Children's museums are institutions that provide exhibits and programs to stimulate informal learning experiences for children. In contrast with traditional museums that typically have a hands-off policy regarding exhibits, children's museums feature interactive exhibits that are designed to be manipulated by children. The theory behind such exhibits is that activity can be as educational as instruction, especially in early childhood. Most children's museums are nonprofit organizations, and many are run by volunteers or by very small professional staffs.
International professional organizations of children's museums include the Association of Children's Museums (ACM), which was formed in 1962 as the American Association of Youth Museums (AAYM) and in 2007 counted 341 member institutions in 23 countries, and The Hands On! Europe Association of Children's Museum (HO!E), established in 1994, with member institutions in 34 countries as of 2007. Many museums that are members of ACM offer reciprocal memberships, allowing members of one museum to visit all the others for free.
The first children's museum in the world was the Brooklyn Children's Museum, founded in 1899. The next five in order of their founding were:
- Boston Children's Museum (1913)
- The Detroit Children's Museum (1917)
- The Children's Museum of Indianapolis (1925) – according to the ACM, this is the world's largest children's museum.
- The Children's Museum (West Hartford, CT) (1927)
- The Duluth Children's Museum (1930)
By 1975, there were approximately 38 children's museums in the United States. An additional 80 institutions opened between 1976 and 1990, and more than 130 opened between 1990 and 2007. As of 2007, ACM estimated that there were approximately 80 children's museums in the planning phase.
The children's museum concept has spread worldwide from the United States. Le Musée des Enfants in Brussels was started in 1978, inspired by Boston Children's Museum. The Boston museum also inspired the Museo Pambata in Manila, which opened in 1994. The Children's Museum of Caracas, Venezuela, became Latin America's first museum for children when it opened in 1982. The Children's Museum of Bogotá, Colombia, followed it in 1986. Eureka! The National Children's Museum in Halifax, England, established in 1992, claims the title of the United Kingdom's first hands-on children's museum. Austria's first museum for children was ZOOM Children’s Museum in Vienna, established in 1994. Korea's first children's museum is the Samsung Children's Museum in Seoul, which opened in 1995 under the sponsorship of the Samsung Culture Foundation.
See also 
- List of children's museums in the United States
- Museum of Childhood (disambiguation page)
- Toy museum
- Go Colorado article that mentions that Buell Children's Museum was ranked second in the United States in 2002
- The Association of Children's Museums website
- Hands On! Europe website
- Boston Children's Museum
- Detroit Children's Museum
- The Indianapolis Children's Museum
- The Children's Museum
- Duluth Children's Museum
- Le Musée des Enfants
- Museo Pambata
- Children's Museum of Caracas
- Children's Museum of Bogotá
- Eureka! The Museum for Children
- ZOOM Children’s Museum
- Samsung Children's Museum