Looking Back: Family Workshop Review


In early November, we wrapped up our first round of family workshops for the year and the last few weeks have been spent reflecting and sorting through evaluations. We received positive feedback about the types of activities we provided in the classroom, the rapport teachers had with the children and the overall quality of the program. Our families were very thoughtful in the type of feedback they provided – really allowing us as educators to dig deep and see a different perspective.


Last week we met to discuss the evaluations and while we had a lot to talk about, the focus of the conversation was on the museum experience.  Many of our parents indicated they wanted more time in the museum. The art historian in me was excited to hear that parents were craving more of the museum! The early childhood educator, on the other hand, was challenged: How do we develop a longer museum visit without jeopardizing a positive experience.


When we develop our museum visits we think a lot about what is best for the child and what is developmentally appropriate. For example, with each age group we know about how much time they are comfortable and engaged during museum visits and try to plan visits that match the developmental stage of the students. We provide multiple exposures to a single concept in order to help them fully engage in the learning process.

This museum framework is also based largely on our experiences at the lab school. We work in an environment where our students visit the Smithsonian museums almost daily. When we plan our museum visits this ease of access is paramount. Our teachers are great at responding to the needs of the children from one moment to the next and can easily shorten a museum visit or cancel it altogether because they can always return. If there is a protest on the Mall or the weather is bad, there is always tomorrow. Not so with the family programs.

On the weekends, tables are turned; the museum visit has to work that day. We don’t have the option to return. We have to make it work!


Unlike the lab school experience, the parents are present and therefore, are also a key part to the workshop experience. They want to learn and explore the museums. For many this is chance for to visit museums they may not normally get to. They also see the workshops as a time of connection with their children where they can encourage, teach and engage. What they don’t want is a child who is starting to get antsy and is feeling frustrated. We have to carefully consider what works best for both the child and the parent.


In the past, we’ve experimented with a hybrid model that includes a group learning component with a guided exploratory activity.photo (5)

For example, my colleague used a flip book for a toddler lesson on fire trucks. First families were asked to find the parts of the wagon and then came back to the group to share. Matching the photos encouraged families to look closely and the group portion gave everyone the opportunity to connect and share what they had learned.  This is a great example of how we can make the museum visit more focused and detailed, but it doesn’t work in every situation. Another colleague did a lesson with no group component for our infants at the US Botanical Gardens in which she planned four caretaker-directed activities. There was no group component and the class remained entirely at the Gardens – omitting the classroom portion because the walk was too long.  My co-manager is also excited to try out another model: adding a second object. By and large we only visit one object per a museum visit, but having had experience with toddlers using 2-3 objects, she is eager to see if this model might also prove effective.


I believe that all of these models have real value. As early childhood educators we often have to take the temperature of a group and make adjustments on the fly.  What works once, doesn’t always work again. Part of our challenge is being able to read those signs and being prepared with additional content (early childhood educators do a lot of content research just for this purpose) and being ready to present that content in a variety of ways. Sometimes all the planning in the world can be for naught the day of a lesson because no matter how good we have gotten at anticipating a child’s needs, they are still unpredictable.

I really look forward to experimenting and growing these family Javasa at Hirshhornworkshops. If you are an educator, post your ideas and thoughts. If you are a parent, come and check us out. Our next set of classes begins January 31st when we are offering infant, toddler and pre-K classes. Don’t be deterred by the weather families – what we lack in warmth we make up for in ample parking during this time of year!