Day at the Museum: A Midwinter Guide to Field Trips

March 17–21, 2014   |   Vol. 119, Programs 1–5

The days might still be cold and short, but the best cure for cabin fever is a field trip! This week on Home School Heartbeat, host Mike Smith and a special guest from the Smithsonian Institute explore lots of options for finding—or creating—a museum field trip for your homeschooled students.

“It is much more productive for a child to be able to focus on one exhibition or even one area of a single exhibition: to really be able to take their time, to take breaks and really explore deeply.”—Stevie Engelke

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Have you seen a little too much of your kitchen table by this point in the school year? Well, if winter weather is keeping you indoors, it might just be time to give your homeschool a change of scenery! This week on Home School Heartbeat, host Mike Smith explores a world of learning at the museum.

Mike Smith: The long winter months are a perfect time to explore museums in your area. The various kinds of museums offer a great chance to learn in a different way. It’s a more hands-on, up-close approach to education!

There are many different kinds of museums. Maybe you immediately think of fine art—and that’s one great kind of museum to visit! Art museums are a wonderful place to explore what has been beautiful and thought-provoking to humans for centuries. And don’t forget to bring a sketch pad and a pencil to the art gallery—all that inspiration could just unleash the budding artist within your student!

But maybe your child is a little young for the look-don’t-touch kind of museum. In that case, you’ll want to check for a children’s museum near you! Here, your child can explore the way things work, or find hands-on activities, or crawl through a space designed just for them.

If you have a student who never lost that curiosity about what makes things go, check out science and history museums! You might never have thought of visiting the birthplace of a notable invention, but often you’ll find an exhibit showing that object’s progress through the years—whether it’s trains or telephones!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Start exploring, and watch your options for a midwinter field trip blossom! Next time, we’ll talk about how to prepare your student for a trip to the museum! And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Today, our guest is Stevie Engelke, [associate director for education programs at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access]. Stevie, thanks so much for joining us!

Stevie Engelke: Oh, I’m happy to be here!

Mike: Stevie, the Smithsonian family of museums are an incredible resource for learning. And you and your team provide resources to help educators and families make the most of those museums. So would you give our listeners some tips on how home educating parents can prepare their children for a great learning experience, before they ever get to the museum?

Stevie: Yes, well the internet makes it very easy to prepare for a trip to the museum. So, I suggest you start with the museum’s website. Museum trips can be very fun but it helps to really focus on a purpose for the visit, to either look at a special object that connects with something your child has been reading about, to be able to have an opportunity to talk to someone doing research in an area that your child is excited to learn more about, or simply to explore an area that might have a connection to a future career choice. Our website at the Smithsonian, smithsonianeducation.org, has a section that’s for families specifically, and that’s a good place to start, with activities that you can do with your child before you ever get to the museum.

Mike: Well, thank you so much, Stevie! We’ll talk next time about actually visiting museums. And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Stevie Engelke, [associate director for education programs at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access] joins us again today. Stevie, visiting a museum—especially a big museum like the Smithsonian—can be overwhelming! There’s so much to see! How can parents help their students to get the most out of a museum visit?

Stevie Engelke: Well, you’re absolutely right. A museum, any museum, can be very overwhelming. And lots of times, I think that parents feel that it has taken so much effort and planning to get to the museum that they have got to do everything possible once they’re there. I think that it’s much more productive for a child to be able to focus on one exhibition or even one area of a single exhibition: and to really be able to take their time, to take breaks and really explore deeply. And one thing that we have in our family section at smithsonianeducation.org, which I think is just charming—it’s an example of a family that came to the Smithsonian, and their children did “learning journals” while they were at the Smithsonian. So, in the family section, you can find that, and it gives you just lots of ideas of how your child can personalize what it is that they’re doing while they’re exploring all of the wonderful resources at the museum.

Mike: Stevie, thanks for sharing with us again today. Those are great tips! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: I’m joined again today by Stevie Engelke, from the Smithsonian Center for [Learning and Digital Access]. Stevie, for families who don’t live near a major museum, their field trip may be just a one-time adventure. Do you have some good tips on how to keep the learning going, even after they get home?

Stevie Engelke: Lots of museums now post resources on their websites, as do we. We have in our student section—we have activity sheets that you can download that really relate to any museum exhibit. There are also videos that you can watch of curators and museum specialists talking about the work that they do. But what I’m particularly excited about is that we have a series of online conferences that are interactive conferences with Smithsonian experts that are free of charge to anyone, and we have a large homeschooling audience for these. So if you go to shoutlearning.org, you’ll find that we have upcoming environmental discussions revolving around the use and protection of our water sources. We have podcasts, and we have student activities that are prompts for students to do things at home and then post them on a sharing website.

Mike: Well, thanks so much, Stevie! That’s very helpful. You’ve given us some great suggestions for making the most of a museum field trip. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: This week, we’ve been talking about heating up your midwinter homeschooling routine with a day at the museum. Now, you might be thinking, “This would be great if I lived near DC, New York, or LA. But our family is in the middle of nowhere!”

Not so fast, my friend! Do you live near a college or university? You might discover anything from an inspiring collection of fine art, to a natural history treasure trove, to an exhibit of engineering feats.

If you’re far from a big city or college town, take a close look at the local scene. Is there a collection related to a local agricultural or manufacturing invention? Many historical societies have museums or historical houses related to a famous local figure. See if they have regular tours or educational days, or if someone from your local historical society would arrange a special tour, just for your homeschool!

And with today’s online resources, if you can’t road-trip to a bigger town for some museum action, you aren’t stuck! Want to take a tour of the Louvre? It’s at your fingertips! Or explore the architecture of Rome with a virtual tour! Our friends at the Smithsonian offer great help for learning, and we’ll have some special resources from them available online for you.

The only limitation on what you can do as a homeschooler is your imagination. So start dreaming! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Lynn-Steven (Stevie) Engelke

Lynn-Steven (Stevie) Engelke is associate director for education programs at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access. She manages Smithsonian Quests, an online education conference series and student digital badging program; has created exhibitions and museum learning centers; and written and published museum-based education materials in science, social studies, and the arts. Stevie has a BA in anthropology and an MAT in museum education from the George Washington University and has completed graduate programs at Columbia University, the University of Lausanne, and Maryland Institute College of Art. She is a board member of the American Alliance of Museums’ Education Professional Network (EdCom), has served on the faculty of Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Future of Learning Institute, been a Fellow at HGSE Project Zero, and is a coach for the HGSE WIDE World online learning program. Honors and awards include Phi Beta Kappa, American Alliance of Museums’ Media and Technology MUSE Award, and the Maryland Peabody Award.

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