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Story 09: Beyond Museum Walls

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Part I: Teacher Services Department

Written by Patricia A. Steuert

I came to The Children's Museum in 1968 fresh out of Boston University and recent work in the Civil Rights Movement. I was married, had two young children and had been substitute teaching in the Boston Public Schools. I served on the Citizens for Boston Schools, an advocacy group raising awareness of the disparities between poor and affluent public schools in the Boston system. As a parent who was soon to send my children to public school, I was alarmed at the disrepair and broken buildings in which children were supposed to learn.

One Saturday afternoon I took my five-year-old daughter to the museum on the Jamaicaway to see a play held in the auditorium. We went inside the museum where Mike Spock's first experimental exhibition called What's Inside? captured both of our attentions. The exhibit was well designed and informative for both parent and child. Both the tone and the content of the exhibit was such a contrast to what I was seeing in the many Boston neighborhood schools where I was teaching. No one there infused learning with such a sense of curiosity or with such genuine respect for and appeal to the learner. This exhibit made visitors—children and adults—want to learn more.

As my children started school, I was looking for meaningful part-time work. I interviewed for a job as a librarian at The Children's Museum, which I didn't get, but six months later I got a call. They wanted me to come in and talk about a new position "working with teachers."

The Children's Museum was founded in 1913 by teachers who wanted to give children experiences with natural history and cultural collections objects. They created exhibits and programs for neighborhood children in a large Victorian house across from Jamaica Pond in Boston. In addition, the museum's School Services Department circulated kits of materials to schools, mostly objects from the collections, such as seashells gathered in people's travels to other countries. These were designed to be set up as exhibits in the classroom, and teachers could use them in whatever way they saw fit.

Although the program was very active, the kit materials were dated. By 1962, when Mike Spock became director, some of the kits needed repair and most of them did not reflect the progressive educational philosophy that interested him and other museum staff. Mike hired Fred Kresse, who had designed educational training materials for the U.S. Air Force, to apply for a grant from the U.S. Office of Education to fund a series of what they now called MATCh Boxes (Materials and Activities (or Aids) for Teachers and Children; sometimes referred to as MATCh Kits). The initial grant of $188,000, which funded a two-year project, was larger than the museum's operating budget and enabled the hiring of many gifted content specialists. Funding was later increased to about $450,000, which in 1964 was a lot of money, and enabled the museum to work on MATCh Boxes for about five years.

Next: How did the new progressive education of the '60s impact both schools and the museum?