Dr. Sharon Shaffer is a consultant and leading expert in the field of early learning and museum education.  She draws on nearly thirty years of experience in the field as the Founding Director for the Smithsonian's model lab school in Washington, DC where she established a signature program of learning for the Institution. In recognition of her pioneering work, Shaffer received The Secretary’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service from the Smithsonian – the only educator with this distinction – for creating a national model in museum-based learning for young children.
As an independent consultant for Early Learning in Museums, Dr. Shaffer works closely with museums and shares her belief in the power of objects and her passion for teaching art, history, and culture through art and artifacts.  Her expertise is in blending theory and practice to support educators in understanding object-based methodologies, developing curriculum and other educational materials in partnership with museums and schools, and engaging educators in fostering critical thinking skills essential for twenty-first century learners. Her experience cuts across all types of museums, including work with children’s museums, and lends itself to an interdisciplinary approach to learning that bridges formal and informal learning environments.

Dr. Shaffer is an Instructor for Education at the Curry School, University of Virginia, a position that she has held for more than ten years, and writes professionally for the field, contributing articles to journals in the United States and abroad, including Chinese Museum.  In spring 2012 she served as the guest editor for the Journal of Museum Education’s issue “Early Learning: A National Conversation.” Her first book, Engaging Young Children in Museums (2015), offers an historical and theoretical framework for early learning experiences in classrooms and museums, and has recently been translated into Chinese.  Her newest book, Object Lessons and Early Learning (2018), explores the power of objects in learning, children’s curiosity about their world, and the natural affinity for collecting that begins in the early years.
PhD, Social Foundations of Education, University of Virgina
Areas of Research / Professional Expertise
Early Learning
Child Development
Educational Theory
Museum Learning
Personal Interests
Sharon has a wide range of interests that include international travel, playing bridge, cooking, reading, spending time at the gym, and visiting museums with young family members.  She is an avid fan of football [American] and baseball, attending games when possible. She and her husband enjoy winter vacations in Mazatlan, Mexico and are always planning the next trip to somewhere new to learn about people and places from around the world.