Play as a Tool for Discovery

Myth: play is for kids.

Our job, as the Exhibits Team at Gumbo Limbo, is to communicate scientific research and information to our visitors.  However, as an instructor of mine once said: “No one reads scientific journals for fun!” It is our job to find ways to reduce and simplify often complex topics into bite-sized pieces that an intergenerational family can understand.  This can be quite tricky sometimes; I’ve had three to four people standing around a computer for an hour as we try to write a one-sentence definition for the theory of evolution.  However, these kinds of challenges are by far my favorite part of the job.

The exhibition profession, like most trades, is always developing.  Every year there are new tools or ideas, there are trends and contests, and large conferences where we all get together to share and evaluate each other’s work.  A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to present at the recent Southeastern Museums Conference in Charlotte North Carolina.  I co-presented with some colleagues from different organizations on one of these current trends called gamification, or how to incorporate games and play into exhibition and programing.  Specifically, our session was called “Myth: Playtime is for Kids,” where we discussed the benefits of games and play as it relates to engaging adults.

Play is an incredibly powerful tool for discovery.  While engaging in play, participants must consider the information presented to them in the context of their own assumptions about a subject, which can lead to more robust understanding, or at least, a more engaging discussion.  Play, usually, is also highly social.  We want guests to talk about the subject matter within their group, with facility staff and, sometimes more importantly, with other visitors.  Guests sharing experiences and perspectives, and asking questions, is the most powerful tool for education and social development.  Between socialization and the questioning of assumptions, gameplay usually leads to more personalized experiences for those involved.  Our ultimate objective is to provide our guests with novel, engaging and memorable experiences that promote our institutional missions.

All said, your logical next question is probably: “What games should we be playing at Gumbo Limbo?” Well, be on the lookout!  Over the past few years, we’ve created several scavenger hunts and site-specific challenges that we rotate to provide new experiences to our guests.  In hard construction, we add two to three new exhibits to the grounds every year.  Coming soon (early 2020), we will have a new interactive exhibition about food webs, food chains and how animals hunt and eat.  Next time you visit, be sure to ask the front desk what’s new!

2 women and one mane standing in front of their presentation.

Jolie Johnson, Development Manager of the Hillard University Art Museum; Nora Pinell-Hernandez, Creative Director of Atomic Carrots Design and Fabrication; and Cory Keester-O’Mills from Gumbo Limbo Nature Center co-presented a session at the Southeastern Museums Conference on the role of play in museums, how to encourage play, and the benefits of play as it relates to institutional missions.


From: Hammock Happenings, January - February 2020

By: Cory Keester-O’Mills, Exhibits Coordinator

Category Tag(s): Nature Blog