Activity Backpacks: Engaging Families

 What is an Activity Backpack?

Definition:  An assortment of multi-age appropriate activities designed to encourage direct interaction with museum exhibits; to be borrowed by families.

I was first introduced to the concept of museum Activity Backpacks while on a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, UK, in 2006. I immediately recognized the potential for these backpacks in Canadian museums due to their flexibility of cost and application.

The V&A is a decorative arts museum and so they produced Backpacks for their galleries which are not immediately appealing to children; such as their Chinese decorative art, Victorian decorative arts and decorative glass galleries, creating a way that children can actively engage with these collections.

The award winning V&A project  was inspired by a similar project in the U.S. and by the summer of 2007 Activity Backpacks had become very popular.  At this time was a learning and programming inter for the Bath & Northeast Somerset Council museums and I was asked to develop an Activity Backpack for the Fashion Museum’s  handbag exhibit.

A year later I was Museum Assistant at the Fort Frances Museum in a small town in Northwestern Ontario. I noted that a large portion of the area residents did not frequent the museum and those who did spent very

 little time in the exhibits. I decided that Activity Backpacks might be a cost effective solution; with a goal to slowing down families who visit by giving them hands-on activities in the gallery.

The Fort Frances Discover History Backpacks project  came together as rive different themed backpacks to correspond to the five main sections of the permanent gallery.

  • First Nations
  • Fur Trade
  • Pioneer
  • Logging
  • Community

The intention behind multiple themes is to encourage return visits. It is important in a relatively closed market like Fort Frances to create an ever changing museum experience. The Discover the History Backpacks deliver five different visits for no extra cost to the visitor and will help children to develop a relationship with their community museum.

 The Instruction Guide

The Bath backpack lacked an instruction guide, which is an integral component of the final backpack. The instruction guide, which holds all the instructions and answers to the Backpack activities, is designed for the parent or guardian to guide the child(ren) through each activity. The result is that these backpacks become more than just a means to engage children with museum exhibits, but to engage children with their parents and vice versa.


For a more indepth description of what instruction guides contain and the kinds of activities icluded, click the image below to take you to my Powerpoint Presentation, which I gave as a session presenter at the 2008 Ontario Museum Association (OMA) Conference and in 2010 at the OMA’s Credit Course in Museum Education.

 Click the picture!

4 thoughts on “Activity Backpacks: Engaging Families

Add yours

  1. Thanks for the great info about Museum Activity Backpacks. I’ve been looking up some ideas to create some activity backpacks for our historic site.

      1. I say the packs from Fort Frances at an OMA Education course and thought they were great. We are now going to do packs at our Museum. Great idea and way to keep families engaged!

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