A Cool Evaluation Project at the Shedd Aquarium

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Sarah Welch

by Sarah Welch MPH, Evaluation Manager

Opened May 22, 2009, the Polar Play Zone at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago is the museum’s first permanent exhibit designed specifically with children (aged 2-7) in mind.  The Shedd Aquarium had designed the Polar Play Zone to be interactive and interesting to children as well as encourage physical activity while in the exhibit.  It includes four different areas for children to explore: (1) The Shallow Seas – where kids can play in tidal pools, touch sea stars and visit with sea otters; (2) The Deep Ocean – an underwater viewing area of the dolphin habitat; (3) The Icy South – the penguin habitat with a play area where kids can dress up like penguins and climb and slide up and down rocks, imitating the birds; and (4) The Icy North – where kids can learn about beluga whales and other cold water creatures while playing with a submarine.

Over the summer of 2010, CLOCC staff evaluated the physical activity levels of children visiting the Polar Play Zone as well as measured general activity levels of children visiting other parts of the museum.  Accelerometers, devices that measure the amount and intensity of movement, were worn by children between the ages of 3 and 7 during their visit to the museum.  This gave us information on how active children are while visiting the museum in general.  To see how active children were in the Polar Play Zone, we used an observation method called SOPLAY to count how many children were sitting or standing still, walking, or running while in the exhibit.  Using these two methods, we were able to gather information on activity levels of children visiting various parts of the museum as well as the Polar Play Zone in particular.  This information will help us know if museums provide a good source of physical activity for children in addition to their educational benefits. 

The data from this project are still being analyzed, so no results are ready at this time.  When they are finished, we will be sure to share them.  For more information on this project or CLOCC’s other evaluation activities, contact me at 312-573-7767 or swelch@childrensmemorial.org.

Summer intern Justine Bandstra and I dress the part in the Penguin Habitat. Justine assisted in the data collection.