Saturday, April 05, 2008

On Fieldtrips

Dear Museum Operators of the World,

I understand that museums are quiet places which require the use of inside voices. I understand shhhh, don't touch and how to hiss I told you to go to the bathroom before we left when one asks to go and seven more follow, most likely because they want to see the bathroom not use it.

Nevertheless--kids are not quiet and they touch things and, in my experience, nearly always ask to go to the bathroom.

So the classic museum trip tends to be stressful. It's a lot of herding and shushing
and counting heads to make sure no one wanders off. We teachers try to set the ground rules ahead of time, explain the purpose, arm our scholars with notebooks and pencils to record information and cross our fingers that no one starts fussing or has a meltdown.

But Museum People, life is hard in the classroom, let alone at a museum. It takes quite a few tricks to keep things bumping along semi-smoothly on a regular day. And so, if you are offering programming to students, if you claim to welcome schools, some things to consider...

1. Don't screw up the scheduling. Calling a week before a trip to say, oops, you double-booked is not what anyone needs to sort out during their planning time.

2. Don't leave us sitting around waiting. For over 10 minutes. Without any information. And then please don't let a security guard walk in and tell us to quiet down when everyone is sitting. There needs to be a reason for silence.

3. Don't skip the overview video which everyone says is the best part of the museum.

4. Don't ask everyone to line up at the door and then say, Oh, you can put your coats in these bins. This creates chaos. See #2 for a good time to put coats in bins.

5. Don't start talking until everyone is in the near vicinity. Sometimes it takes a moment to situate a group of kids. Ideally, a docent should not be losing her voice so the kids can actually hear what she's saying.

6. Don't leave your tour group stranded on the third floor without a map and say I've really enjoyed your questions! Enjoy the rest of the museum.

7. Don't claim a tour will address content that it doesn't.

8. Don't say you have tours for school groups when you only have one hands-on activity in the museum.

9. Remember, we paid for this. And the bus. And we had a reason for coming.

Maybe you don't want us at all. I understand. Really, I do. But then let's be upfront about that from the beginning. Why pretend to want groups of school kids dragging through your museum. They're loud, they touch things...they really just want to check out the bathrooms. And quite frankly, it's the bus ride they crave. But then--don't invite us.

Most sincerely...

Many thanks to the Reginald F. Lewis of African American History in Maryland for inspiring this post.

(From a field trip last spring at the Botanical Gardens in Washington, DC. The best part: playing its on the mall lawn.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say you put in words what many of us have experienced. I agree if you don't want kids in your museum, don't market it to teachers. Sounds like it was the field trip from hell!

9:54 AM  
Blogger George said...

Perhaps if you would have had some kale for breakfast, this day would have been much less stressful!!!

11:57 AM  
Blogger katie said... good to read this after hearing about it....did the letter ever get

7:15 PM  
Blogger KMS said...


10:04 AM  

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