Golden Books 002

How many times have you read Goodnight Moon? In a day? In a week? In a row? If there is a young child in your life I bet there is A book that has been read until you can let your mind drift as you say the words from memory.

Kids love routines. They find comfort in them and a secure sense that they know what to expect and what is expected by them. Caregivers use this to help get through difficult transitions (like going to bed) and help ease anxieties.

So, why not leverage that with your museum visits as well? There is nothing wrong with visiting the same museum, or exhibit, or object multiple times. Kids will get comfortable with the space, you can look at the object from new angles and see new things and make new connections. You can slowly stretch the comfort level by connecting that object with something nearby, or something from a book or your home/classroom. When you do go somewhere new you can draw parallels to the favored spot and help bridge the gap.

If you are able to build a relationship with one museum you can connect with the education teams and visitor services (everyone you see out on the floor talking to visitors). You can take advantage of the resources they have, special programs going on or just the familiarity of really learning about something in a deep and meaningful way.

There is comfort in routines and that isn’t a bad thing. It is just up to you to figure out how to use it in a positive way.

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Oh! You’re an educator….I have this problem….

Try it AgainI experienced the educator equivalent of “Oh! You are a doctor? So…I have this rash….” Sitting in my optometrists office, the very nice and clearly exhausted doctor was talking about his 2 ½ and 3 ½ year old kids. He was marveling at how constantly they can fight and how the older one can seem so logical and mature at some moments and then do something completely…well….three the next.

I get it, my son has been going through a “stage” that involves MUCH testing of my patience. So I listened and smiled as he spun through a few examples.

“Well” I finally said “It doesn’t help in the moment when you are frustrated. But it is good to remember that you probably have shoes that have been on this earth longer then she has.”

He stopped, blinked, then smiled and admitted he’d been leasing his car for longer then she’d been in his life. And you know what? I bet he still doesn’t know all the settings in that car, so he should definitely forgive himself for not understanding a three year old human being.

As parents and caregivers we have to give ourselves a break and remember that these kids are still so new on the planet. We can’t expected to know them and they can’t be expected to know the rules and expectations completely. All we can do is keep writing (and re-writing) the manual and trying our best.

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From Amateur to Expert

Amateur to ExpertWe are used to the idea that kids need time to go from amateur to expert. We don’t expect them to roll over…then get up and run around the room. We even have a buzzy education word to describe helping kids move from stage to stage “scaffolding.” Just like in construction, we build a scaffold of skills and information so they can move from developmental step to another.

This concept is important in areas beyond the development of physical or mental skills. Kids also need to be able to build up the skills they need to handle different situations and expectations. If you are hoping to take your kids to a museum on a regular basis, you need to help build that foundation so they can become experts in what they are supposed to do.

It might start as simply as going for walks in the area near the museum. Especially if you have a class of kids you are bringing they need to get used to navigating as a group, what the walk is like (Traffic? Distractions? Busy sidewalks?). Getting out into the community and back with limited tears and tantrums is a perfect step one.

After that, you can move up to using outdoor areas around the museum. If the weather (and landscape) cooperates you can share a story, have a snack, do an activity near the museum. There may still be different rules and expectations, especially if there is outdoor art, but it will still be a familiar arena.

Once you all have a handle on that (and I do mean all, the adults have to be ready as well!) go ahead and venture inside. Maybe you start by just doing a little walk through and leaving again. You can move up to visiting a specific object, then sharing a story or doing an activity. The visits and walks can get longer until you find that you are all feeling like experts.

Don’t worry if you have to stay at a particular “step” for a long time….or if your particular group never gets all the way to the “top.” All that matters is the experience they are getting and the comfort they are building with new and different environments. There is no right or wrong, just the one that works for you.

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Little Golden Books: How to use them?

Golden Books 002I recently wrote about the treasure trove of Little Golden Books that we were given by my Godfather. As part of my “museum origin story” the focus was on how their history and connection to the past was so exciting.

Now that I’ve spent more time with the books, there are even more interesting questions coming up. The first is about how you should use (or not) a historical object like this. These were given to my son for him to read. They were not intended to be handled with white gloves…but is that right? Some of these are WWII era with all the pieces intact. Although my son is extraordinarily careful with his books, he is still two and things will happen. So, should they be used? Or protected? If used how do you convey that they are something special to a toddler? If they should be protected, what does that look like for the average civilian (with no museum attached to their house).

I’m sure questions like this come up all the time, but people may not frame it in terms of “museum vs. use.” That special piece of jewelry, the antique china, the toy from your childhood. When do you hang on to it and when do you let it be used for its purpose? How do you preserve the stories even if it is being used?

As I paged through the books I also realized that some of them present a very real problem of cultural representation. While I can appreciate the place they play in history, where does that leave me when I read them aloud? I can screen out the ones that we are just not ready for or should only be used as historical context, but there are some that are borderline. The role of women in the stories, the way African-Americans are portrayed in illustrations (or left out completely)…this comes up even in the most bland stories like “The Taxi that Hurried

What is my role as a Mom? I can make sure that his bookshelf is more balanced and that these books only play a part, but it doesn’t feel right to let it pass completely without comment. After all, when the little boy is bouncing all over the seat because he isn’t buckled in…I mention that! This is a conversation that will grow and change as he gets older, but it is especially difficult at this age. It goes back to feeling like I don’t have the right words or explanations that are age appropriate.

This is not a post with any answers, just more questions. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Posted in Early Childhood Education, Museum Education, Museum Fun at Home | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments


Slowly but surely I’ve been taking on Twitter. I’m following folks, I’m making lists…and now I’m even helping launch a weekly chat.

#MuseumEdChat (Thursdays, 8:00pm EST) is for anyone in the museum world, and especially those that think about education and the visitor experience. Each week has a different theme and the moderator poses questions with professionals from all over adding their opinions. We’ve chatted about the definition of “families,” social media and the museum and how to keep the conference “fire” going after you return.

To follow along just search for “#MuseumEdChat”and don’t hesitate to jump in with your thoughts! Tonight’s chat is all about internships. The #MuseumWorkersSpeak conversation (that I first heard about at the American Alliance of Museums conference) has been talking a lot about the role internships play in museums and, perhaps, what role they SHOULD play. So, we are going to delve into all of that, plus some “tips” for interns AND supervisors.  Should be a great conversation, hope you can join us!

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“Starting Small”- Article in “Museum” magazine

I’m very excited to share that I have an article in the May/June 2015 issue of “Museum” magazine (published by the American Alliance of Museums)!

The article is called “Starting Small: How Museums Can Engage with Their Youngest Visitors.”In it, I try to be as straightforward as possible with the things that I have found (and that other caregivers have told me) are the “make or break” factors for successful museum visits with young children. We talk candidly about breastfeeding in there, and the importance of your front line staff.  Check it out!

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Museum Education: An Origin Story

Golden Books 002“How did you get into museum education?” It is probably the 1st question I get asked when I start explaining my work. I’m sure I’m not alone and many of my Museum Ed colleagues talk about inspiring teachers, memorable internships or a “need a job” that turned into “found a career.”

My narrative spins from a love of history to not feeling like classroom teaching was the right fit and ends with a flyer I saw posted on during a college visit for a “Museum Education Minor.” At least, that is how my museum education EDUCATION narrative goes.

Really though, my “origin story” goes back to stuff. Old stuff, historical stuff, stuff that connects you to the past.  That was brought into sharp relief as I opened the two boxes my Godfather had sent down for my son. Inside were rows of Golden Books, inscribed with his name and dates from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s. I got so excited getting to touch those books that…well…I sat down and wrote about it!

This is the history I am drawn to, the one represented through objects. Where better to immerse yourself in that then museums? I know I’m not alone. So many visitors to museums go there for the stuff.  Some because it reminds them of their own experiences, some because it is the clearest way for them to connect with something they don’t understand and others because just being close enough to (theoretically) touch the objects is a thrill.

I get that! I am like that too…and I think it makes me a better museum educator. I can use that spark when I am writing and teaching programs and help guide reluctant museum goers towards a personal experience with objects.

I think knowing WHY you “got into” museum work is key to helping you create stronger experiences for others. Whether it is because you can share their thrill and build off of it, or be on the lookout for your own bias and preference. Continue to explore new ways to connect with visitors, incorporate the new media and teaching methods and keep up on the latest research…but also trust that what makes it exciting for you is probably whey some of the visitors are there in the first place.

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