Families value experiences they can't get at home or haven't experienced somewhere else.
Tips & Takeaways
- What is it that people can do, see, hear, touch, and learn at your site that they can't do elsewhere or at home? Find the twist that makes your program topic distinct or unique to your institution.
Quick & Easy To-Dos
- Take a program idea or a program you already do. Ask yourself, could this program be replicated at another museum or library? If so, maybe there’s a way to make it unique to your institution. Is there a small twist you can throw in that links directly to your institution or community?
- Think of a great program you saw elsewhere that you considered “appropriating” for your institution ;). Is there anything you can add or change that directly connects it to your community and/or your site?
- Make a list of the activities and content you offer that are distinctive to your site. Can you form a program around one or more of them?
Many institutions offer build-a-boat activities, so the USS Constitution Museum made their program distinctive by adding challenges directly related to USS Constitution's design and construction, including a budget for supplies, holding pennies (cannons), and sailing fast enough to out run the enemy. Learn more about the program here.
Find Your Twist!
What is unique, unusual, or distinctive about your institution, your collections, or your community? How can you leverage those things in your programming to offer a distinctive experience? Doing so helps families connect the activity to their greater experience with your institution and/or community and provides a reason to visit and participate.
We all “steal” program ideas from each other. But how do we make them an experience appropriate to our institution? Programs should never exist in a void. The Engage Families Team calls this "content integrity." Participants shouldn't leave a program asking themselves, “Why did I do that here?” If they can’t make the connection to your institution’s message or content, there’s something wrong.
Making it Your Own: Two Examples
Writing with Quill Pens the USS Constitution Way
Lots of places do a quill pen-writing program. The USS Constitution Museum added our own twist: Use the quill pen to fill out a Seaman’s Protection Certificate and learn about one of the major causes of the War of 1812 and one of the major concerns (impressment) for early American sailors on USS Constitution. Learn more about the program here.
Filling out a reproduction Seaman’s Protection Certificate.
A family writing with quill pens and learning about USS Constitution’s sailors in this drop-by facilitated program.
A Seaman’s Protection Certificate from 1808. These documents protected American sailors from impressment by the British, one of the main causes of the War of 1812. USS Constitution Museum Collection.
Alka-Seltzer Cannons and the Defense of Dorchester Heights at Historic New England
Excerpted from Historic New England Magazine. 
At Historic New England's 17th-century Pierce House, program designers use an Alka-Seltzer cannon firing activity to get kids excited about the fortification of near-by Dorchester Heights during the Revolutionary War. Read more: "Local History - With a Bang!"