When I am planning a program for a library, school or other community group…the focus is on the kids. After all, that is my target audience, they are the ones who will be sitting in front of me. So, when I’m thinking about the content, the visuals and the activities I am thinking about what will best be suited for the age I’m teaching.
That is a good and necessary thing, but I was reminded that I shouldn’t forget the parents. Too often, I think of the adults in the room as pretty much glorified chauffeurs. They find the activity, get the kid there and then check out. And it is true, there are many parents who are glad to sit back and not be 100% in charge for a while (Hey, I have a toddler at home, so I don’t blame them one bit!)
But, that isn’t always the case. At Herndon Library I taught a program on Monet the “artist and scientist.” The kids explored how you can “spot” a Monet and we dove into his interest in light and how it affected his paintings. We also looked at researchers using clues from the sun position and tide in his paintings to try and time stamp them (read about that here).
To finish off the day, they had a chance to create a still life and try painting it under different light conditions. As they worked, I walked around to talk to them, answer questions and generally get a sense for what they were thinking about the day.
Every few feet though, I was stopped by a parent. Some of them were curious about how to get their kids more interested in art. Some wanted to hear more about strategies for taking kids to museums (I had mentioned that several of the Monet’s we were looking at were in the National Gallery of Art). A few were genuinely curious about the topic themselves and wanted to hear more about Monet’s techniques and inspirations.
Part of me worried a little that I was ignoring the kids, who I felt were my “audience.” But I realized that I needed to relax. It is completely critical to have the kids fall in love with art and museums if you want them to engage with them. It is equally critical to have the parents be interested and understand the value it has for their kids. After all, they ARE the chauffeurs and will be more likely to bring their kids if they enjoy it themselves and see the value in it.
How to best engage the parents will differ from program to program. Sometimes it will be casual conversations, like we had about Monet. Other times a more formal hand-out might be the ticket. No matter what, I won’t forget to prepare something for my other important audience again!