The Build-a-Bird program at Tracy Aviary aims to inspire wonder and appreciation for the avian world by introducing visitors and other groups to some of the unique and amazing adaptations of birds. It combines interaction with live “bird ambassadors” at the beginning and the end of the program with an interactive look at the many unique physical adaptations that birds have that may or may not be visible to our eyes. One participant is dressed up as a bird, one adaptation at a time. As the “bird’s” adaptations, such as wings, beak, crop, gizzards, feathers, specialized feet, air sacs, and hollow bones are added one by one, participants discuss why each attribute is important for birds. Finally, the brand new bird is given a nest and eggs and visitors learn about egg-laying and its importance as an adaptation. Once the volunteer has been completely transformed, she or he is “de-costumed,” one adaptation at a time, with an interactive Q&A recap about each adaptation and its purpose. Once visitors have gotten a chance to learn about the adaptations that make birds so amazing, a visit with a second live bird ambassador wraps up the experience.
Program at a Glance
- Date of Program: presented frequently upon request, both at the Aviary and off-site
- Target age group: all ages; dialogue is adapted to fit each particular audience
- Number of attendees: groups up to 100
- Cost to attendees: $1 per person at the Aviary; off-site presentations for larger groups cost between $95 and $140
- One time program, repeated, or hope to repeat: repeated frequently
- Material costs: less than $50 for the one time creation of handmade “bird costume” props
- Non-material costs: on-site: on-site: 2 staff members for one hour; off-site: 2 staff members for two hours
- Number of Facilitators required: two
Help your visitors experience what makes your institution unique. Getting up close and personal with the live bird ambassadors gives visitors an experience that they can’t get just anywhere; it helps them connect to the Aviary and to its mission in a very concrete way. Let your visitors get to know what makes your institution so special and exciting!
Participation is fun! Visitors love to get in on the action. Hands-on programs help them to feel involved and excited about what they’re learning. Learning becomes a collaborative process and sometimes even an adventure.
The Backpack Adventure program helps families explore the Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art’s extensive grounds. The backpacks are filled with activities that teach families about six of Cheekwood’s gardens and are available for free from Visitor Services. Inside each backpack are enough booklets and activities for three children. Smaller-sized backpacks are even available for the museum’s littlest visitors!
Families find their way through the large estate using a map and designated “stops.” Each garden highlights a different concept and activity. Participants are able to take home a “Garden Friend” art project and the booklet, but return the rest of the materials with the backpack at the end of their visit. The Backpack Adventure provides a flexible framework for a day of exploration or for a shorter visit to a garden or two.
Program at a Glance
- Date of Program: Daily since being revamped in fall 2009
- Target age group: 5-13 year olds
- Number of attendees: An average of 10 backpacks a month, with numbers sometimes triple that in the fall and spring
- Cost to attendees: Free with museum admission
- One time program, repeated, or hope to repeat: repeated, with a new take-away art activity every year
- Material costs: $7000 start-up costs and about $200-$300 a year
- Non-material costs: None
- Number of Facilitators required: A volunteer or staff member present at Visitor Services handles check-out and return of the backpacks.
- Staff resources needed (hours) to develop: 40+ hours
Enable families’ learning. Visitors appreciate any extra information that they can share with their families. Providing them a jumping-off point but not guiding every step they take empowers families to both feel secure and be active in their learning and discoveries.
Provide a variety of tangible materials. This will keep all ages entertained and families happy! Appealing to many ages and backgrounds makes an institution accessible and engaging.
Listen to your visitors. Visitor evaluations of the Backpack Adventure program quickly revealed that the original backpacks were too large for younger children. To address this, smaller backpackers were made available in addition to the original, larger ones. Because the museum was actively soliciting and responding to feedback from its visitors, it was able to pin-point problem areas and address them promptly.
Who wouldn’t want to meet a real astronaut? The Smithsonian American Art Museum created Art-stronaut Family Day to relate to their current exhibit, The Great American Hall of Wonders, which explores innovations and inventions in 19th century America. With some help from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the museum offered a variety of activities that encouraged kids and families to think about how scientific discoveries require just as much creativity and innovation as creating art. This included getting to meet and talk to a real astronaut!
Art-making activities helped the museum make this connection between science and creativity; families could design astronaut mission patches, construct solar system shadow boxes, and create cotton-ball cloud collages. The education team from the USPTO brought a paper rocket station and their mascot, T. Marky, to teach kids about patents and trademarks, and the local musical group Ryan Buckle and Friends presented fun science experiments set to kid-friendly tunes. As a take home or continuation component, families could complete “Art-stronaut” scavenger hunts that guided them to artworks in the museum’s collection that relate to space, planets, or stars. The works are in the museum’s permanent collection galleries, so it could be completed another day.
Program at a Glance
- Date of Program: August 13, 2011
- Target age group: 5-12
- Number of attendees: approximately 400
- Cost to attendees: Free, no registration
- One time program, repeated, or hope to repeat: Family days are monthly but the themes are new each month.
- Number of Facilitators required: We had 12 staff members and volunteers on site.
Think outside the box. You can find unique and innovative connections to your collections and exhibitions if you think outside the box and focus on the main concepts you want to address. Take step back from the usual connections that come to mind, and look at the big picture.
Remember the visitor. Pursuing interesting and perhaps unusual connections to your collection is great, but remember your visitors! When developing programs that take a unique approach to a theme, ask the question: “How will this make sense to the visitor?” That will help you refine your theme, and not lose sight of the fact that the visitor’s experience and understanding is still important.
Shelburne Museum developed Art Safari for preschool-aged visitors and their adult companions. The museum created the program after receiving multiple requests from parents and caregivers for activities targeted to children aged 3 -5. After a successful pilot in Spring of 2009, the museum instituted Art Safari as a monthly event open to members and museum visitors.
The monthly programs focus on developmental milestones for young children and are tailored to their strengths, such as naming shapes, colors, and letters and making up stories together. During these art adventures, families dive into stories and art activities related to the museum’s diverse collections. Each program is centered on a theme. In July 2011, for example, the participants “went on a picnic.” Families played I Spy in the museum’s General Store and read Pat Hutchins’s We’re Going on a Picnic before returning to the family activity center to make their own picnic baskets. Other themes include various museum exhibits, historical and environmental topics, and seasonal events.
Program at a Glance
- Date of Program: The last Wednesday of every month
- Target age group: 3-5 year olds and their caregivers
- Number of attendees: All programs have a maximum capacity of 10 children.
- Cost to attendees: $5 per child with one adult per family free ($5 per each additional adult).
- One time program, repeated, or hope to repeat: Repeated monthly
- Material costs: : Less than $50 per program
- Non-material costs: Approximately $50 per program
- Number of Facilitators required: Three paid education staff members
- Staff resources needed (hours) to develop: 2-3 hours per monthly program
Listen to Your Visitors. The museum created the program because parents and caregivers requested it. In addition, museum staff surveyed visitors who attended the pilot program and used their comments to fine-tune the activities. By listening so closely to visitor feedback, the museum filled a need in the community and developed a popular, well-attended program.
For the past two years, the Dallas Heritage Village has been welcoming visitors to its Bartering Program, which teaches families about some of the many forms that trade has taken in the past. Set prices and straightforward transactions of money for goods are ubiquitous today, but were foreign concepts until the 19th century. The Bartering Program allows families to get a sense of the give and take involved in bartering and to practice their haggling skills.
Families are provided with either currency (“Nip and Tuck Bucks,” named for the Village’s resident donkeys) or something with which they can barter. Staff members are given objects to trade and are assigned roles outlining what they’re looking to trade for. All that visitors know initially is who has what; it’s up to them to figure out what staff members want and how much different items are worth.
Everyone, visitors and staff alike, always enjoys the event, and the Bartering Program has proven to be a great conversation starter between visitors and educators. It offers family members a unique way to interact with each other, with the Dallas Heritage Village, and with history.
Program at a Glance
- Date of Program: October 9, 2009; November 14, 2009; November 6, 2010; April 9, 2011
- Target age group: children ages 5 to 10 along with their parents
- Number of attendees: 250 to 600 attendees per event
- Cost to attendees: included with admission
- One time program, repeated, or hope to repeat: repeated as part of recurring larger events such as Homeschool Day, Cub Scout Day, and Girl Scout Day
- Material costs: minimal, primarily utilizing craft supplies the museum already owns, such as large buttons, mini-brooms, spools, scraps of fabric, and yarn, as trading materials
- Non-material costs: none, as staff were already present for the larger event
- Number of Facilitators required: four history education staff and volunteers, one at each trading location
- Staff resources needed (hours) to develop: minimal– after the initial development of the basic chain for traded goods, any subsequent changes are quick and easy
Don’t over-complicate things. A simple outline or set of rules is all you need to get started if you’re willing to let your staff and visitors run with it and develop their own vision. Dallas Heritage Center staff know what they have to offer in trade and what they want in return, whereas visitors need to discover what staff members are willing to trade for. From this simple premise, interactions between staff and visitors evolve organically. Stepping back and allowing visitors to forge their own connections in their own way allows for an authentic experience that cannot be replicated.
Your visitors may surprise you. Visitors to the 13 acre Village tend to move through it in a predictable loop. The Bartering Program encourages families to go all over and even possibly return to one spot multiple times, and they have really embraced this different way of experiencing the Village. Just because a museum and its visitors fall into one pattern of interacting doesn’t mean that it’s the only way, and a change of perspective can be invigorating for all involved.
During Extra Innings Overnight at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, participants have the unique opportunity to spend a night with baseball’s legends. Children ages 7-12 and their families sleep in the Hall of Fame Gallery among the plaques honoring Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson and the rest of baseball’s greats. The evening begins at 7 PM with full access to the museum’s public areas after-hours, and includes special hands-on activities and demonstrations led by museum staff throughout the museum. Participates wrap up their evening with a late-night snack and movie in the Bullpen Theater and then sleep in the Hall of Fame Gallery. The next morning, participants have breakfast and leave the museum by 8:30, with tickets for free re-entry when the museum opens at 9.
Program at a Glance
- Date of Program: Multiple dates in March and November
- Target age group: Children age 12 and under and their families
- Number of attendees: Maximum of 50 attendees
- Cost to attendees: Pre-registration is required. Cost is $49.95 per child and $39.95 for adult chaperones.
- One time program, repeated, or hope to repeat: The program started in 2008 and runs five times a year.
- Material costs: Approximately $300 per program (includes evening snack, breakfast, and gift bag for all children attending).
- Non-material costs: Typically 3 staff and two volunteers required from 5 PM – 10 PM on evening of program, with 1-2 staff members staying overnight at the museum and remaining with group through breakfast and group exit at 8:30 am.
- Number of Facilitators required: 3 paid staff, two volunteers or interns
- Staff resources needed (hours) to develop: 1-2 hours to plan dates at the start of each year. 2-3 hours to prepare for each individual program.
Offer families a unique experience. Programs become truly memorable when families are offered a unique experience (such as after-hours access to the Hall of Fame) and made to feel special.
Plan for multiple levels of participant engagement. For the first year, the program was less structured and visitors had free time to explore the museum on their own prior to the movie. While this worked for some visitors, some of the younger children quickly lost interest in the museum exhibits and needed something more to hold their attention. The museum adapted by planning special demonstrations and programs in the galleries at scheduled times during the evening. This provided a more structured experience for kids, while also allowing those who wanted to spend time on their own in the museum the opportunity to do so.
Develop strong community partnerships. Building relationships with youth group leaders has helped to fill the program every year. The museum worked with Boy Scout leaders, and developed a very successful relationship with the organizers of an Albany area Little League that books the program every year.
Every April, the Atlanta History Center invites the public to the Smith Family Farm for Sheep to Shawl, their annual spring program. The day-long program introduces families to life on a 1860s farm through crafts, demonstrations, and hands-on activities. In the morning, family are invited to watch the sheep being shorn. After the shearing, volunteers hand out pieces of wool, which families can take with them to various stations to learn how wool was transformed into cloth in the 1860s. Crafters demonstrate carding, spinning and weaving, as well as historical trades. Storytellers and musicians delight the crowd, while families enjoy open hearth cooking, candle dipping, and egg races. This action-packed day also includes tours of the museum’s buildings and discussions about life in the slave cabins.
Program at a Glance
- Date of Program: Second Saturday in April
- Target age group: Families with young children (Preschool – 5th grade)
- Number of attendees: 1,000 for the 2011 program
- Cost to attendees: Free with museum admission
- One time program, repeated, or hope to repeat: Yearly program since 2001
- Material costs: Program budget is $4,000
- Non-material costs: Of the $4,000, $2,000 is spent on staff time and honorariums for crafters
- Number of Facilitators required: The program requires between 25 – 30 facilitators, which includes staff, volunteers and crafters.
- Staff resources needed (hours) to develop: One staff member spends a month planing the program.
Involve the community. The Atlanta History Center is exploring ways to involve local businesses and farmers in the program. Possible future collaborations include a restaurant smoking meat in the smokehouse or a farmer discussing farming in Georgia.
Families are best engaged through their senses. Adults and children love to visit the farm and touch the wool, smell the fire, hear the sheep, and see the crafters work. Sensory experiences help the past come alive for visitors and successful programs should attempt to include them.