A type of educational resource that often gets overlooked is museums! Studies consistently show students can best retain information when they can use or see it in a hands-on manner. I was reminded of how much I enjoy museum based learning a few weeks ago when I was visiting Charlotte, North Carolina. While visiting, we stumbled up the Billy Graham Library, a state of the art museum dedicated to the life and work of evangelist Billy Graham. I grew up hearing about Billy Graham but I only knew general information about him. As we walked through his childhood home and video based exhibitions, showcasing the various stages of his ministry and life, I was in awe of how little I knew about such a substantial figure in American history. I think the majority of Americans have no idea he was the first religious figure invited to speak in the Soviet Union and he has been an adviser to every U.S. president, except President Obama, over the past 50 years. I enjoyed reading the letters written to him by various presidents, seeing the award he was given by Queen Elizabeth, and watching family videos. I write all these details because this is information I never would have learned had I not experienced it in this museum setting.
When I went back to school to get my master’s degree, I decided to take a break from teaching in the classroom so I would have more time to work on my own schoolwork (it was difficult to find time to study when I was bringing hours of work home every night from my own classroom). During these two years, I worked as the Education Director for a local children’s museum and it was there I realized the importance of museum based learning in a community. Museums enable children to learn about people and places they would not be able to see or visit in their own town. For example, we do not have any Powhatan villages in our town but we did have a full scale, hands-on exhibition of one!
Working in a museum reminded me of how much of an impact museums had on me personally. When I was young, my parents frequently took me to The Museum of Discovery in Little Rock, Arkansas. It is amazing that more than 20 years later I can still remember everything I learned about snakes during a reptile show and playing with prisms to create rainbows. The Museum of Discovery provided so many hands-on experiences that have stuck with me over the years and I know I used the information I learned there all the way through college and now teaching in my own classroom.
The biggest reason I hear teachers and parents say they do not take their kids to museums is because of the cost. Most museums are nonprofit so they have to charge everyone in order to keep their doors open. But, here’s a few tips from someone who used to help thousands of children experience museum based learning annually despite costs:
- First, if you are looking to take a school group to a museum be sure to ask about their rates for school groups.
- Most museums also offer additional discounts to schools with low test scores, special needs classes, and/or schools with a high percentage of students on free or reduced lunch. A lot of museums will not advertise these additional discounts so make sure to ask, even if the discount is not listed in a brochure or a sign in the museum.
- Another great way to get students involved with museum based learning is to meet with museum directors to see if it is possible to collaborate on a grant that would enable students to visit the museum. I worked with several schools on grants that gave students museum based, hands-on experiences both at the museum and within their classrooms. I even had a few schools who were able to visit on a weekly or monthly basis for free thanks to grants.
- Plan an after hours event for your school. Many museums will open their doors after hours for private parties and large groups. Almost all the schools who had family nights at the museum were able to use Title I or grant funding to have the event.
Museums are a great way to help students retain information and provide them with experiences they will remember for life! If you are interested in taking your class to a museum but are unable to due to cost, the most important thing is to ask lots of questions. Even though museums are educational institutions, they still have to make money and will not advertise certain discounts.