MEX master’s student Morgan Szymanski spent her summer working at the Museum of Florida History as one of their educators. Her main task this summer was to co-create a Summer Reading Program. This free, month-long program was geared towards K-6 grade students. Every Wednesday in July, the museum brought in a special guest to read an excerpt from one of the assigned books.
For example, the first week we had the Secretary of State read the book R is for Race: A Stock Car Alphabet. We had him read that in the temporary gallery, which at the time was all about auto racing. The kids loved it! The Secretary was really engaging, and being able to have the kids listen to him read a book on race cars while being surrounded by auto racing stuff…it was really amazing to see. The theme this year was all about sports and healthy eating. So other guests included a representative from Fresh from Florida and the head chef for the Edison restaurant.
After the special guests read their except, Morgan or another educator gave a tour of the related area of the museum.
The goal was to bridge the gap between the past and the present. Since I work at a cultural history museum, we focus on how what the people did in the past change and effect the lives of those living today. I especially connected this idea to a week we did on nutrition. Using techniques I learned in class, I made my tour more of a conversation. Through that conversation, I found that many kids do not realize that there was once a time that the grocery store was not available, and that all humans had was the surrounding nature. Being able to have that conversation and then make what we have at the museum relatable to that topic worked really well.
The Summer Reading coordinators collaborated with other organizations around Tallahassee to make this program a community effort as well.
For example, one week we worked with Mission San Luis. One of the museum’s interns was tasked with giving the tour for this week, and she suggested making the tour more of a conversation between on the Mission’s live actors rather than just a plain tour. Together, they created a really interactive story about life during this time period and what the Apalachee Ball Game was and how it was involved in their culture (the theme this week was sports). They sent one of their live actors over and he assisted one of our interns in giving a tour of the early Spanish period. It was amazing to see history come alive, and see light in the kids’ eyes as they were following along with their story. It was truly magical.
Following each tour was an activity encompassing all that they learned that day. Activities ranged from coloring and making their own race cars, to making healthy snacks, to playing the museum’s version of the Apalachee Ball Game.
The activity I enjoyed seeing unfold the most was probably the last week of the program. It coincided with the opening ceremony for the Olympics so my coworker wanted to highlight that. We decided to focus on the torch relay and instead of doing a traditional tour, we wanted to do our own relay throughout the museum. So each kid had their own bag for materials, and in teams they would have to stop at different stations throughout the museum to gather ‘materials’ to make their own Olympic torches. However, in order to get their materials, they were given a question related to a certain area of the museum that they had to answer. I overheard repeat visitors say that they remembered a question from last week or that they think it is this because this happened in history…I was extremely pleased with this event, and very happy that the kids really found this enjoyable!
The skills I learned in all of my classes so far, from creating programs, to gallery talk techniques, to community engagement, to creating children’s activity sheets, to what it means to collaborate with others, proved exponentially valuable in the success of this program! It all worked as evidence by the kids’ enthusiasm, their smiles, and parent feedback. The program was such a hit that even the museum director complimented me and my coworker on its success and wants all future programs at the museum to follow in its footsteps. MEX and a plethora of knowledge that the Department of Art Education offers for all its programs helped instill in me the confidence and tools necessary to facilitate a program like this. It was very neat to see it all work, and I am excited to come back for my second year and learn even more!