In our first blog, I talked about what the museum education department does at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. Just to recap, we have two educators who work specifically with our classes here at the lab school. Our director, Betsy Bowers, heads our professional development efforts (more on that later) and my main responsibility is to promote and coordinate our outreach efforts for families who are not enrolled in the school.
With Labor Day in our sights, I thought it was the perfect time to take a look ahead at what we are doing for our community families. Last year, we started offering preschool courses. These courses took place over a four-week period, meeting Saturday mornings. Each course had a theme (more information) and met for two hours. In the first portion of our morning, we would do some sort of introductory activity. This activity ranged from exploring a discovery box featuring cultural objects to comparing two paintings. Almost always these activities were meant to be done independently, meaning child and caretaker working together separate from the teacher. (These classes are very literally family classes, so caretakers play an important role). After our initial work, we would come together in a circle to discuss what they had done. Our discussion led us to an introduction to the museum visit.
After bathroom breaks and the putting on of coats, we head to the museum for what is typically a 20-30 minute visit to one to two objects. During our visits, we use hands-on objects to engage the children in a multi-sensory experience and inquiry to guide the conversation. Museum educators are likely familiar with these approaches of object-based learning and the inquiry method. For educators who are unfamiliar with these approaches, let me suggest SEEC’s line of professional development seminars and/or MOMA’s inquiry course offered through Coursera (just completed it myself, very informative).
After our visit, we head back to the classroom where we wrap up with a final project.While it’s most often an art project, I do not limit myself to that platform. This is extremely helpful for two reasons; first, sometimes it is not developmentally appropriate for children to recreate the art they have just seen and second, sometimes it’s not culturally sensitive to recreate the art either. A good example of the first scenario is when I did a lesson on the Renaissance and I wanted to talk about composition. They were not up for the challenge of creating a masterpiece that depicted, balance, dynamism and fluidity. However, they could connect to these concepts by acting out their own birthday party photo and seeing the results. And when we do our class on Hinduism and visit the Freer’s Shiva Nataraja, we opt to look at videos of Bharatnatyam dance, do a sample of mudras and keep a beat with bells on our ankles. All activities are meant to build upon the concepts introduced through the lesson in a way that is interactive and self-directed.
This year we also offering infant and toddler class, so keep an eye out for future blogs about these audiences. In the meantime, let me know what is working for you with young audiences in your museum!