Dutch Open Air Museum | Restart

Gitta Paans

Concept Developer, Education

Dutch National Open-Air Museum

Schelmseweg 89 6816 SJ Arnhem Postbus 649 6800 AP Arnhem


Children in Museums Award 2021






The Dutch Open Air Museum brings the past 400 years of every-day life in the Netherlands to life. The Canon of Dutch History is presented in an interactive exhibition and a 44-hectare museum park with some 100 authentic historical buildings.

The Museum aims to reflect the changes in Dutch society which has a history of welcoming newcomers from all over the world. This is witnessed by our presentations about former immigrants from Turkey, The Moluccas, Indonesia, Surinam and China, as well as our stories of other immigrants.

Migration is a current and topical theme in the Netherlands. Young people experience both the positive and negative effects of migration in their daily lives. The Restart programme introduces this important topic to teenagers in an easy-to-understand manner by reflecting their own lives and experiences, and turning it into an entertaining yet serious game.

Restart is a school programme for 11 to 15-year olds about universal aspects immigrants experience when they try to settle in a new country. The aim of the programme is to teach students that migration is:

1. understandable,

2. not easy, and

3. is also part of our history.

The programme is introduced at school, where students examine the reasons why people decide to migrate. This results in a personal passport for the Museum, now named Anderland /‘Otherland’ and the pupils are immigrants. They have to get a residence permit. As ‘families’ the children experience the challenges people who try to start a new life somewhere else encounter: finding a job, learning the language, making new friends and more. Just like in real life, the students’ success is determined by an unpredictable mix of factors. Their knowledge, persistence and adaptability are tested, as is their ability to provide for themselves and find happiness. They get their instructions on a tablet computer after which they need to interact with museum staff, visitors and each other. The tablet computer also keeps the test scores. Back at school, the students reflect on their experiences and look at the history of migration.

Making new friends_Copyright Nederlands Openluchtmuseum


For real immigrants, success is by no means guaranteed and setbacks are inevitable. After consulting teachers and migrants, it was decided to make feelings of frustration or disappointment an integral part of the game. Students may often be rejected when trying to find a job; having to eat ‘foreign’ food or trying to make new friends can be very scary and uncomfortable experiences. Only when the students have actually experienced these emotions for themselves do they truly understand the situation that migrants are in.


How we developed Restart

We developed the programme in collaboration with an immigrant organisation and a group of schoolteachers. We soon decided that the starting point had to be the pupils themselves and not figures and facts about migration. We talked to the immigrants in our design team about what it feels like to be completely new to a country, which challenges they faced and which qualities are needed to be able to build a new life.

We also talked to the teachers about how we could get certain feelings across to the children. It turned out that teachers had no qualms about letting their students experience problems and have setbacks during the programme. They actually encouraged it.


From the jury report:

"The jury looks for things that make the winner stand out from other candidates. The Restart programme’s focus on empathy made the difference. Restart provides evidence for how crucial empathy is for the overall functioning of democracy and prompted museums to do their part to breach the empathy deficit. During the programme the whole of the Museum transforms into an imaginary country, where children have to find their way as young migrants. Children are faced with challenges which can lead to frustration and disappointment, but which may also create opportunities. The ingenuity of solutions and particularly the decision not to avoid negative emotions but to build on them in order to get some understanding, no matter how little, of what it means to be an immigrant in another country is what convinced the jurors."

Cooking something new_Copyright Nederlands Openluchtmuseum


We collaborated with IJsfontijn, an entertaining learning design agency. We quickly concluded that a tablet computer might be a good resource for this programme. Young people want to be able to decide things for themselves. The iPad, with its carefully developed game structure, guides them through the park like a ‘game master’. It helps them with their journey and their tasks and allows them to make strategic decisions themselves. The feelings of freedom and autonomy are very important and have a particularly inspiring effect. The combination of the digital 'game' and the real-life, analogue experiences makes this a unique serious game.

The challenge offered by Restart is that visitor-facing employees in the museum park also participate in the game. They help and supervise the children as they cook and work. However, many of the staff have to reject children too, e.g. by not giving them a job when they ask for it. The staff understand the purpose behind Restart and play their part in the game.

Another exciting aspect of the game is that the students have to approach other visitors and ask if they can have their photos taken with them. This is for an assignment which requires them to make new friends. In general, individual groups of visitors to a museum seldom interact with each other. But this assignment works really well. If the children clearly explain what they are doing, most other visitors are happy to play along.

If we were to do this again, we would create a multi-level game accessible for multiple target groups. The current game is not suitable for young children or families. Making it suitable for them would be a good addition.

The development and especially the use of the programme, i.e. a digital serious game running on tablet computers, has taught us a lot in terms of technology. For example, the content management system we used does not make it easy to change any content. Much more customer-friendly systems are available nowadays.

The Dutch Open Air Museum wants to be an inclusive museum which is open to topical issues and social challenges which are relevant to today's society. The museum wants to be a place where young and old can experience history, culture and heritage emotionally, theoretically and hands-on and where people can exchange ideas and feelings and discover different perspectives. The Restart programme fully embodies this and puts this into practice. Evaluations have shown that it really touches the hearts and minds of participants and has changed their perceptions of immigrants and immigration.

Advice for others: get together with, and work with, people who are actively involved with the target group and with people from the actual target group. They are the true experts. Define your goals in advance and consider whether they are appropriate for the target group. We did a lot of interim testing and verifying with the target group and that proved to be highly worthwhile. And it prevented us from making many mistakes. Do not shy away from trying new things or going off the beaten track: decide what will work the best in terms of content – leave out the traditional story or use of space if need be – to make your programme stronger.


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