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First the Children

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There is a growing and unique role museums can play in reinventing K-12 education. And children's museums are well suited to lead the way.

The reasons may seem obvious.

Kids love to play and children's museums are playgrounds. Like playgrounds at recess, real learning takes place. Children's museums are designed to encourage play and more recently these institutions are making sure the places where, as John Scwhartz of The New York Times writes, "classroom and playground (are) rolled Into one."

More and more Children's museums are focusing on ways to provide the new thinking skills and the pathways to thinking creatively which the 21st century workplace demands.

Very few children's museums were operating in the United States until recently. Today there are close to 400 museums for kids, representing a total of 22 countries. And the trend is growing exponentially.

Importantly, they have forged collaborations with the community, and through what they call an "incubator" environment "partners work side by side, sharing resources and ideas to better serve children. "

The idea of collaborating to engage the larger community in rethinking about the importance of arts and culture to foster creativity and innovation is best found in an organization called Thriving Minds (formerly called The Dallas Arts Learning Initiative) in Dallas, Texas.

"Now more than ever," their website proclaims, "creativity and imagination are an important part of helping children learn to think critically, solve problems and express themselves -- all necessary to compete in today's global community. Wherever children are -- in school or out -- Thriving Minds works to surround them with opportunities to develop skills and nurture talents that lead to success".

With the cooperation of over 50 arts and cultural organizations, the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Dallas Independent School District, the coalition

"is helping educators to think differently about how they engage students in the classroom. Through the initiative, a curriculum has been developed that integrates the arts, technology and other creative activities into math, science, language arts and social studies coursework."

Richard Winefield of The Bay Area Discovery Museum recently announced the launch of the "Center for Childhood Creativity, a think tank focused on children's creativity". While the Museum has yet to announce its programs, it has made it clear that "creativity is a critical leadership quality for success in the 21st century, yet schools and institutions do not adequately address this element of human development."

Rachel Teagle, Executive Director of The New Children's Museum in San Diego recently made the same observation:

"There is no one rule for creativity... the question is how to inspire, foment, even teach creativity. Unfortunately, our public education system is not equipped to teach creativity or innovation. At the museum, we integrate art into the curriculum. Museums like ours that give direct access to artists and their process are best positioned to foster creativity."

Arts integration, arts in communities, arts learning in the schools: all are part of an effort to create and foster new thinking skills in our young.

Other museums across the country must surely see the challenge and the opportunity. They know that developmental intelligence occurs early in life and the experiences of the first few years can spell the difference for many children in their basic capacity for learning.

If indeed, future success in life and work depends, in large part, on creativity and innovation as The Conference Board has reported, then this new emphasis on nurturing young people with "new thinking skills" can make the difference America needs.