The Mother Daughter Book Club at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library in Winterthur DE, takes place on the first Thursday of every month from November to May from 6-8pm. The program is presented as a series, so the experience continues over the 7 months, and the books must be read ahead of time. Each meeting starts with an opening ice-breaker activity followed by a discussion of the book by a different mother-daughter pair each month. The program is concluded with a snack that relates to the book in some way and a craft activity. The books used in the program span the same period of history as the Museum’s collection (pilgrims to the Oregon Trail). During the first meeting, staff members facilitate the book discussion and model for the mother-daughter pairs who will be leading in subsequent meetings. Staff members also provide the snack for the first meeting, but then that role also moves to the various mother-daughter pairs. The book discussion should be led by the daughter in the group (this is something staff members sometimes struggle to convey to the parent). Hopefully, involving the children and adults in this way this helps staff members to maintain engagement throughout the duration of the program
Since both the mother and daughter are required to read the book each month, the group has a great starting point for multi-generational conversation. Staff members encourage the mother-daughter pairs to come up with their own questions and talking points for the book discussions together. Adults generally don’t have a problem participating; the moms enjoy these books just as much, if not more than their daughters do sometimes. Staff members sometimes have to limit the adults’ participation.
The goals of the program are to help participants develop a fuller understanding of the history of the US, as well as develop an interest in history and reading. Since the history that the program covers spans the history of the Museum’s collection, staff members are also providing background information related to their collection. Staff members hope to engage some new families with Winterthur through this program, as well as strengthen the engagement with families who already visit Winterthur. Many of the book club participants have gone on to participate in other programs the Museum offers such as their teen volunteer program.
Since this program takes place from 6-8 pm and is after closing hours, staff members have chosen to use a location on their site that is not attached to the Museum, eliminating the need for any extra security staff during the program. Also, related to the location, is the ease of parking. There is a parking lot located right next to this building eliminating the need for the typical shuttle that takes visitors from the Visitor Center to the Museum. The one downside of this choice is that they are not at the Museum where the relevant collection pieces are located. To help with that, they try to bring over as many objects from the demonstration collection as they can and substitute with pictures as needed.
The program has evolved over the past 9 years. In the beginning there were larger changes from year to year, but now they have a system that works and they are sticking to it for now. Newer staff members are facilitating the program which is a good way to keep the program fresh. One strength of the program is that staff members allow the mother-daughter pairs to be the facilitators, and in some ways, the content creators. While staff members have chosen the stories ahead of time, each year the discussion will change slightly. Staff members don’t change the books from year to year in general, meaning that it is easily replicated from year to year and does not require much prep other than gathering supplies and such. This makes the program extremely sustainable. If you asked the participants though, they might say that this is a drawback of the program, since they can only participate in it one time. This year though, they do have a mother from a prior year returning with her younger daughter.
If other museums are interested in replicating this program, the staff at Winterthur suggests utilizing elements from your other activities such as other school and family programs. Once you find something that works, stick with it! Another key point in the success of this program is requiring some work on the part of the mother-daughter pairs. It helps if they are invested and committed to the group and to the discussion, as this creates a richer experience for everyone involved.
Special thanks to Megan Millman, Program Assistant at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library http://www.winterthur.org/