Someone wrote me a really intriguing message through Facebook the other day.
I have a 7 year old son who often talks about running a museum with one of his good friends. I am just curious how you got interested in museums and if anything you did growing up inspired you. Just thinking about the spring and summer and activities we might do with him. Thanks for any help
First of all, I was so excited to think of this 7 year old boy and his friend plotting their museum. How cool is that? Second, way to go Mom for seeing this interest and wondering how to encourage it! I’ve been mulling over my answer for a while now and I finally decided I wanted to put it on the blog to hopefully inspire other families who might have a budding museum professional on their hands!
So, not to sound cliché, but I’ve been interested in museums as long as I can remember. My parents were big on traveling and whatever place we ended up in we would check out the sites, which usually included some form of museum. Both my sister and I really loved “tour houses” (historic houses) and my parents probably saw every famous and pseudo-famous person’s house in the country. They always presented museums as a kid friendly and interesting place to go and I think that shaped how I saw them too.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that I even realized museums could be a career (so kudos to your 7 year old!). I knew I wanted to study history but whenever people said “Oh, so you want to be a history teacher?” it just didn’t feel right. I was touring colleges and talking to a history professor when I noticed a flyer on her desk advertising the Museum Studies and Museum Education minors at the school. That just sounded so cool and I ran with it. I talked my way into an internship at our local historical society, applied to that program I’d seen in the flyer and never really looked back.
Now, on to the activities for your son! I think the biggest thing is to see what part of museums really inspires him. Does he love to collect stuff? Organize and take care of it? Teach people about it? If he is a collector then maybe there is a place in your house (or garage, outbuilding etc.) where he COULD have his museum. Let him display things, write the labels for them and invite people to come and see it. He’ll have to really think about what he wants to have in there and why, but having full control should be an exciting experience for him.
If you have some time and the family is interested, a lot of museums do family programs throughout the year. While they aren’t all related to the inner workings of museums, you get a chance to explore an aspect of the museum, visit it with a really knowledgeable educator and often do a really cool project. Whatever museum is of interest to him, check out their website, you should be able to find a list of it. If you are going to be traveling, research together a museum to go visit. You can contact them in advance to see if anything is going on or if you can arrange to meet someone who works there.
For a visit on your own in THIS area, I can’t recommend enough the Smithsonian American Art Museum. They have the Lunder Conservation Center, which is a real working facility but one where the public is allowed to see what is happening (http://americanart.si.edu/lunder/). It is set in the Luce Center (http://americanart.si.edu/luce/) which feels like you are in the museums storage areas and gives you a different way to explore the collections. In a similar feel, Natural History has a Fossil Lab (http://paleobiology.si.edu/fossiLab/index.html) where you can see scientists at work and Air and Space out in Chantilly has a restoration hanger that is in the works (http://airandspace.si.edu/museum/udvarhazy/restoration.cfm). I’m sure there are more, those are just the ones I thought of off the top of my head!
There are some summer camps that cater to the museum minded crowd. I will fully admit that I am not as well versed in that area (yet) but it is worth exploring for future years.
If this interest holds as he gets older, almost all museums eagerly welcome volunteers. Even ones that are in their early teens can be put to work in some capacity! Whether he is a “people person” or someone who is interested in the behind-the-scenes aspect of museums there is a way to be involved.
Although many museums are looking for high school and above, I do have one final suggestion. If there is a museum that he really loves I think you should go ahead and get in touch with them. Say you have an eager seven year old who wants to learn more about museums. You never know what they might be able to do. He might be able to shadow someone for a day/half day, help out with a program or even just get a chance to ask some questions. If you have a small community museum you might be able to make contact more easily, but even the bigger museums are full of people who ALSO love this stuff and are eager to pass it on to the “next generation.”
Can you tell I’m a little excited by your question? I’m just always thrilled when museums are a place of interest for kids and not “boring” or overwhelming. I think the parent’s attitude has the biggest impact on how kids see it so if you keep encouraging his interest and find ways to explore a really wide range of museums you’ll give him all the inspiration he needs.