How Museum Can Gain Visitors’ Attention through Educational Programming: Homeschool and Other Non-Traditional Programming

Added to Medium, August 3, 2017

Museum educators prepare for the upcoming school year by not only preparing for school programs but also non-traditional education programs such as homeschool days and scout programs. As museum professionals, we recognize there are various groups interested in educational programming museums have to offer. Museums, however, need to continue to expand its offerings and spread the word to those groups to remain relevant for all visitors.
I have had some experience in education programs for non-traditional groups. It is without a doubt a different experience from school programs. At the same time, what all of these programs have in common were the ability to educate and engage students with the materials offered by museums.

Homeschool programming in museums vary depending on what museums offer to their visitors. For instance, my first experience educating homeschool groups was at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. There was one homeschool group that came to Noah Webster House, and the students participated in an educational program that was adjusted to accommodate the small homeschool group in one of the pre-existing school programs.

I later experienced working with homeschool students in Long Island Museum’s Homeschool Day program. In May of 2016, there was a Homeschool Day planned in collaboration with the Smithtown Historical Society. Individuals participating in the program were able to visit both places in the same day or choose which place to visit for Homeschool Day. The families signed up with either organization, and they made the decision on whether to visit both places or one of the places. At the Long Island Museum, homeschool students and their families participated in a couple of interactive activities in addition to touring the Museum’s campus. They learned about parts of a 19th century stagecoach, experienced what it was like to attend school in a one-room schoolhouse during the 19th century, and visited the Samuel West’s blacksmith shop. Meanwhile at the Smithtown Historical Society, those who visited the place visited the historic structures and learned how to write with scratch pens (later version of the quill pen).

Many museums created programs that appeal to homeschool students and the majority of these programs helped homeschool students as well as their teachers network with each other. During my research on homeschool programming, I discovered a number of museums that have different programs that welcomed homeschool students and families to their museums. For instance, the New York Historical Society developed the Homeschool Academy which is designed to supplement their curriculum with engaging lessons in their classrooms, studios, and galleries. Also, the Museum of Play had programs geared towards homeschool students.

The Museum of Play in Rochester, New York offer various opportunities and programs for homeschool students to engage with the interactive exhibit spaces. While homeschool students and their families can participate in the Museum’s homeschool activities and lessons aligned with state and national standards, they also have the option to register for school group lessons that can be adapted for homeschool students’ needs.

There are other places that participate in their own versions of Homeschool Day. For instance, the Intrepid Museum of Sea, Air, and Space has Homeschool Days that feature talks and discussions geared towards appropriate age ranges and abilities. Also, there are activities that include an educator-led tour of the Museum as well as a chance to explore various topics through our historic artifacts, photographs and demonstrations. Homeschool students and their families also have time to travel the museum on their own, and can participate in a self-guided scavenger hunt. In addition to the Homeschool Days, homeschool groups of 10 or more students are also invited to take part in the Museum’s K–12 school programs.

Cradle of Aviation in Garden City, New York also has Homeschool Days that include activities such as guided tours and scavenger hunts. Also, when they bring 25 or more students, homeschool families can explore the Museum’s galleries, see a Giant Screen film, and Planetarium Show in addition to attending museum classes. They are welcome to register for any of the museum classes; and the educator-led programs include active discussion, fun visuals, hands-on demonstrations and other related activities.

I also did some research on homeschool programs in Connecticut museums since the beginning of my career in museum education began in this state. One of the examples I found was the Children’s Museum in West Hartford where it has a program known as the Homeschool Series. The Series offers various days in February, March, April, and May which they are able to participate in programs related to science and nature. This museum offers programs that encourage families to engage in hands-on science instruction, inquiry-based learning activities, and cooperative learning opportunities.

The New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut has Homeschool Days that take place on second Mondays of every month between October and June. According to their site, each month features a different artistic element or medium, historical period, or special exhibit, using the galleries as the classroom. Homeschool students participate in inquiry-based learning and flex visual literacy skills with in-depth discussions of works of art, and sessions end with studio workshops that allow them to delve into the creative process.

Mystic Seaport also has Homeschool programs students and families can engage in during their visit. Their homeschool programs are a series of hands-on learning programs designed specifically for homeschoolers ages 4-13, adjusted for each age; each day of the program concentrated on one theme. Also, Mystic Seaport has Homecoming Community Sailing in which students practice boat handling and become familiar with the basics of water safety and wind.

Connecticut Historical Society has Homeschool Days, or events that give families the opportunity to enjoy engaging, educational workshops, tour our galleries, and connect with other homeschool families. There are short workshops on a variety of topics that are taught throughout the day; two Homeschool Days are scheduled at different parts of the year.

There are many museums and organizations that offer homeschool days and programming. While there are some differences, depending on what the museums’ offer, one of the things they have in common are how they offer interactive events that encourage participation in hands-on activities. These activities not only help homeschool students and families connect with each other but also assist with supplementing their education standards.

In addition to homeschool programs, there are other groups and programs that also encourage connecting with other people and engaging with the materials museums offer. Scout groups, for instance, are also drawn to visiting museums for their educational programs.

Boys and Girls Scout programs encourage them to be active members in their communities and part of these programs inspire them to earn badges that showed they accomplished a task and/or skill to move up a level in the program. Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society and the Long Island Museum, for instance, have programs that are adjusted to meet the these organizations standards not only to allow participants to enjoy their visit but also earn the badges they needed for their programs.

Another example of other programming is family programs that connect them with other families and engage them with the hands-on activities. For instance, while I was at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, I worked during a program called Bookworm Adventures with storytelling as well as crafts and other hands-on activities. The particular theme I worked during was Dr. Seuss, and I assisted young children make green eggs of green eggs and ham using marshmallows and green covered chocolates. Meanwhile, the kids pinned a tail on the Cat in the Hat, played with toys, listened to Dr. Seuss’ stories, and made other crafts.

Museums have so many programs and resources to offer. By extending them to groups including homeschool students and scouts, we reach out to audiences that will have another place to interact with other people and take advantage of what we have to offer in educational programming.

What other museums or organizations have similar programs I discussed? Has your organization considered expanding programs like homeschool programs if it does not have a program already? If your organization has similar programming, please share the accomplishments and challenges your museum or organization accomplished.

To learn more about the programs I mentioned in this post, check these out:
http://www.nyhistory.org/education/homeschool
http://www.museumofplay.org/education/homeschool-students
https://www.intrepidmuseum.org/homeschool-days
http://www.cradleofaviation.org/education/homeschool.html
http://www.thechildrensmuseumct.org/programs/homeschool-programs/
http://www.nbmaa.org/classroom/11
https://www.mysticseaport.org/learn/k-12-programs/homeschool/
https://chs.org/education/home-school-day/

 

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