, various sessions will explore questions such as:

  • How have children, families and the ways they visit museums changed over the past 25 years?
  • How can museums stimulate creativity, imagination and resilience in young visitors, without falling into excessive pedagogy or taking sides in a cause or issue?
  • How can museums ensure they are accessible and inclusive? Are there exceptions?
  • What best practices can museums use in delivering and evaluating family learning?

What Is the Symposium’s Format?

This two-day event is scheduled for Wednesday, December 4 and Thursday, December 5, 2019. Sessions will be presented in either English or French, with simultaneous translation.

Day 1 — Wednesday, December 4
Canadian Museum of History Theatre and Theatre Lobby
Registration: 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
Sessions: 1–5 p.m.
Reception: 5–7 p.m.
Two Big Ideas speakers with Q&As
One Big Ideas in Action session
Refreshment break and Student Poster sessions
Evening Canadian Children’s Museum Reception: Meet the Children’s Museum Renewal Project Team
Day 2 — Thursday, December 5
Canadian Museum of History Theatre and Theatre Lobby
8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Four Big Ideas in Action sessions
Refreshment break, Student Poster sessions
Closing remarks and End of Symposium

Main Messages

In today’s world, young visitors and their families are emerging as a key museum demographic. In addition to supporting early learning and cognitive development, museums are well placed to provide children with the tools they need to navigate their world, while gaining social, emotional and physical skills.

By providing safe and welcoming learning environments, museums can help children learn through structured and constructive play. By offering programming that encourages creativity, problem-solving and sharing, museums are helping to shape not only tomorrow’s museumgoers, but tomorrow’s world. This symposium explores the transformation of museums and the museum experience, while examining the most effective means of engaging all children and families in meaningful ways.

Who Is this Symposium for?

The Symposium on Family Learning, Inclusion and the Value of Play in Museums is aimed at professionals from regional, national, and international museums, as well as anyone with an interest in family learning, play, inclusivity, and accessibility. In addition, the symposium will include a collaboration with local college and university students, in the form of a poster session to run throughout the symposium.

Some 150 guests are expected to participate and share their expertise and creative commentary on a wide range of topics during this important two-day event.

Hotel Accommodation Group Rate

Four Points by Sheraton
Hotel & Conference Centre Gatineau-Ottawa
$147.00 CAD per night
Hotel Room Booking
Last Day to Book: November 3, 2019

Best Western PLUS Gatineau-Ottawa
Hotel and Conference Centre
$135.00 CAD per night
Hotel Room Booking
Last Day to Book: November 4, 2019