by Madeline McGraw
As the only museum staff member in a combined library and museum, I am often faced with unique challenges and possibilities. Our staff is very small, so rather than spreading ourselves too thin, we often choose a single issue and find multiple ways of engaging with it. This year, one of our main focuses has been early literacy. The library has had a successful story time program for many years, and as a staff we felt that incorporating the museum into this program would be beneficial for everyone involved.
Like many other museums, we have had issues with welcoming parents of small children and babies into our museum space. They often feel that there is no content that will be entertaining for their children, and they worry that they will bother other guests or their children will harm the museum objects. I felt that by incorporating story time, a program that they already feel comfortable with, into the museum space, we could help parents become more confident that they belong in the museum. I began assisting with the story time sessions in the library space, so that the families would be comfortable with me as an authority figure once we moved into the museum.
The usual story time syllabus includes two or three short picture books, several rhymes, and an activity or craft at the end. The program runs for an hour, although it sometimes ends early or runs late depending upon the mood of the group. For our first museum story time, I created a list of behavior guidelines called “Museum Explorers”. This was handed out to the parents at story time, and I led the children through it after we read our first book. We will use this handout to begin each of our future museum story time sessions, as a quick refresher for the families. For our activity at the end of the session, we toured through the museum with our second handout, which was a basic scavenger hunt of shapes, sounds, and colors. We already had a scavenger hunt in the museum for children over 5, but we wanted one that parents with toddlers could use as well.
To me, this event was a success for a variety of reasons. The children were able to focus on listening comprehension in a new space without losing interest or becoming frustrated. Parents felt comfortable and confident interacting with their children in the museum after story time had ended. While I supervised them, I never actually had to tell a child not to climb on an exhibit or touch an object-the parents, using their “Museum Explorers” handouts, were able to explain museum behavior without my assistance. Most importantly, every family left the museum excited for their next visit, knowing that the museum belongs to them as much as it does to anyone else in our community.