At Boston Children’s Museum it’s easy to find examples of visitors learning: toddlers developing motor skills as they dance in KidPower; rising kindergarteners playing with math manipulatives in Countdown to Kindergarten; and a family experimenting with dry ice together. What you might not see happening behind the scenes is Boston Children’s Museum staff learning too. While staff learning happens all the time, in the past two weeks there’s been a flurry of opportunities to embrace “lifelong learning”.
Several Museum staff traveled across the country to attend annual national conferences. At the Association of Children’s Museums InterActivity conference in Phoenix, Jeri Robinson (VP, Early Childhood & Family Learning) and Beth Fredericks (Race to the Top Project Director) presented, Mobilizing Museums and Libraries: Lessons from Race to the Top, about the successful initiative led by Boston Children’s Museum that has expanded Massachusetts’ network of early learning resources for families and communities. Kate Marciniec (Exhibits Director) is at the American Alliance of Museums conference in Seattle where, among other things, she is on a panel discussing how museums are stretching beyond Western perspectives to bring indigenous voices to new history, art, culture and science exhibits. A handful of other Boston Children’s Museum staff are at these national conferences attending meetings, participating in workshops and networking with colleagues.
Meanwhile, many Museum staff are involved in learning experiences closer to home. On May 5th a team of five Educators and Visitor Services staff participated in a workshop organized by the New England Museum Association on the theme, Beyond Story Time: Building Literacy in Museums. Presenters from New England libraries and museums helped us expand our thinking about the ways we promote literacy skills through the environment we create and the programs we offer.
On May 6th Jeri Robinson hosted a brown bag lunch sharing pictures and ideas from her trip to Reggio Emilia in Italy, where she visited schools and learned first-hand about the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. This approach developed by Loris Malaguzzi, in the villages around Reggio Emilia after World War II, is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community. Learning happens through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children. There are many parallels to learning in the Museum.
On May 8th a group of about 15 staff gathered at lunch time for a Museum Reading Group Discussion prompted by a reading chosen by Kate Steir (Visitor Experience Associate) about kid’s participation in museum exhibits and programs. The conversation started with examples of meaningful experiences where children are involved at different levels; and moved on to thoughts about new ways children and families might participate in Boston Children’s Museum projects.
Most Friday afternoons, Visitor Experience Associates (VEAs – our staff who work most closely with our visitors) have an hour of training, which often includes other staff as well. On May 9th Amanda Andrade (Visitor Services Manager) organized an exercise in which VEAs were divided into teams and challenged to build a complex structure they only saw for a short time. People had to assume different roles and work together to accomplish the task. After much giggling and some frustrated moans, everyone took away lessons about recognizing individual strengths and weaknesses and the importance of teamwork.
Dr. Howard Gardner was at Boston Children’s Museum on May 13th for a “Lunch and Learn” presentation hosted by the Board of Overseers about his recent book, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World. Museum staff joined 115 community members to hear Dr. Gardner share data and insights about how the App Generation differs from previous generations of children, and the importance of balancing apps that promote dependence with apps that enable new possibilities.
This is a snapshot of just a few days of staff learning at Boston Children’s Museum. Next week brings another Museum Reading Group lunch, and another Friday afternoon training. Discussions, workshops, and conferences happen throughout the year. I will share more about the learning that happens behind the scenes at Boston Children’s Museum in the future. As we improve our staff skills, increase our knowledge, and become better informed about people and resources, we strengthen our ability to engage visitors in joyful discovery experiences and spark a lifelong love of learning.