Encourage reflection during and after your program. Research shows the importance of the reflective process to learning and memory making.
Tips & Takeaways
- Be prepared to disengage with visitors on their terms, when they're ready.
- Find ways for families to continue the experience either at your institution or at home, preferably both.
Quick & Easy To-Dos
- Are there opportunities during or at the end of your program to allow for a moment of reflection on your subject matter? It could be a question to answer, a short time to give an opinion, forming a small group to identify issues or share thoughts.
- Pick a program. At the end, offer participants two options for continuing their experience. It can either be a book to read, website to visit, movie to watch, place to visit, or something else to see or do in your institution.
- Add a take-home sheet that includes website links, fun activities to do at home together, and other resources. Don't forget to include your logo and website information, as well.
Build bridges between the museum and family life. In talking with families we learned that they take their museum experiences home with them, into their dining rooms during family dinners and in their cars on family vacations”
- Denver Art Museum, “Families & Art Museums,” 12.
What It's Not: "Does Anyone Have Any Questions?"
This anticlimactic, intimidating question is all to often our go-to wrap-up. Instead, what are the ways facilitators can disengage appropriately, encourage families to continue their experience, provide opportunities for reflection, and have more fun with the topic?
What It Is:
Watch Visitors' Feet and Other Cues to Disengage
Visitors usually won't tell you when they're done, but they'll show you. Feet start to shuffle, they back away, focus wanders, and so on. Take the hint. Don't end on a sour note by rambling on and insisting on telling visitors more than they want to hear. Let them go when they're ready.
During our drop-by Life at Sea program, there are transitions between one subject, say food, and the next, hygiene. Visitors who have reached their saturation point sense these transitions and use them as an escape mechanism. That's ok. If they're ready to go, we let them.
Continue the Experience
Think of it as just another transition. Your program has ended, but rather than the awkward, "Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your visit," send families away with a tangible way to continue their experience either at your institution or at home.
You can have a set continuation or base it on what your visitors showed interest in and made connections with. During our Life at Sea program, visitors interested in food on board ship are directed to the mess, or eating, area of the All Hands on Deck exhibit. If they're interest lies more in provisioning, they're sent to the Purser's Interactive.
After families have used a quill pen to complete their Seaman's Protection Certificate, keeping them safe from impressment by the Royal Navy, the facilitator sends them next door to the House of Rendezvous exhibit to take part in the recruiting interactive to see if they have what it takes to enlist on USS Constitution.
At the end of the drop-by Life at Sea program, during which facilitators show and discuss the daily ration of hard-as-a-rock ship's biscuit, they are directed to see the 150-year-old artifact biscuit - still hard as a rock!
Reproduced ships' biscuits used during the Life at Sea program.
An artifact ship's biscuit on display in the All Hands on Deck exhibit.
A 19th-century artifact biscuit from USSConstitution. Photo by David Bohl. USS Constitution Museum.
Families who build a model boat during Out Run Out Gun are given a take-home certificate that features related games and resources on the back. They are also reminded that they likely have access to the same materials at home (tin foil, masking tape, straws to build with and a bathtub or sink to float their boat), so they can try a new design and test it out at home.
Central to all forms of experiential learning theory is the need to ‘review the experience’, to establish its ‘perceived relevance’ and to engage in ‘reflective observation’…Reflection is clearly ‘intimately connected’ with the learning process. It is this period of reflection that enables the learner to establish relevance and learn from it, before moving on to apply what has been learned in new circumstances. Reflection – in enabling the learner to think about and make sense of the experience – therefore has a key role in enabling experiential learning to take place."
-Graham Black, The Engaging Museum, 141
We know how important the act of reflection and making connections is to absorbing, learning, and making meaning, so don't give it short shrift in your conclusions (and throughout your program, for that matter).
You have just done a 20-minute program with your family centered about a theme or topic, both of which you understand very well. Taking a moment to recap and reflect will give the participants a chance to digest and absorb what they've done and heard. Ask them, why does this matter? When we run our caulking (waterproofing) program, we allow visitors to do the three physical steps involved, but we end by asking or reminding them why it was a necessary process.
Reflection also helps visitors make connections between what they've learned and their own lives. After the caulking program, we often ask families, "can you imagine doing this job every day in a ship yard, on your knees or hanging by ropes over the side sitting on a plank bench?" Caregivers often pick up on these questions and re-phrase or re-ask them to children after the facilitator models the reflective question. This lays a good foundation for discussion as a family later on, which we know is a common occurrence:
“Studies of families in museums suggest that parents often have post-visit discussions with their children in the car, back at home, or during other family events...families who frequently visit museums (including art museums) often discussed their visit over dinner or referred to it when engaged in a related activity later on.” 
Facilitators can lay the groundwork for these family discussions by modeling reflective thinking during and immediately following the program.
1. Marianna Adams, et al., "What We Do and Do Not Know about Family Learning in Art Museum Interactive Spaces: A Literature Review," www.familiesinartmuseums.org, 2010: 14. Available literature on family learning in museums. This comprehensive review, circa 2010, covers the changing definitions of family, facilitation, audience motivations, social interaction, audience goals and values, parent behaviors, as well as describing the life-cycle of a family’s visit to a museum.