Is Children’s Play Declining? What are Museums Doing to Encourage Playtime

Added on Medium, July 20, 2017

When I was on Twitter this week, I came across a tweet from Sage Museum Ed, the American Alliance of Museums’ Ford W. Bell Fellow for Museums & P-12 Ed. She tweeted an article that came to my attention from Huffington Post called “Children’s Play is Declining, But We Can Help Reclaim It”, written by Huffington Post contributor Merete L. Kropp who is a child development and family specialist. Kropp shared data that showed how play has been decreasing over the years. According to the data she shared, between 1981and 1992 there was a 25 percent decrease in children’s time spent playing even though experts in child development have stressed the importance of playing. Playtime has continually decreased over the past 25 years as the article claimed.

Kropp discussed the number of possibilities that contribute to the decline in play and how to encourage children to dedicate their time to play. A few of the examples she briefly discussed about the contributions to decline in play include overly structured schedules, too many extracurricular activities, decreased recess time in school, and increased time in front of a screen. While children find ways to play, they play in small amounts of time in between activities and waiting for their parents or guardians to spend time with them when the adults are occupied with other tasks such as meal prep time and talking on the phone. Then Kropp shared how children should be encouraged to have their playtime with a couple of points including scheduling unstructured time for children to be bored and entertain themselves, providing simple toys with multiple purposes that give opportunities for creativity and problem solving, and following children’s lead during playtime and allow them to negotiate and communicate on their own terms.

This article made me think about how museums have been providing many options for children to engage and play not only during school programs but also during the summer. Museums, especially in the museums I have worked for, can engage children in providing outlets for them to be creative and the desired time to express their creativity. Also, museums have the ability to provide time children can dedicate to, as Kropp pointed out, “participate in complex scientific discovery as they hypothesize, experiment and make generalizations about the world and how it works”.

Museums I work for currently and those that I have worked for have various activities and programs that allow children to express their curiosity as well as their creativity.

The Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson, for instance, has various projects and activities that encourage children’s creativity and playtime. Inside the Explorium, there is a bailing boat, or a boat that removes water from the boat, filled with rice where kids can play inside the boat. Kids are encouraged to play with the rice by figuring out how many cups of rice could fill a bucket, how many spoonful of rice can fill a bucket, and which size funnel would the rice come out the fastest. They not only entertain themselves using the rice but they also learn about measuring in the playing process.

Children in the rice boat also have the time to use their imaginations, and create their own play world. With the rice boat, there are toys including sea creatures in addition to white pipes, funnels, buckets, shovels, plastic cups, bowls, and spoons. They use these toys and tools to create endless possibilities for the world and games they create. For instance, one girl pretended she owned her own restaurant and served various dishes using the rice as her creations. Another example of unique possibilities was when a girl today pretended she was able to create a roof using the white pipes.

Also today, a brother and a sister walked in and created two different ways of play. The brother took the pipes and created a maze that would send the rice through on the other end of the pipes. Meanwhile, his sister used the bowels of rice to feed four toy sea turtles and an octopus, and then used two buckets to create their homes (she buried each of the toys in the rice, and pretended to create rooms for these houses). The rice boat is not the only place in the Maritime Explorium where children can have the opportunity to be creative and play.

In addition to working on activities such as puzzles, Legos, drawings, and learning how to turn on a light bulb only using a battery, there is another activity children can create projects however they wanted with limited instructions. Located in the front center of the Maritime Explorium, especially during the summer, there is a project children can work on that changes each week to give them a chance to create something new to take home.

Some of the projects the kids worked on were bug houses, building with paper towel and toilet paper tubes, and seascapes. Bug houses are places where bugs are attracted to and use for shelter outside made out of twigs. Seascapes are dioramas of views of the sea, and were made with either cardboard, Styrofoam cup holders, or paper with the option of adding sand onto their projects; they also have the option of creating their favorite sea creatures to add to their seascapes. Each of these projects had additional tools and materials such as scissors, tape, glue sticks, paper, ribbons, markers, pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks children can use to make their projects unique and creative.

There are endless possibilities, especially for their building with paper towel and toilet paper tubes projects, for children to make their projects their own unique projects. For instance, one of the girls participating in the building with tubes project, using the tools and materials available, created her own robot.

Since the Maritime Explorium believes in the constructivist theory, museum educators like myself give few instructions on how they are made in order for children to not only do their projects by themselves but they develop their own problem solving skills and express their creative energies. As long as the building is open during public hours, the activities introduced at the Maritime Explorium provide opportunities for children to increase their playtime which coincidently are also encouraged in Kropp’s article.

Another example of a museum that I worked for and that also provide ways for kids to spend time playing is the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in Connecticut. Noah Webster House offers a number of summer camp sessions to allow kids to not only learn more about 18th century America but they also have opportunities to express their creativity.

The summer camp at Noah Webster House in partnership with Westmoor Park, called Colonial Kids’ Adventures, I taught before coming to Long Island allowed children to learn, be creative, and play. Kids have time to learn about 18th century life by performing the tasks individuals living in the time period would have completed such as laundry and mixing recipes to be cooked over a hearth, as well as creating crafts related to the time period including corn husk dolls. They also have time during the day to go outside and play with 18th century toys including ball in cup, stilts, and hoops. I also not only supervised play with the toys but also games that the children decided to play.

When the summer camp children visited Westmoor Park, they participated in outdoor activities that not only allowed them to learn but to play as well. Children learn about outdoor chores on the farm by participating in activities that assist in taking care of the animals including cleaning out stalls. Also, they participated in nature walks throughout the park. Then they played games during lunch breaks and after craft activities. Throughout the program, the children work on their skits which allowed them to express their creativity.

The only rules the children had in creating their skits were they had to be set in the colonial period and reflect what they saw and or learned during the camp. Also, the children were divided into groups based on the assigned family names of people who lived during that period. I assisted them by answering questions they have such as what props and costumes they would need to use for their skits. They created their own dialogue in their stories, and one of the stories I remember was a day in the life of a family traveling through town, visiting neighbors, and eating together at the table. At the end of the program, they performed their skits for their friends and families. Summer camps were not the only way children could have playtime at Noah Webster House.

During public hours and programming, there is a space in the museum that allows children to express their imaginations and creativity. In the lean-to of the 18th century house, there is a space that has a small hearth, cookware, toy food, and silverware that allowed children to pretend to cook and role play stories they come up with. Also, in the rooms off of the lean-to, there is a buttery that stores pretend food the children can use for their playtime and there is another room with a Noah Webster farm set they can play with as well as a sandbox with treasures inside to allow children to find them as if they were archeologists. There are also programs that are geared toward young children that allow playtime and creativity.

Bookworm Adventures, for children between three and six years old and the theme for each program changes each time it is held, promote reading as well as playtime. During the Dr. Seuss themed program I taught, the kids not only listened to Dr. Seuss stories read out loud but they also played with toys, drew and colored pictures, and made crafts. I assisted kids make a sweet version of green eggs and ham using green covered chocolates and marshmallows.

Based on my experience in the museum education field and what I have read in Kropp’s article, I noticed that children not only have a number of things to do in the day but they do need to find more time to play. While the museums I worked for provide opportunities to play, sometimes they are restricted to how long the museums are open and when their adults need to go on to the next thing in their schedules whether it is for kids to attend places such as lessons and/or sports or their adults need to run errands. There are other times that the families also planned other activities to spend more time together. We need to learn to make sure that children can have more time on their own to play, imagine, create, and learn so that way they will be able to understand the communities and society around them more. Museums provide these outlets for children, and should be taken advantage of when the opportunities arise.

How do you feel about children’s playtime? Do you feel that playtime has increased or decreased in recent years? What programs do your museums or organizations offer to allow playtime or time to express their creativity?

To read the article I referenced to, click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/childrens-play-is-declining-but-we-can-help-reclaim_us_5935c726e4b0c670a3ce6778?platform=hootsuite

Maker Space: Museums Can Benefit from Having a Creative Space

Also posted on Medium, June 22, 2017.

During my experience as a museum educator, I have taught history lessons at mainly historic sites. As I move forward in my career, I have started to learn more about STEM when I began working with the Maritime Explorium where they not only discuss maritime history but also include hands-on activities related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These hands-on activities are part of the Maritime Explorium’s Maker Space for children and adults can participate in with their children. For those not already aware, Maker Space is an example of the maker movement that, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), puts the emphasis on learning by doing that is informal, self-directed, iterative, and collaborative. Museums can benefit from having a space dedicated to hands-on learning because it not only encourages children to be active and entertained but it also provides them learning opportunities. In the museums I have worked for, there have been spaces created as a temporary maker space and as a permanent maker space. Also, the museums I have worked for provide lessons that incorporate STEM techniques with the history lessons taught to school programs.

The Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut has two rooms that are part of the addition later added to the historic house when it opened as a museum. One of the rooms is a multi-use room that is converted for various purposes such as gallery space, meetings, lectures and symposiums, school programs, and most relevant to this entry is a space for family fun programming. Family programs include a Thanksgiving program where kids and their family members learn to create holiday related crafts while participating in activities that educated them about the holiday and the history of Farmington.

In the second room at the Stanley-Whitman House, there is a recreated colonial kitchen that is used for public programs and for kids participating in school programs. During the school programs, the kids would learn how to follow recipes such as apple pies and Irish-style mashed potatoes. The kids learned these recipes by going step by step with each ingredient and place the measured ingredients in the bowl to be stirred together. After combining the ingredients, the kids would learn how the mixed ingredients were cooked over the hearth. By showing the kids how food is cooked over a hearth, they understand how long it takes to cook over the fire. Also, teaching the kids about cooking over a hearth not only shows what it was like to cook in the eighteenth century but it shows the chemical reaction of how the mixed ingredients create something new.

Noah Webster House also has rooms added to the historic house when it became a museum. The museum includes two rooms that re-creates what life was like in 18th century West Hartford; the first room is a small room that re-creates the one-room school house that kids attended some of the time, and the second room is a re-created colonial kitchen. In the one-room school house, students can reenact school in the eighteenth century by giving them similar lessons of reading, writing, and arithmetic and explaining the rules of what the schoolmaster/mistress expected in their one-room schoolhouse.

Inside the re-created colonial kitchen, students visiting the museum can learn how to cook inside a colonial kitchen by following the recipes, or receipts as they were called back then. Some of the recipes they created include flatjacks, vegetable stew, and Sunday Night wafers. Students follow each recipe by reading the ingredients and following the directions. Also, they learned about measuring using cups and spoons since measuring cups and spoons did not exist in the eighteenth century; the kids learned how to measure the ingredients without referring to the guidelines found on measuring cups today. Like at the Stanley-Whitman House, the lessons taught in Noah Webster House’s re-created colonial kitchen showed examples of chemical reactions to create food consumed during the eighteenth century and recreated for kids to try the food people in eighteenth century West Hartford (or West Division as it was known then). Today, I teach programs and activities that emphasized on STEM and constructivism at the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson, New York.

Maritime Explorium has a space where children of various ages can interact with hands-on activities educating them on STEM lessons. For instance, there are a couple of stations where kids play and learn about balance. One example of an activity that taught balance was a small boat (strings are attached from the mast, located in the middle of the boat, to the boat) where kids can place different small items onto the boat. The second example of a balance activity is a small table with a large circle, and the object of the activity was to put blocks on the circle to make it balanced; this activity is also supposed to resemble a town since the circle had roads and grass painted on and the blocks represented town buildings. Other activities in Maritime Explorium focus on building, measuring, and sending messages with pullies; while some activities remained the same, there are activities that continually change to provide different experiences for children. These activities were conducted in the Maritime Explorium’s maker space which puts emphasis creating projects that encourages them to find multiple ways to make the same projects. The lessons were taught using constructivism, or constructivist theory.

Constructivism comes from the idea that people learning can construct knowledge for themselves. Maritime Explorium believes that by asking the kids questions about what they are working on, the kids can discover for themselves the importance of science and technology through the projects they worked on and understand there are several ways to get to the results they want to achieve the activities’ objectives. I look forward to learning more and more about different activities, and being able to translate what I have learned to the visitors.

I will continue to learn more about maker space by doing research on the subject. For instance, I began reading The Big Book of Maker Space Projects by Colleen Graves and Aaron Graves. Colleen Graves is a teacher librarian who earned many awards including the School Library Journal/Scholastic School Librarian of the Year Co-Finalist Award in 2014, and is an active speaker and presenter on makerspaces and the maker movement on a national level. Aaron Graves is a school librarian with 18 years of experience in education, and is also an active speaker on makerspaces, libraries, and research skills. This book was written as a handbook that not only gives guidelines for projects introduced in the book but it also encourages the reader to create their own projects. By using different resources and gaining more experience in the maker space, I will be able to continue to develop my skills as a museum educator.

Does your institution teach lessons using STEM? What are your experiences in teaching using STEM? Share your experiences teaching STEM.

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?

Reaction to Article: Museums transition from institutions of elite to places that “promote humanity”

Originally posted on Medium, May 18, 2017.

Especially in honor of International Museums Day, I wrote this blog post about museums progress towards inclusion and diversity. I came across an article posted on the St. Louis Public Radio website called “How are museums changing from institutions of the elite to places that ‘promote humanity?’” written by Kelly Moffitt, who is an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio’s talk shows St. Louis on the Air. Moffitt discusses about the radio show host Don Marsh’s interview with Sarah Sims, the Director of K-12 Education Programs at the Missouri History Museum, and Nicole Ivy, the Director of Inclusion for the American Alliance of Museums on the topic about promoting humanity and last week’s Annual Conference and Meeting in St. Louis.

In the beginning of the article, Moffitt stated a memory Sims had about visitors in museums. Sims stated that she remembers a trip she took her students to a local museum; one of the students came up to her during the visit and said to her how special the trip was, and when Sims asked why the student said, “this is a mansion and this is the only time I get to come here.” Sims mentioned how much this broke her heart since the museum they went to and many museums are free, and that museums should be places for everyone.

This story also broke my heart since it is not right that there are people who do not feel they are able to go to museums. Museums should be accessible to people who want to learn and make people feel welcome to attend. Museum professionals are working on making their organizations more accessible and inclusive, as evidenced especially in my previous blog posts on this subject.

The interview continued when Ivy described a brief history of how museums were viewed and run. According to the article, Ivy stated the history of the American museum is linked to elitism; museums started with the cabinet of curiosity and a real focus on exclusion. Her reference to the cabinet of curiosity reminded me of my own experience with a version of a cabinet of curiosity. While I was at Connecticut’s Old State House completing my internship, I was fortunate enough to see its own version of a cabinet of curiosities.

Inside one of the rooms of Connecticut’s Old State House, there was a small museum called Steward’s Museum of Curiosities. The Connecticut General Assembly allowed Reverend Joseph Steward to occupy space in the Old State House in 1796 to use it as a portrait studio. A year after opening the portrait studio, Reverend Steward established a curiosity room on the third floor featuring all sorts of wonders and treasures, including animals such as a two-headed calf, from around the world. The Museum of Curiosities was reproduced and moved to the second floor where other items are also displayed including Steward’s portraits. The purpose of this museum was to educate individuals of nature and animals they were not normally exposed to.

When I took both school groups and visitors through this Museum of Curiosities, there was a mixed reaction to the items in the room. As I described the history behind this museum, some individuals were impressed with the items in the room. Some were not impressed with the animals but were interested in the portraits Steward painted. This experience taught me that many people will have different reactions to curiosities. Also, the experience showed how individuals’ educational experiences have changed since the cabinet of curiosities were set up.

Museums have over time changed to become more responsive and more inclusive. This fact has been reiterated by Ivy during the interview and other museum professionals have worked to have their organizations create programs and exhibits more responsive and more inclusive. Ivy pointed out that a key to increasing diversity and inclusion would mean opening the doors of the museum to people who are really hurting; I agree that it is a key to increasing diversity and inclusion because everyone should be able to have a space to express their thoughts and museums can create relationships with the community to be able to serve society better.

To read the original article, see the post here: http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/how-are-museums-changing-institutions-elite-places-promote-humanity#stream/0

What do you think of this article? Do you think we are making good progress so far in diversity and inclusion?

How to use Food to Create Relevance in Museums

Originally posted on Medium, February 24, 2017.

Food is an important necessity people need to survive, and by creating an exhibit or program based on the narrative of food history museums create examples of how people can understand relevance in museums. This week there was a webinar the American Association of State and Local History hosted called Interpreting Food at Museums and Historic Sites, which provided introduction to strategies for using food and food history to develop interpretation with depth and significance, and will make relevant connections to contemporary issues and visitor interests. This webinar inspired me to write about my own experiences when I collaborated with my classmates and Connecticut Historical Society on the exhibit Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart. Also, I will discuss how the study of food history is continued to be discussed since I first approached the subject during graduate school.

During my second semester of my first year of graduate school, I took a course on Museum Interpretation in which the major assignment was creating an exhibit at Connecticut Historical Society using food as the theme. My classmates and I were introduced to the project at the beginning of the semester, and my professor assigned books to provide background information on food history; one of the books was Warren Belasco’s Food: The Key Concepts (Bloomsbury Academic, 2008) which served as an introduction to the study of food studies and an essential overview to the increasingly critical field of enquiry. Other books assigned were about food and food preparation in different centuries in America.

In my records, I also found my notes on the justification of creating an exhibit based on food for Connecticut Historical Society. They argue that food is a part of history that individuals can identify with as being universally relevant. According to my notes, food is an essential part of life for everyone needs food to survive, and more than that food can unite families and larger communities; food can also conjure powerful memories for individuals whether it is a yearly holiday meal tradition or cooking in the kitchen with a relative. My justification notes also stated that the exhibit will provoke questions about the differences in food history as it relates to class and gender within Connecticut’s social structure as well as challenging visitors to think about their own personal experiences with food. This is what my teammates and I had in mind when we created the original proposal presented to the committee at Connecticut Historical Society.

To create the proposal, in addition to figuring out a way to present food history in Connecticut, we also picked out objects that represented food history and our idea for the exhibit. We originally came up with an idea that was like the Upstairs/Downstairs concept when creating the Connecticut food narrative. Then we included the idea of telling Connecticut food history throughout time from the 18th century to current period. We then looked through Connecticut Historical Society’s collections that we felt best represented the narrative we believed will be presented in the exhibit. For instance, I oversaw picking out items from the eighteenth century and one of the pieces I chose to include in our proposal was a ceramic bowl that was made and used between 1730 and 1770.

After selecting our items for the proposal, we also had to figure out how to include an interactive segment in our exhibit to allow visitors to engage with the historical narrative. A couple of ideas we had include a tea etiquette practice in which a table and chairs are set up with a container of all the necessary items for the tea setting (photocopies of the directions for a Victorian tea setting would be provided and visitors would then attempt to properly set the table for tea based on the directions). The second idea we came up with was we would provide reproductions of community cookbooks from the Connecticut Historical Society’s collections for the visitors to look through.

When our class had the opportunity to present our proposals, my teammates and I presented our idea to a committee of Connecticut Historical Society staff members to determine which group’s exhibit idea they will move forward with. Each member of my group presented two different sections of our exhibit idea, and I presented the very first section when visitors enter the exhibit space as well as the interactive elements section to the committee. The first section was called “Cooking for a New Nation” which would feature Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (which was the first cookbook published in America). The book would have been used as a representation of how women cooked in eighteenth century America and the narrative would have described the women’s and servants’ roles in the kitchen during this period; when discussing these roles, the narrative would also discuss the separation between servants and household was emerging in the eighteenth century as well as the transition from colonies to a new nation. Then I described the objects that would be selected for display in this section. After the rest of the sections were presented, I introduced the interactive element for the exhibit we brainstormed for the proposal.

Some time passes, and our professor announced that the committee decided to choose our group’s idea for the exhibit with some suggested changes. The exhibit was changed to focus more on the time line of cookbooks published in the United States and discuss food history in America (especially Connecticut) in each century beginning with Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery and ending with Martha Stewart’s cookbooks. It was named Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart and we proceeded with selecting the objects and collaborating with the University of Hartford art design students to design the exhibit labels and space. My group oversaw the interactive element of the exhibit; the interactive element was changed to providing copies of various recipes that came from the cookbooks displayed in the exhibit, and presented the opportunity for visitors to write their own recipes and place them in a box. We each took a cookbook and selected the recipes we would be interested in using then narrowed down the options to a few of them. Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart eventually opened in January 2013, and it ran from January 18, 2013 to April 13, 2013.

Since then I did not see much of the history of food presented in a museum setting until I came across Michelle Moon’s Interpreting Food in Museums and Historic Sites which was published by the American Association of State and Local History in 2015, and the basis of this past week’s American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) webinar. Moon’s book argued that museums and historic sites have an opportunity to draw new audiences and infuse new meaning into their food presentations, and food deserves a central place in historic interpretation. Her book provides the framework for understanding big ideas in food history, suggesting best practices for linking objects, exhibits and demonstrations with the larger story of change in food production as well as consumption over the past two centuries. She also argues that food tells a story in which visitors can see themselves, and explore their own relationships to food.

I also came across Linda Norris’ blog post “Building a Learning Culture: Food Included” on her blog The Uncatalogued Museum which discussed her experience working with the board and staff at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota on creative practice in context of interpretive planning. The American Swedish Institute decided to include stories of all immigrants not only Swedish immigrant stories. To assist with creative practice including in interpretive planning, there are lessons that each institution needs to learn to connect with each other and with their communities. Norris introduced lessons from this experience including good ideas come from everywhere so it is important to cast a wide net to gain knowledge, and making time to think together is especially important.

Also, it is important be open to collaborate with people in the community to develop new collaborations and deepen other partnerships. If the American Swedish Institute did not learn that lesson, then they would not have learned about a restaurant in their community that shows appreciation for Bollywood dance and shows customers how to perform them. She also talked about the experience influencing the staff to schedule regular fika, or Swedish coffee break, with baked goods to spend some time from a busy day and connect with each other. For more information about her experience, the link to her blog can be found here: http://uncatalogedmuseum.blogspot.com/2017/02/building-learning-culture-food-included.html.

These previous examples show how food presentations in the museum field has evolved in the past few years. By sharing my previous experience on food presentation and the most current experiences on food and culture, I provide some examples of how visitors can make connections to their own memories related to food. I will soon be attending a New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) program called Lessons in Equity from Culturally-Specific Institutions: Beyond the “Target Program” at the Museum of Chinese in America on creating a diverse environment in the museum. The program will also include a closer look at the special exhibition Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America. When I heard about this program the first time, it reminded me of the many family meals I have had during my childhood and in my adulthood trying various Chinese food dishes. I will continue the discussion on food history and how individuals can to share my experiences after I attend this program.
Do you think your museum or institution would be able to include food history in its exhibits or programs? What is your most powerful memory that comes to mind when you think of food? Have you attended a program or exhibit that discusses food history or a subject related to food?

 

Museum Education Programs: The Challenges of Having Chaperones Be Effective Participants

Originally published on Medium and Student Voices, January 27, 2017.

I think many museum educators agree that from time to time we all have chaperones accompanying school groups that do not engage with the program and not participate in encouraging kids involvement in the programs. I recently had a conversation on Twitter about this subject which began with this question to the online discussion group, #MuseumEdChat: “how do you engage chaperones to be effective partners in your programs? Without losing kid interest or pandering”. Not many people on Twitter have found solutions to this posted question but we attempted to answer this question by coming up with our own answers. I thought it would be best to create a program that would encourage chaperone participation by allowing them to collaborate with the students so that way kids are not discouraged from participating and chaperones can set a good example for kids to become active learners. Also, chaperones are therefore seen as more than “crowd control”. The conversation on Twitter made me think about my own experiences with school field trips and chaperones.

As a museum educator, I have had mixed experiences with chaperones. Some of the chaperones encouraged kids to participate in the school program activities while others passively sit there not engaging with kids or the educators. Chaperones who have not interacted with the program have either text or talk amongst themselves. These museums I have taught school programs taught me various lessons on how to handle these mixed experiences. At the Old State House in Hartford, for instance, I taught the “I Spy” program for kindergarten students on my very first day of my museum education internship. The “I Spy” program is an activity in which students created their own spy glasses made from paper towel rolls and decorated various stickers, crayons, and color paper; then once their spy glasses were finished, the educators, chaperones, and myself took the group of kids around the Old State House using the spy glasses to make observations about what they saw. While they were being made, chaperones and teachers not only brought kids around with Old State House staff to participate in the activity together but they also assisted me and the Old State House staff helping students decorate their spy glasses as well as made sure they could understand the instructions. After the first day of my internship at the Old State House, I learned that students and teachers can participate together on the activity and can encourage students to participate in the activity. Another experience taught me how to handle challenging situations while teaching programs.

When I was at the Stanley-Whitman House, I taught various programs including a life in eighteenth century Connecticut program for kids aimed at fourth and fifth grade levels that included a cooking lesson assisted by myself and another museum educator. One of the fifth-grade groups were a rowdy bunch that were rough housing and not listening to a word one museum educator and myself were instructing the students about the cooking lesson on making Irish-style mashed potatoes and apple pie. The group was so rowdy that because of the rough housing and not paying attention, the recipes came out poorly and one student cut his finger with the knife used to cut potatoes. The museum educator and myself followed protocol to get first aid to clean and put a band aid on his finger. Then I called the rest of the group to sit down in silence until the program was finished. Meanwhile, the teacher who was with this group sat by and did nothing to help discipline the group nor showed interest in what we were teaching this group throughout the whole cooking lesson. What I kept thinking was: If the teacher was not willing to engage with the session, then why should the students? This experience has taught me to figure out how to handle tough groups, and showed me one of the early examples of what it is like to be around inactive teachers and chaperones. Another example of mixed experiences I have had with school groups and chaperones revealed that each visiting school chaperones behave differently and museum educators prepare for various situations.

At the Noah Webster House, I have had various teachers and chaperones that had different levels of involvement in the programs. Some chaperones were willing to assist the groups in making sure the students were paying attention as well as assisting with activities. Others were either passively sitting by as I teach the session or were destructive in the students learning process. For instance, there is a program called Living History in which museum teachers and students assume 18th century identities and pretend to be living in that period in West Hartford (or West Division as the town was called in the 18th century) learning different ways the Webster family performed chores i.e. cooking and cleaning. Some teachers and chaperones would continuously refer to 21st century items and ideas which distracts the students and encourages the students to do the same thing even though the pre-visit materials they received before the field trip warned against doing so. Then at the Long Island Museum, one of my most recent experiences, I taught a program that took place in the museum’s 19th century School House to teach students about what school and life was like on Long Island during the 19th century.

The program starts with a comparison on what school is like back then and now by asking students about their school and informing them about the 19th century rural community. I asked the students what their schools was like, and then asked inquiry-based questions about what they think it is like in the School House; for instance, I ask how many rooms are in this school house as well as how many grade levels are inside and after hearing their answers I inform them there is one classroom with eight or nine grade levels. After the short introduction, I informed the students we are pretending to be traveling back in time and share that they will be participating in reading, writing (using scratch pens, or pen and inkwells), and arithmetic (math) activities as well as behave how 19th century students would have in school. After the students participates in the lessons and the recess using toys students back then used, we pretended to travel back to the 21st century so they can go back on the bus to go back to school. There were different reactions chaperones had to the program and different ways chaperones interacted with the students. Some assist with the activities and even asked to also participate in the activities such as working on penmanship using scratch pens and inkwells. Other chaperones had a less active approach including sitting back and chatting with other chaperones. All experiences showed me that each chaperone had different expectations about what the chaperones’ roles should be.

I decided to take a closer look at any research and published works written about chaperones to see how museum educators can answer the question about chaperones being effective partners in school programs. I found an article from Volume 28 of the Journal of Museum Education by Maija Sedzielarz called “Watching the Chaperones: An Ethnographic Study of Adult-Child Interactions in School Field Trips”. Sedzielarz, at the time of the article, was the School Visits Coordinator at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul where the research for the article took place. This article was a synthesis from her master’s thesis research at the University of Minnesota; it was a study of the types of chaperones that participate in school field trips to museums by using ethnography to record observations between adults and children. This study was conducted at the Science Museum of Minnesota where they began to design materials that tap into the chaperone’s expectations of field trip outcomes, directly addressing chaperone needs as well as assumptions then share these findings with the teachers planning trips to the museum. According to Sedzielarz, she stated that she found in the recent study of the chaperones’ behavior in elementary school field trips, in which she observed and interviewed almost thirty chaperones at the museum and additional five chaperones at three other local museums, she “heard comments that revealed what each chaperone felt was important about the trip and what kinds of outcomes they expected and consequently experienced” (Sedzielarz, 21). The article went into detail about how the chaperones Sedzielarz observed felt they had multiple roles to fill: guide, learning leader, teacher, role model, security guard, learner, group facilitator, and timekeeper. She explained chaperones frustrations on what roles they should be focusing more on during their visits with school groups.

From my own experience, chaperones are not necessarily included in most of the programs taught and this causes them to think the programs are only for the students; therefore, it leads to most chaperones taking inactive roles in the field trips. What I understood from the article is that we as museum educators need to remind chaperones that the most important role that they are there to learn as well. Sedzielarz stated that “If we believe that school field trips are valuable learning experiences, we also need to regard all members of the field trip as learners” (24). Each museum has their own materials and ways of presenting this material to the school groups, and it is up to museum educators to make sure the chaperones’ role have a part in being learning partners with the students and museum educators.

How are your museum(s) or cultural institutions handle working with teachers and chaperones? Do you have ideas on how chaperones can be learning partners in your programs? What are your experiences working with chaperones like in the past?

Maija Sedzielarz (2003) Watching the Chaperones, Journal of Museum Education, 28:2, 20–24, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2003.11510478

https://mystudentvoices.com/museum-education-programs-the-challenges-of-having-chaperones-be-effective-participants-96cced3d449c

New Year’s Resolutions in Museum Education Field for 2017

Originally posted on Medium. December 30, 2016.

All museum educators, including myself, strive to improve our programs for the people we teach and ourselves as educators. 2016 was an interesting year for me as a museum educator. I transferred from historic house museums in Connecticut to New York to work at the Long Island Museum; I started working there and found out that it was not the right fit. Afterwards, I ended up doing some work for various historical organizations including the Long Island Maritime Museum. With each year I have had as a museum educator, I gained experiences that help me to become a better educator and museum professional. At the Long Island Museum, I learned new skills that I have never had before.

For instance, before I started there I educated the children and the rest of the public in various programs focused on eighteenth and nineteenth century Connecticut history; later in my career, I started work with colleagues at Connecticut Landmarks to improve the quality of the visitor experience by researching a theme introduced in the interpretive framework. When I started at the Long Island Museum I learned about how education programs for audiences such as schools, Alzheimer’s patients, and public programs were booked; I had the opportunity to schedule and supervise docents for school programs; wrote introductions for presenters in Arts & Alzheimer’s Conference and helped run the Arts & Alzheimer’s Conference; and collaborate with the education and communications department on promotional flyers for education programs, then I was responsible for mailing them to the county libraries. These are some of the examples I have done at the Long Island Museum, and I am thankful for the experiences I have gained because I learned a lot more about the field including the difference between how historic house museums and larger American Alliance of Museums-accredited museums are run. As I began work with the Long Island Maritime Museum, I also learned more about the museum field.

When I discovered the Long Island Maritime Museum, I acknowledged that I had limited knowledge about maritime history and thought that it would be an enlightening experience for me. I was not disappointed. My first experience at the LIMM was assisting school groups go to each station to learn about boats and boat building, the oyster business in an actual Oyster House, what life was like as a bayman inside the Bayman’s House, and lifesaving stories from storms, shipwrecks, and pirates. As I saw the kids invested in each station, the smiles on their faces reminded me of why I love being a museum educator in the first place; to get kids invested in what we teach them is a rewarding experience and to know we can make an impact on their learning experience gives me hope for future generations. Another experience I had was working on transferring collection information to digital databases by scanning books and photographs, and adding information from the Excel spreadsheets to the PastPerfect software. By looking through the photographs and information, I learned about the collections and the unique history of the local area. I also answer phone calls, and sell admissions and gift shop items; while I have done similar tasks in Connecticut, there are different procedures to learn and perform. I enjoy my time at the Long Island Maritime Museum so far because the staff is dedicated to working together to run the museum, and we enjoy our time together while we work. Being able to work together in a close community is what I value as a museum professional since each role in a museum is significant to keep a museum running. I hope to apply the experiences I have gained and the lessons I learned to my current and future endeavors.

This time of year, many people make lists of New Year’s resolutions they hope to accomplish in the new year, and museums and museum professionals are no exception. My New Year’s resolutions include developing my skills as an educator and improving my knowledge of museum administration. I participate in professional development programs as well as utilize resources museum organizations including American Alliance of Museums and New York City Museum Educators Roundtable provide. I also am researching online programs that provide information on museum administration. Also, I continue to utilize my growing experiences at places like the Long Island Maritime Museum. 2016 became a year of big changes for me, in more ways than one, that have opened my eyes to many opportunities to grow as a person and a museum professional. Let’s see what 2017 has in store for all of us especially museum professionals.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? Whether they are personal or professional, it is important to have goals to help you become a better person and professional.

To all of you who have been reading my blog posts so far, thank you so much! It really means a lot to me to see so many people have an interest in what I have to say. I have read and responded to all the replies you have made, and I am glad to hear all of your insights on topics I have written about. I am also happy to hear that there are people who have been inspired by what I write about, and have supported me as I continue to use my voice in the field. For those who have just started reading my posts, welcome and thank you for reading! If there is something you want more insight on or want my perspective on, please let me know. Expect more blog posts in the upcoming year. Happy New Year!!

What Museums Mean to Me: My Relationship with Museums when I was a College Student

Originally posted on Medium. November 17, 2016.

In my first blog post, I wrote about how my love for museums has begun as a child and I will share how this love has continued since then. Recently I read the latest edition of Journal of Museum Education in which the articles focused on the relationship between museums and universities, and how that relationship can be improved. In an article written by the guest editors Beth Maloney and Matt D. Hill, they briefly discussed the articles in the journal and expressed hope that this journal will be able to be used as a source for successful collaborations. As I read this edition, I thought about my own experiences in museums as a college student, and I believe there is potential in creating more successful collaborations with colleges and universities. My career in museums began when I was in college; I was involved in Western New England College’s (now University) Historical Society as both a member and treasurer. Also, I went on a couple of trips to museums for one of my courses. Of course, I gained more experiences in museums as a graduate student at Central Connecticut State University.

While I was a college student at Western New England College, I was the treasurer of the Historical Society which is a club that encouraged visitations to various museums in the area and in neighboring states. I volunteered to be a treasurer for the Historical Society when no one else wanted to take over since the last treasurer left the organization and because I was also a treasurer for Western New England’s Campus Chorus so I already had the experience; I was then given the previous slips and forms to reorganize the organization’s budget, and since then I was re-elected as treasurer each year it was not until a few months before I graduated from college that someone was willing to take on the role. As a treasurer, I was responsible for organizing and maintaining the club’s budget for various materials such as pens and t-shirt as well as expenses including hotels, museum fees, and food for Historical Society trips. We planned trips to various museums including Springfield Museums, Old Sturbridge Village, The Pequot Museum, The Salem Witch Museum, Salem Maritime National Historic Site, The House of Seven Gables, and The Breakers Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. I also planned the trip to a couple of places in New York including Hyde Park and Martin van Buren’s home with the Historical Society. During the four years I was both a member and treasurer of the Historical Society, I went to various museums in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. This experience not only taught me about running an organization whether it was a college organization or behind the scenes look at how a museum is run but it also was a source of many wonderful college memories I look back fondly on.

I attended museums while I was taking courses at Western New England, but unfortunately there were not many opportunities for going to museums in many of my classes and I was a History major. Much of my History courses at the time were taken in the classroom with limited possibilities for exploring museums; my freshman seminar course gave an overview on possible career paths we could take as History majors and invited professionals (also WNE alumni) to discuss their work outside college, and a few of them were museum professionals. While my History courses had guest speakers come into the classroom, a few of my other courses could have a couple of visits to museums. In my art history course, I was able to visit the Springfield Museums to complete an assignment. My France and French Caribbean culture course also had class at the Springfield Museums where we visited art galleries featuring French artists and had discussions about the artists and their works. After I graduated from Western New England, I continued to visit museums and became more involved with museums.

While I was in the graduate program at Central Connecticut State University, I continued to visit museums and this time my visits were more focused on developing my career in the museum field. I started my museum experience by having an internship at Connecticut’s Old State House during the summer where I assisted with one of the last school programs of the school year where over a hundred students participated in various activities including an I Spy activity which kids designed their own spy glasses using paper towel rolls and walked around the Old State House playing I Spy. Also, I assisted with public programs including the Farmer’s Market, and Conversations at Noon (lunchtime lecture series with guest lecturers presenting in the Old State House gallery). I also created an Animal Scavenger Hunt as a summer activity for kids to find pictures of animals in the Education Center based on clues I wrote. In many courses I took while in graduate school, my classmates and I were encouraged to complete projects and we collaborated with museums and organizations to gain exposure for our collaborations. For instance, for my Museum Interpretation course we were split into small groups to write a proposal for an exhibit that will be featured at the Connecticut Historical Society; my group’s proposal we collaborated on writing, about the split between in and outside the kitchen and featured a few pieces from their collections in our presentation, was approved by the decision committee at CHS with some changes suggested. We then collaborated with University of Connecticut art students to design the exhibit. This exhibit became Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart and it was opened from January 18 to April 13, 2013. During graduate school, we were also encouraged to attend conferences. I attended a few New England Museum Association conferences which were held in various cities in the area and have various opportunities to have sessions and ceremonies at museums. I continue to attend museums even as a museum professional to enjoy the exhibits and to continue developing my skills as a museum educator.

I am thankful for each of the opportunities that I gained and I hope that wherever I end up I will be able to take the lessons with me. We should be able to develop a better relationship with universities, and show them that we have resources they can use in teaching in the classroom and aid in their students’ career paths. Have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving everyone!