Family Learning Forum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

Lessons Learned from Successful Family Programs

Team up within your institution

When developing a new program, it is important to look outside of the education department and involve multiple departments in the planning process. The more communication between colleagues the smoother things will run and the better experience your visitors will have.

Success Stories: Asian Art Museum’s Family Festival, The Bakken Museum’s Super Science Saturdays, The Burke Museum’s Behind the Scenes Night, Corning Museum of Glass’s Audio Tour, Jamestown Settlement’s Canoe Building, and Woodland Park Zoo’s Discovery Team.

Ask your audience

If you are thinking about something new for your institution, look to your audience for guidance. Find out what kinds of programs they might be looking for and then offer them the chance to help develop the new program.

Success Stories: Connecticut’s Old State House’s Reenactment Trail, Corning Museum of Glass’s Audio Tour, and Hatfield Marine Science Center’s Oregon Coast Quest.

Engage all ages and learning styles

Consider all age ranges, form preschool to adults, when developing new programs. Work with multiple intelligences and combine minds on activities with other hands on or physical components to offer something for everyone.

Success Stories: Carpenter Nature Center’s Pre School Story Time, Museum of History and Industry’s Civil War Living History Day, and Victorian & Albert Museum’s Activity Cart.

Respect families’ needs

Visitors appreciate activities that are both developmentally and physically accommodating for everyone in the family unit. Flexibility is also key in helping families balance their needs and interests.

Success Stories: The Landing’s Victorian Easter Egg Roll, Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Target Family Days, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s Fastest Ice Cream in the West!, Paul Revere House’s Midnight Ride Storytelling, Science Museum of Minnesota’s Collector’s Corner, and Wenham Museum’s Building for the Future.

craft activity

Encourage doing and making

A hands-on activity provides a teachable moment and engages the visitor in an authentic and memorable experience. Take-home mementos, such as a craft project completed at the museum, also gives the family a tangible item that will help them remember a wonderful day together.

Success Stories: Asian Art Museum’s Family Festival, Experience Museum Project Science Fiction Museum’s On Stage, Minnesota History Center’s History HiJinx, and  The Wright County Historical Society’s Minnesota’s Sesquicentennial.

Think creatively for memorable programs

Different, outside the box, themes can attract a new audience and will also make your core audience happy by offering new opportunities. It will also make the museum feel less formal and more fun. However, make sure the theme or activity connects to the museum’s collections and/or exhibits.

Success Stories: Bell Museum and Natural History’s Fungi Fest, Minnesota History Center’s History HiJinx, Old Main Historical Society’s Johnny Clem Day, and Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s Fastest Ice Cream in the West!

An empowered visitor is a happy visitor

Inquiry based learning, which puts the visitors’ questions and interest in the forefront, offers a high energy and visitor-centered approach to learning. A simple prompt of “what do you see…” or “what happens if…” can lead to a new discovery made by the visitor almost entirely on their own.

Success Stories: Jamestown Settlement’s Canoe Building, Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Target Family Days, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s ChemLab, Victorian & Albert Museum’s Activity Cart, and Woodland Park Zoo’s Discovery Teams.

Attract visitors with their at-the-moment interests

Use the visitors’ at-the moment interests, such as themes involving holidays or popular culture events, as a way to target family audiences. This will help attract family audiences because it is already a subject they are thinking about and planning for.

Success Stories: Harvard Museum of Natural History’s Harry Potter Scavenger Hunt, The Landing’s Victorian Easter Egg Roll, Museum of History and Industry’s Civil War Living History Day, Peabody Museum’s Day of the Dead Family Event, and USS Constitution Museum’s Halloween Haunt.

Reach out to local businesses and community members for support

Don’t be too timid to contact a local business, group, or community member to assist in the planning of a new program.  Their help can strengthen a program and aid the museum in achieving their goals.

Success Stories: Bell Museum and Natural History’s Fungi Fest, Minnesota History Center’s History HiJinx, Old Main Historical Society’s Johnny Clem Day, andThe Work’s Tech Fest

Use your professional network

Educators of both in-formal and formal institutions can sometimes use a little inspiration. If you need some support when developing a new education program try looking at other institutions around you. Don’t be afraid to share your progress, or lack thereof, with other professionals in the field.

Success Stories: Connecticut’s Old State House’s Reenactment Trail, Hatfield Marine Science Center’s Oregon Coast Quest, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s ChemLab, andThe Wright County Historical Society’s Minnesota’s Sesquicentennial.