Museum Staff Want To Help Homeschoolers
I recently attended a workshop on Effective Strategies for Working with Homeschoolers at the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) Conference.
This conference had over 500 museum personnel and volunteers. My daughter was asked to speak on this panel and we learned some very interesting things that I would like to pass on to Homeschoolers everywhere. Those of you who plan field trips for your groups, go on field trips or just like visiting museums will benefit from the following as well. Represented were museums as small as your local history sites to Williamsburg, the “Godmother” to all living history sites.
First of all Museums are anxious to learn how they can serve the growing homeschool population. They are ready and willing to put together programs or adapt existing programs for us. They are excited by the potential, however often times confused as to how to deal with our diversity. The following are areas that need to be clarified when booking a group or even a family activity.
The majority of the confusion stems from these different areas:
1) Age groups, age ranges and ratio of adult to child.
The problem here is when we show up for say, a talk on a specific topic and it is geared to the K-3 grade crowd, they are then at a loss as to how to include the older crowd at the same time. They would like us to be more flexible in splitting the group into two, thereby servicing both groups more effectively. This is especially true with hands-on projects. Also, they would like to be able to ask the parents to be flexible in chaperoning the older kids. Often times, the projects for older kids are in smaller, and more challenging situations where large groups (one parent for one child ratio) may not fit and may not be effective; for example, blacksmithing or candle making. The physical space can create challenges for them to accommodate us all.
2) Group payment
What constitutes a Group? If they need 10 children for a program to be cost effective, then we can’t show up with 6 kids and 4 adults and not expect the entire group to pay, even if only the children are participating. They still need their minimum. Also, often times parents who are not in the group, express a desire to make whatever hands-on item the child is working on and they should be prepared to pay as well. Museums are normally non-profit organizations and are there to share the love of their particular interests….but they do need to cover expenses. Insurance and liability are a big expense, as well as staff.
That brings me to the next point, we homeschoolers generally don’t have a bus to catch or a schedule to keep, which is wonderful for us, but can wreck havoc on their staff availability. We usually tend to ask more questions, especially us moms, and take longer to go through an activity or tour. Because of this, we need to remember that the museum may have another tour or group following us and make clear what happens if we go over the allotted time. Many museums only offer Guided Tours and cannot let you wander on your own when your tour is over. Be sensitive to this. Believe me if they can, they’ll stay with you as long as possible, but the smaller the facility, the smaller the staff and often times they are doing 3 jobs at once. Also getting to the facility ON TIME (my emphasis) is a big help. (Admit it, we are all guilty of this occasionally <g>) This way the tour/activity can get started on time and then end on time.
It’s a hard thing for them to deal with as we all have different family policies, but as one staffer put it, their goal is to treat you like a guest in their home, as graciously as possible, and sometimes their home is like that great-aunt you have that doesn’t have a ‘baby-proofed home”, so we all need to be sensitive to this issue. If you have little ones, strollers, etc. clarify ahead of time what the policy is…sometimes we will have to be flexible here as well and possibly swap children so the older ones can do what they have to do and the younger ones can either go to a park or go to the museum’s “touch” rooms. This won’t happen all the time, but we do need to be agreeable and flexible when it does. I know we (moms) can get caught up in what is being shown, taught, etc., and often times forget to step back and see what our little darlings are doing. (We missed a lot, we weren’t homeschooled! <g>) Don’t expect your other ‘older children’ to be the chaperones.
I found that the museum staff were excited and curious about “us.” They listened with interest and patience as the panel explained the various methods of homeschoolers, the various reasons we homeschool and listened to all that my daughter has gotten out of her work with our local museum. They were happy to note that we do have newsletters, e-mail loops, etc. where they could alert the groups about special programs or even get in touch with leaders to work on programming. They wanted me to urge all of you to get on your local, regional and state museum’s mailing lists and contact them for information on how they can best serve us all. Mystic Seaport actually ‘tries out’ new programming on homeschoolers because they get such good feedback from us. Another museum even requested a homeschool leader to be on their board! The possibilities are endless and with Clear, Concise Pre-trip Information, Good Communication, and Flexibility we should have many stress free, informative and fun activities with our local museums.
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