Story 09: Beyond Museum Walls

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How did the museum spread its new ideas about interactive learning?

Written by Patricia A. Steuert

In the '70s museum workshops and training focused on teachers from surrounding communities. Every June, staff planned and ran summer staff training for the many college-age young people who would work over the summer at day camps and community centers.

Beyond serving the local educational community, service to the museum field began with many requests from groups of museum professionals who came first to the original Jamaica Plain site and later to the Wharf. Their interests ranged from the interactive exhibitions, for which the museum was gaining national recognition, to collections strategies and community involvement.

Many groups came to learn how to start a children's museum in their own cities or home towns. Museum staff from science, art and history museums also came to understand the educational techniques used in The Children's Museum's exhibitions and programs. When the number of requests began to take too much of both staff and director's time, we decided to offer a workshop called: How to Start, Not to Start, a Children's Museum. This two-day seminar, always given on a Friday/Saturday, was limited to fifty participants and was offered every other year for eight years. Representatives from almost every children's museum that started in the '80s and '90s participated. Curricula for this seminar was evaluated and changed over time and eventually expanded into a small book of the same title and published by what eventually became the Association of Children's Museums.

Since most startup museum representatives had other jobs or families—or both—the Friday/Saturday seminar model worked well for participants: one work day off (Friday), one day on their own time (Saturday) and still a day to travel and be with their families. Later, this efficient two-day model was used for what was called Back-to-Back Seminars on other museum topics including PlaySpace, Native American Culture, What If You Couldn't?, and Multicultural Programs. In all of these seminars, presenters included outside experts from other museums as well as the appropriate children's museum staff. The seminars were usually oversubscribed, and fees were often paid by the museums that sent their staff.

Publishing staff-written educational books and materials was another way to disseminate The Children's Museum ideas. Commercial publishing also provided advances for staff members to complete their writing, and once completed, their published works eventually provided royalties for the museum, another important source of income.

The early MATCh Kits, published by American Science and Engineering, were sold and distributed nationally. Museum Developer Bernie Zubrowski began his prolific writing career with a series of books published in 1978 by Little, Brown and Co. Over the next thirty years, he published seventeen children's books, twelve curriculum guides for teachers, and numerous articles on science education, much of which had begun—and was extensively "field-tested"—in The Children's Museum programs, both in the museum and out in the community.

Publishers were found for books by many other senior staff developers. We used every opportunity and every format to underwrite the research and development costs associated with in-house staff working on projects over long periods of time. But even more importantly, commercial publishing was a way of extending the museum's learning philosophies to a much broader audience. Some publications, including We're Still Here and Opening The Museum, were not published commercially but as part of government or foundation grants. These books were sold through the Museum Shop and the American Association of Museum's Bookstore.

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