The New Britain Museum of American Art hosts a program for toddlers and their caregivers which features art-making, and a self-guided scavenger hunt. Serving children ages 24-36 months, ‘Museum & Me, Too’ includes story time, singing, and dancing for toddlers and adults to enjoy together. Children explore a variety of art materials in the art studio to make a project based on a theme. Projects are intended to encourage engagement between generations. The art projects are within the grasp of toddlers, but often necessitate some adult assistance to ensure that the children use the materials correctly. When toddlers finish making their mini-masterpieces, children and adults can take a scavenger hunt sheet and explore the Museum on their own to find artworks with connections to the day’s theme. The scavenger hunt illustrates how to connect learning with the Museum’s collection. This allows families to self-guide the rest of their visit and continue learning at home.
The museum educator sets clear expectations at the beginning of the program that adults’ participation is welcome and encouraged. Adults can assist in the learning process by encouraging their child to engage with the program, helping their child when needed, and making them feel safe in the environment. During the staff-guided portion of the program, participation (answers to simple questions posed by staff about colors, shapes etc.) is geared toward the young children, but at this early age, adults may jump in by answering the question quietly to their child. The adults are asked to be very close to, and keep an eye on, their child for the duration of the program; adults are involved every step of the way. Museum staff hope that through this program, parents and caregivers will understand how to use the Museum as a resource for learning, even at a very early age.
The program has evolved through multiple stages of development. It has gone through prototyping to make it a more unique program to set it apart from other early elementary programs, as well as to enhance the engagement between families in the program. For example, previously, the museum educator would look at works in the galleries with all of the families in a group. After observing the difficulty the parents had keeping their children engaged, the Museum altered this by creating scavenger hunts so that the parent and child can explore the Museum at their own pace. The Museum’s most important goal for family programs is to make everyone in the family feel happy, welcome, and comfortable in the Museum. While it is important to stick to schedules and objectives so that everyone understands the expectations of attending the program, museum staff try to remain flexible and accommodating. Staff members always try to remember that bringing a toddler anywhere is never easy, so it’s important to be gracious to the participating families.
Special thanks to Kate Swanson, Coordinator of Family and Community Programs, New Britain Museum of American Art http://www.nbmaa.org/