Also posted on Medium, August 10, 2017.
As the school year approaches, I reflect on my experiences as a museum educator from previous museums in addition to the museum I am working with now. My career in museum education so far has been a rewarding field not only because I am surrounded my interesting material but I have the opportunity to translate that knowledge to audiences of wide age ranges. I have been recently asked by one of the parents I was talking with at the Maritime Explorium the following question: What do you love the most about being a museum educator?
When I told her my answer, I kept thinking about my experiences so far as a museum educator and thought I would share some of them here.
All of my experiences have included everything I love about being a museum educator including:
1. Interacting with kids: I love hearing from them about what they learned as well as what they can teach me. When I talk with them, I can see in their expressions how much they enjoy what they are hearing and doing. Also, I love that I have the opportunity to reach out to various age groups rather than only one age group.
2. Bringing their lessons to life: I enjoy being able to show them how the lessons they learned in the classroom can be applied outside the classroom. One of my favorite ways is being able to dress in costume to portray an individual from a time period to show how this person lived back then.
3. Leaving an impression: I also feel that if I hear kids say “I want to come back here again” or “I don’t wanna go” I know that I have done a great job showing them how fun and informative visiting the museums can be.
To explain the examples of what I love about being a museum educator, I would start with my most recent experiences then share some details from my previous experiences.
At the Maritime Explorium, I assisted in teaching a couple of library workshops at the local library for young kids and for third grade students. Young kids learned about archeology by digging through small sandboxes finding treasure. The second workshop was learning about how bridges are built and how they are supported. I love seeing the look on the kids’ faces when they learned something new and when they are enjoying the time they spent on these projects.
I also teach different activities during Maritime Explorium’s public hours. One of the summer activities I taught was making balloons into various items and making balloon rockets. While I was teaching these activities, I also was showing one girl how to work on other projects including how to turn a light bulb on only using a battery. After teaching her the activities and projects through the constructivist approach, she decided to go back to the balloon station to make stress balls using balloons and rice from the rice boats. To thank me, she gave one of them to me as a thank you for helping her. This was one of my top moments that made me love what I do as a museum educator.
I look back on each of my experiences, and I think about how many students I have had a similar impact I have had at Maritime Explorium.
My love for being a museum educator began during my summer internship at Connecticut’s Old State House in Hartford. I had the internship while I was at graduate school in Central Connecticut State University. I was able to get an internship at the Old State House after I interviewed Rebecca Tabor-Conover, Public Programs Coordinator, for my Introduction to Public History course.
On my first day of my internship, I assisted with a group of 140 elementary school students from kindergarten to second grade. One of the activities I worked with the students on was the I Spy program. In I Spy, the kids created and designed their own spy glass using paper towel tubes and designed them using whatever materials they could use such as markers, color construction paper, and stickers. Once they were completed, the kids walked around the Old State House and used their spy glasses to “spy” what they see in the museum.
I enjoyed seeing the look on their faces when they saw so many things they have never seen before and not expected to see in the museum. For instance, there was a recreated Museum of Curiosities inside one of the rooms on the second floor of the Old State House that featured a two-headed calf. Then they also pointed out various things they noticed including the tall original Lady Justice statue which used to sit on top of the Old State House.
While I was in graduate school, I became a museum teacher at the Stanley-Whitman House. I taught school programs between kindergarten and fifth grade, and these programs taught them about 18th century American history as well as Farmington history. What I enjoyed the most was seeing the students’ faces, especially the kindergarten students, when they arrive at the museum as well as while they explored the house with me. As a museum teacher, I dressed in costume to portray an 18th century woman that will explain through object-based and inquiry-based methods.
I also joined Connecticut Landmarks’ Hartford properties, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, to provide public tours and teach public programming. One of my favorite memories of working with kids was during First Night Hartford programs. The most recent one I had worked on included a craft activity in which kids made samurai helmets using gift wrapping paper and string to wear during the New Year’s Eve parade in downtown Hartford. I also enjoyed seeing the look on their faces when they saw the real samurai helmets that are in the Butler-McCook House’s collections; they thought it was so cool to see those helmets, and it is one of the unique features of the Butler-McCook House.
After I graduated from graduate school, I joined the Noah Webster House as a museum educator teaching students about West Hartford history, Noah Webster, and 18th century American history. Like while I was at the Stanley-Whitman House, I also dressed in costume to bring history to life. Depending on the program, I either simply dressed in costume and taught students through object based as well as inquiry-based methods, or I portrayed a woman who lived in West Hartford (or West Division as it was known back then) during the 18th century named Deborah Moore Kellogg who took control of her property after her husband died in a farming accident. When the program called for students to pretend to be individuals from 18th century West Division, I portrayed Deborah Moore Kellogg while we worked on chores such as cooking recipes in the kitchen and carding wool. I demonstrated cooking over a hearth, and the students love not only preparing the recipes but they also love watching me put the pots and pans over the fire to cook the recipes.
Once I moved on to the Long Island Museum, I occasionally dressed in costume to demonstrate life on 19th century Long Island. I wore a costume to dress as a schoolmarm, a teacher who taught lessons including reading, writing, and arithmetic in one-room schoolhouses. Every time I demonstrated lessons for the students, they were very excited about not only for writing the lessons on slate boards (small chalk boards) but also for 19th century games children back then played.
As I continue my career in museum education, I hope to continue inspiring students to not only learn about the materials the museums have but also to return to the museum to continue to play and learn. I leave these questions for you all to ponder:
What do you enjoy the most about your career? Do you have favorite stories from your museums/organizations?