View Full Version : How do you use museums?

08-09-2011, 04:13 PM

I am a former homeschooler (now in college), and am interning at the Exploratorium in SF this summer. I am helping the education department do research on how homeschoolers are being served and would like to be served by museums (especially science museums). I would love to hear what current homeschoolers have experienced at museums, whether it be positive or negative, and what kinds of programming or resources you would like to have available to you.


08-09-2011, 06:40 PM
What a cool thing to be able to research.

We have a reciprocal science museum membership and use it pretty often. We don't do a lot of programming through science museums though because there isn't a traditional science center where we live. The closest one is in Baltimore. They do a two week homeschool slate of classes that I would love to sign up for, but they always fill up too quickly. We've never been able to get in, which is frustrating.

However, we have a lot of other experiences with museums and museum programs, living in DC and all. Some of the things we really like are drop in programs, which I'm sure are a pain for museum educators to plan, but we really enjoy them. The way the National Gallery does their Stories in Art program, for example, is that you just show up and get slated into a group with a time. If it's a busy day, you may end up with a later time. Both the Portrait Gallery and the American History Museum have classroom like spaces (the History Museum's is more like a hands on room) that have revolving programs and demos that you can just attend and we really like that. The science center we belong to in NC does that as well every day where there's a little lab and kids can just show up and participate in a short program. We really like that. Another thing we like is when there are scavenger hunts or guides that give a sort of checklist or something for kids to use going through. My kids respond really positively to that sort of thing. At the Portrait Gallery they have little kits you check out with hands on things and activities and that's a really neat thing we've enjoyed.

Of course, we've done organized programs too. One thing I would say that is a bit annoying is when the docent or museum educator has canned questions or examples that all revolve around school. We've encountered that a few times and it's mostly amusing, but it shows a complete lack of ability to think on your feet, especially when the educator is told multiple times that these kids don't go to school but keeps persisting asking them all questions about their class and their teacher (yep, I've seen that more than once). Another thing I've seen that's frustrating with homeschool programs is that the museum has a slate of just a few programs, maybe half a dozen or so, which is sufficient for schools who are only doing a few field trips. But then they do those programs as a "homeschool day(s)" for homeschoolers. Only, once you've done it once, there's no new programs to do. We've encountered that in a couple of places. I understand it, but it's annoying that there's only, say, two classes for kids in my kids' age range, and then that's it for several years unless we just want to do it again.

Okay, I could probably think of a million other things to say, but I'll leave it... Clearly, we get too much museum time around here.

Stella M
08-09-2011, 06:48 PM
Educate tour guides or activity leaders on home education! Explain that parents usually want to be involved and don't appreciate being sent off to the cafe, or treated as a nuisance in group situations. We have different needs to a school group. We are family groups and we will often work/explore/tour together as a unit. Please explain to museum staff etc that we don't want to spend half of every homeschoolers group activity answering questions about homeschooling. Don't act surprised when our homeschoolers appear normal and able to ask questions or follow directions...

Mind you, I am in a different country, so this may not apply to your museums...oops...good chance to vent though :)

08-09-2011, 07:15 PM
I wanted to use a local science museum here, and it is very nice. But what bothered me is that I want to be able to either receive for free or buy [at a reasonable price] a pamphlet that shows not only a map of the exhibits but what each exhibit is about--. Then I could plan our science museum visits around exhibits that are pertinent to our current studies. The other problem is that the membership is very expensive. OKC Zoo is only about 50$ {and to me that counts as a science museum} and the OKC Art Museum family membership is only about 75 $. The Science Museum has a 6 person membership for 100$.

The zoo and the Science Museum are right next to each other, but you cannot get a combined membership for these. And one-Day tickets are quite expensive to all these places. Personally I think it would be very nice if Museums in local metro areas or even in states could offer combined packages. Or options such as that.

As a homeschooler I pay for a YMCA membership, + curriculum, + paper, and supplies + internet bundling+ gasoline + all those memberships. It adds up pretty quickly. As I think it would for any family. And I still pay property taxes that support local public schools. And my property taxes are going way way up. So I have to pick and choose which memberships I get. And with the economy right now, well things are getting tight.

08-09-2011, 07:50 PM
farrarwilliams, I am so jealous of you and others who live in DC. It's such an amazing thing to have all of those free museums available to you, and even the zoo!. My daughter could spend all day at the Natural History one.

08-09-2011, 09:20 PM
. My daughter could spend all day at the Natural History one.

Heck *I* could spend all day at the Natural History one. And the Air and Space one. And...

08-09-2011, 10:19 PM
Yeah, we're super lucky. I totally recognize that. And a lot of the museums have really good programming too - especially the lesser used ones. We like say, Air and Space or Natural History, but my kids get more excited in many ways to go to a museum like SAAM (Smithsonian American Art Museum) because they know we'll go to the Luce Center (which is always empty) and do a scavenger hunt and they'll get a button. Ooh, a button! Hehe. The zoo is cool in the winter especially. We were once in the Amazon house with our little co-op when we were studying jungles and we got a FONZ volunteer all to ourselves for TWO HOURS. She showed us everything there was to see in the whole place. It was awesome. That's actually one thing I love about the zoo - random volunteers just standing around ready to tell you stuff if you're interested. It's pretty sweet.

I had one more thought, which is that homeschool groups often do field trips with kids who don't know each other or have any prior basis for working together as a group. A couple of times we've encountered museum educators who are almost offended that the kids don't know all the other kids' names. Excuse me, but we *just* met them! So yeah, Melissa said it well - educate the educators and docents about homeschoolers in general. We're all different. Our groups may or may not be cohesive. We don't sit in a brick and mortar "school" all day so your school jokes and questions won't work.

08-09-2011, 11:04 PM
Thanks so much for asking this interesting question!
We love our reciprocal museum membership. Although my children are young (5 and 3), one big issue has come up. Please let my kids really explore the topic. All kids might not want such an open and maybe lengthy engaging experience (particularly if they are accustomed to being in a classroom where they are told what to learn, how to learn, and when to learn). But, my children really explore a topic and enjoy asking questions and finding out about it. I often feel that we are pushed to the next topic/area/etc before my daughter's curiosity is satiated. I think most (maybe not all, maybe not most) but most of our small group of hs folks have kids that are very curious and also very willing to ask questions of the volunteers/facilitators/docents. So, please don't rush us or cut my child off when she has more questions. Another issue we've come across is age requirements. Because she is homeschooled, she may have a different interest area of specialty interest or even possibly a different attention span and social skills (aka, better or worse), so please let us as parents decide what is the better "group" for our child to be placed in. I know this may cause the facilitator or docent anxiety, but let us try. If it's not working out, then either we will initiate the conversation or you can.

08-09-2011, 11:53 PM
I agree that having educated docents/volunteers is key. That would be a dream, especially when the groups might have multiple ages or abilities or there might be a bunch of moms with kids in strollers or slings.

Also, don't make a 'homeschool day' a once-a-year event. Those get SO crowded, and there are a lot of us who can't make it or with kids who can't handle the crowds that attend on those days. Once a month would be much better. And like Farrar said, change it up. At the science museum Greenmother is talking about, they change up the science show on a regular basis, which is really nice. It keeps my kiddo from getting bored. Better yet, offer the occasional week-long camp - call it a 'winter camp' instead of a summer camp - and cater to homeschoolers.

I have discovered that bringing kids to a museum in the middle of week often raises eyebrows, and the next time I get shadowed by an overzealous volunteer who wants to make sure everything is "safe" from my children wouldn't be the first time. If the place was crowded, there would be no way to do that, so please offer us the courtesy of assuming that we are as polite as everyone else... or, if you want to shadow me, give me something special to do with my kids. I remember one time that I took the kids to visit an Egyptian exhibit at a local art museum. There were about 20-30 people wandering through the exhibit at the time, but the docents circled me and my kids like vultures. That really irritated me, because they were being extremely well-behaved, whereas I saw one guy on a cell phone leaning against an exhibit case and nothing was said.

I really like when museums give the kids something hands-on that they can check out or take home - for free (OK, as part of the ticket price). One art museum has a program where each kid gets an art kit and can get a new art supply each month they visit and bring their kit; another one offers several different kinds of backpacks full of activities - a scavenger hunt, art supplies, a craft supply to take home, etc.

Food. I love being able to bring a picnic lunch for my kids, but barring that, my kids and I cannot stand really crappy concession stand food. There are many, many parents - not just homeschoolers, but parents in general - who are health-conscious and would love a few healthful options on the menu. I'm not suggesting taking all the pop and hot dogs off the menu, but maybe just one or two healthier items would be really nice. Having a vegetarian option is handy, too (and grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly don't count).

Memberships... ya know, you're gonna have to make it worth my while. If exhibits aren't maintained, if nothing changes from visit to visit, if I feel like I'm being smothered, then I'm not going to join. Reciprocal/group museum memberships are nice, too.

I think that's all. For now. I love going to museums :)

08-10-2011, 08:10 AM

I am a former homeschooler (now in college), and am interning at the Exploratorium in SF this summer. I am helping the education department do research on how homeschoolers are being served and would like to be served by museums (especially science museums). I would love to hear what current homeschoolers have experienced at museums, whether it be positive or negative, and what kinds of programming or resources you would like to have available to you.


We have a membership at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, which gives us reciprocal memberships at many science museums across the country, including the Exploratorium. (...which we finally got to visit this past May. Very, very cool place!). My particular complaint, especially about hands-on science museums, are when several of the exhibits are broken. This didn't seem too prevalent at the Exporatorium, but MSI often has oodles of exhibits where the kids are all excited to try something, and it's broken. Kind of a disappointment.....

Accidental Homeschooler
08-10-2011, 05:59 PM
We don't have a lot of choices for museums but we do have a small natural history museum that is part of the university here. Sometimes we go during the day when it is empty and sketch animals. It is nice as my kids can spread out with their paper and pencils and not be in anyone's way.

08-10-2011, 06:24 PM
I know that the science museum in okc has a play area for kids. I prefer such areas have a well defined border with a gate. One reason I didn't go more often even with a membership is that keeping up with two kids on their huge play area was a nightmare if there were more than 10 people there. Kids can run out of multiple exit areas and hidden alcoves to other areas of the Museum and you wouldn't even know it. Clearly this was not designed by someone who has had small children. If you knew what heart pounding terror is when you cannot find your 3 yr old in a crowded, noisy areas where there are multiple routes of escape into exhibit areas, isolated bathrooms and gods know what else. It gives me palpitations just thinking about it.

And typical stadium cheese for nachos is not healthfood. Soda pops are bad, but really anything that is loaded up on super amounts of sweeteners--even juices are no good for kids. When people buy for the concession areas they need to read labels for ingredients. I realize that is tedious but many of us will be grateful. Get fruit juices that are not sweetened with corn syrup, or better yet things like OJ don't need to be sweetened at all and are good for blood sugar stabilization for everyone--even people without serious health issues. More crackers less twinkies. Fresh Fruit, and string cheese, yogurt--those are good things. Bananas oranges, apples, etc., grapes. A few sodas and candy bars sure---but let those be an aspect of the choice and not indicative of all food choices there. Things like V8 Fruit Fusions are good too.

I went to the Aquarium in Tulsa and bought a box with chopped cheese in it and grapes and a big orange juice. It was the most awesome museum meal ever! Finger food, cold, hearty, nutritious etc.,

Web sites could if they wanted, have print outs of coloring sheets for various themes of exhibits. That would also be nice. Then we can print up things for kids to do to take a break at the museum or to prepare before or wind down after. Crayons and paper are also good distractions for kids who are overstimulated on-site. Think of all the science themes that could be coloring sheets, available for homeschoolers and public school teachers. Basic stuff like geology, space, water cycles, plant life, health stuff etc., all sorts of neat and simple things that introduce smaller kids to big concepts in a way that makes it very accessible to them.

And just think they could also make a short list of museum rules on a coloring sheet too for kids to color. Its a positive way to instill boundaries. A gentle reminder. Stick with golden rule themes. We preserve exhibits so that everyone has a chance to enjoy them. Etc.,

08-11-2011, 07:29 PM
My boys are really challenging, which makes it hard for me to really use museums much. the younger one only likes to run through them, unless they have hands on stuff. And crowds are hard on me, so thats kinda a problem w events. We go to the science museum mostly, as its the easiest one to have a successful trip at. my boys arent typical, tho . . which is why we are homeschooling to start with.

08-11-2011, 08:25 PM
Greenmother, that's bizarre that they would have a specifically kid area without boundaries like that. What poor planning! I can think of several kid areas in science museums where there's only one exit. In fact, the one in Baltimore has a nice stroller parking and coat hook area and there's someone manning the door at all times so that kids don't leave without an adult - they even don't let adults leave without their kids (I was once with another mom and she was watching my kids while I stepped out to make a call - no problem, but I had to tell them someone was with my kids in there!).

And seconding everyone about the food. Museum food is the pits. Well, except at the Museum of the American Indian. I have also heard that the MoMA's food is good. But that's an exception.

08-12-2011, 09:33 AM
Well there were two kids areas. One for small children that is all fenced with gates and then this indoor playground with no boundaries around it at all. My kids like them both but prefer the indoor play area with the huge slide {a big duh there}. It needs to be enclosed though.

08-13-2011, 07:03 PM
Our local science centre is actually pretty good. I buy a membership every second year, so we have time away from it and it seems "fresh."

They run "homeschool day" approximately once a month, when they offer all their school-field-trip-oriented programs for homeschoolers. It's great because it ends up feeling like a homeschool festival, and we bump into lots of people we know.

I find that my family uses a museum much differently than other people I observe. I often see families or school groups moving quite quickly through all the displays, as if they have only one opportunity to see everything. My kids prefer to hang out in a room or a gallery for a while, taking time to explore everything that catches their eye. If there are hands-on activities, they try them all. If it's a nature-type museum, they sometimes pull out sketchbooks and try to sketch some of the birds or other things they see. (Honestly, it makes me absurdly proud when they do this. I don't know why, but it does. Maybe because I can't draw at all.) Occasionally, the kids will start a conversation with a guide or interpreter, and ask a lot of questions. They tend to do this when it's less busy.

So, we usually visit a museum more than once, and see only part of it each time. We prefer to go for an afternoon rather than the whole day so we aren't exhausted. I wish that more places offered a two-or-three visit pass. They all seem to offer either a daily admission or an annual membership, with nothing in between.

08-13-2011, 10:59 PM
My kids and I go to the local art museum, science center, zoo, and history museum. Most of the things such as those are free to get in in my area. Which allows us to go as often as we want. My wish is that there would be more morning activities because I have to be back at my house by 3pm to watch my sons friend as he comes home from school.

08-14-2011, 08:13 AM
We have memberships to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. I would like to se more things offered during the day for kids on a regular basis. Because we are on Long Island, it takes us awhile to fight traffic to get in. Often programs are at 5PM and it tends to then be a late night. 10 AM-2PM would be a great time for this.

08-14-2011, 01:31 PM
Ouch that would suck. Having to go home late at night in the big city. That can be intimidating.

08-18-2011, 04:46 PM
Thanks for your responses everyone! They've been really helpful. In an attempt to try to narrow in on my main focus of research: what sorts of experiences have you had with classes at museums? Also, what sort of content and structure do you look for in classes? Do you care if they follow your state standards guidelines?

To give you some context of where the Exploratorium is coming from, we're a very hands-on museum that's usually packed with groups of children (mostly traditional school groups during the school year). We have exhibits focusing on many areas of science. We offer homeschool classes every week or two for ages 7 through high school (split into three different age groups). The teen one will meet just once a month, and on a different day from the younger groups. The two younger classes (ages 7-9 and 10-12) will meet simultaneously and focus on the same subject each week. The homeschool classes have been running for a few years, and the structure changes a bit each year in terms of frequency and age range.

Thanks again for your helpful responses!

08-19-2011, 01:30 PM
When we lived in San Diego, the Museum on Man had a "Home Scholar" Program. It was ran by the museum's cultural anthropologist who homeschooled her two sons for a good number of years in the Andes mountains (I think?) while there for an archaeological dig. There were very few religious homeschoolers in the home scholar program because the program promoted a scientific belief in evolution. Anyways, It was once a month during the traditional school year (no class in December though), in two classes divided by age (young ones and older kids), parents had to be there to assist and supervise their children (they emphasized that this was NOT a baby sitting service). Each month was a different topic (ancient Egyptians, "Lucy" and the evolution of man, native American cultures before the Europeans, etc.) It would start in a class room setting telling us what we would be doing/seeing/learning, usually with a story to set the stage with background info. Then we would go into the museum to see the subject exhibits with the anthropologist to tell us all about it (the students always had a worksheet to fill out while viewing - kind of a scavenger hunt to find things and state where they are), then return to the classroom or craft room for a hands-on project. When they did Egypt they played Egyptian board games, mummy wrapped a toy cat, and did a word search. When they did man's evolution, they handled, examined, and measured real prehistoric tools and objects; did a mock archaeological dig (in a large sandbox) with all the tools of the trade and followed real archaeological digging techniques and procedures. It was great fun. There was a fee, but I don't recall how much. If you were a museum member then it was discounted. Classes were limited to about 20 students each.