Summertime: Keeping Audiences Coming to Museums

Originally posted on Medium, June 15, 2017.

As the summer approaches, museum professionals continue to develop exhibits, kids summer programs, and public programs that encourage visitors to keep coming back to these organizations. I have visited many museums throughout my life, and each one provides various and unique summer programming to keep visitors, new and regular, coming to their institutions. Summer programs must not only provide visitors options for summer entertainment but should also reflect the institutions’ missions in some way. During my experience as a museum education professional, I have figured out there are many ways to help visitors engage with museums I have worked with. As I begin my summer work as an educator at Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson and at Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, I reflect on what has worked in the past.

My summer experience began with my summer internship at Connecticut’s Old State House, located in downtown Hartford, while I was earning my Master’s degree at Central Connecticut State University. In addition to giving tours to the public and researching answers to questions asked during tours, I create an animal scavenger hunt for young kids, called “Where Am I Hiding? Holcombe Center Animal Hunt”, to do while visiting the Old State House. The animals I used for the scavenger hunt came from Connecticut’s Old State House’ s Holcomb Center, where education programs are usually held for young kids. I walked around the Center and chose nine animals that were painted on the walls. I chose a variety of animals that can be found in different habitats; the animals I chose include a duck, cow, horse, starfish, turtle, and an alligator. To participate in the activity, the kids followed simple instructions so they will be able to find all the animals in the room.

Kids would use the clues provided to figure out what animals they will look for. For instance, one example of a clue I wrote was
“I love to swim and ruffle my feathers. I love to say ‘Quack’ and you can find me and my little ones underneath the bench in the water.”

When they look for the animals, the kids use the clue to figure out what animal it is, and where it is in the Center. Once they found where the animals are in the room, the kids use the reference picture on the sheet to match it with the clue. By doing so, it will show that the kids know what the animals are and keep the kids entertained. While this activity does not completely tie into the mission to reawaken citizen engagement and awareness, it helps young kids interact with their surroundings which would carry into getting more engaged and inspired to learn more as they grow up and learn how their voice matters as citizens of a democratic nation.

Another example of summer programming I worked on was at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House also located in Hartford. During the summer, the Butler-McCook House has a summer concert series where various artists on certain dates in the summer months perform on the lawn between Connecticut Landmarks’ headquarters and Butler-McCook House; the headquarters was moved into the Amos Bull House which was relocated from Main Street to behind the Butler-McCook House on the McCook family property to save the Bull House from being torn down. The Butler-McCook House also had a few rooms open to concert attendees to learn a little bit of the history of the house and Hartford. Connecticut Landmarks’ mission is

“to inspire interest and encourage learning about the American past by preserving selected historic properties, collections and stories and presenting programs that meaningfully engage the public and our communities.”

The summer concert series are an example of how programs are relevant to the institutions’ missions because the summer concerts encourage many people in the community especially families to come together to not only enjoy the music but become more aware of what Connecticut Landmarks’ can offer to the community as historical resources of local and national history.

Some museums and historic sites also provide summer day camps for kids of various ages to participate in to both learn and have fun. I worked at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society’s summer day camp which had two sessions that kids between the ages of 8 and 12 could sign up for one or a later one; the program taught kids about 18th century life through cooking recipes, performing chores, making crafts based on toys that 18th century children would have made themselves, and creating their own skits based on what they learned for their families at the end of the session. Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society also partnered with Westmoor Park to include farm activities to learn what it is like to do chores on the farm as well as to learn about and pet the animals. At Westmoor Park, the kids also participated in other activities including crafts and nature walks. This summer camp helps kids gain a better understanding of history and culture while participating in fun activities.

The Long Island Museum also had a summer day camp that allows kids to work with artists hired for the summer to teach different art projects. I supervised check in to make sure everything ran smoothly and I was on call to make sure each session had enough supplies and everything else ran smoothly during the day. There are many different sessions scheduled during the summer. For instance, one of the sessions is called Fashion Illustration. Fashion Illustration teaches registered kids how to draw sketches to create different fashion designs. Another art session tied in with the exhibit Long Island in the Sixties by having kids create crafts based on things from the 1960s. These summer day camp sessions allowed kids to have a better understanding and enjoyment of art, especially through Long Island heritage.

In my current roles, I continue to provide educational and entertaining experiences for visitors of various ages. At the Maritime Explorium, I assist kids with hands-on activities related to science and maritime. For instance, I helped kids between kindergarten and second grade find a way to make a penny shine by providing materials such as dish soap, barbeque sauce, baking soda, salt, and sponges for them to figure out the solution, and have them write down methods that did not work. Also, I worked at the Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire where kids participated in hands-on games, activities, and crafts while participating in other Maker Faire activities such as interactive activities and listening to live music.

I also began working with Three Village Historical Society on education programs. Collaborating with the Director of Education and the Historian, I will work on school and kids summer programs. I look for inspiration from past programs Three Village Historical Society has taught, my own experiences, and the lessons I learned from professional development programs. Summer programs and the staff who develop them I have learned from my experiences provide opportunities for visitors to return for more programming. It is important to have it well advertised so more people will be able to know about these programs through outlets such as social media, newspaper ads, flyers, mailings, and/or a mixture of any of the previous methods. Also, it is important to develop a way to evaluate the programs to see what works and what needs to be improved on. Summer programs continue to evolve as the communities needs change while fulfilling their institutions’ missions.

Do you have a favorite experience, or experiences, with summer programs? What are your experiences in developing and/or implementing summer programs at your institutions?

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