For over a decade, the docents at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum have been taking occasional study trips to visit out-of-town museums whose programs and exhibits have something to offer for our professional development. Those of us accustomed to giving tours enjoy being on the receiving end of the educational offerings at museums, near and far, whose collections and programs relate to our own.
When we were developing our tour for third graders, we visited the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka to learn how they taught about the Wichita Indians’ life on the prairie, which became the focus of our tour. We were able to adapt many topics and techniques, based on their research and experience.
Our trip to Colonial Williamsburg took us not only to another region but also to a different era. While we reveled in the beauty of the colonial village in full Christmas glory, we spent part of each day observing school group tours, interviewing education staff, chatting with interpreters, and finding ways to incorporate their approach into our house tours of a recreated Victorian cottage.
By the time we set out for Massachusetts, we were ready to tackle Boston, Deerfield, and Old Sturbridge Village, where we again arranged special visits with educators who gave us insights into a variety of programs. The middle school tour at the Harrison Gray Otis House in Boston gave us the courage to begin the planning that eventually resulted in our own eighth grade tour in Wichita history.
We have also taken trips to see a particular exhibit, such as our visit to “A City Comes of Age: Chicago in the 1890’s” at the Chicago Historical Society, which greatly enhanced our appreciation of the late Victorian urban scene at a time when Wichita’s aspirations were also booming. On other occasions, we have focused on historic homes, as when we traveled the Hudson River Valley and toured nine houses in two and an half days!
As you can imagine, we fill every day with activity, often offering choices so that small groups can take in different sites or proceed at their own pace. We do travel together, stay at the same hotel, and plan most dinners and evenings out as a group. While we each pay our own expenses, we find that going with colleagues sharing many of the same interests does enhance our enjoyment and stimulate our learning.
Another type of trip that offers an outstanding education opportunity is attendance at the biennial National Docent Symposium. Since the Symposium first included docents from non-art museums, we have sent at least one representative to each of these excellent conferences. The exciting ideas shared at these meetings with our peers from across the country always spark new notions of how to improve our training, hone our skills, boost our creativity, and maintain our dedication to good museum education. The next Symposium is scheduled for Philadelphia, October 2-5, 1999, and we are already planning a docent study trip to the Brandywine River museums in conjunction with that event. (For further information, contact: Philadelphia Museum of Art, National Docent Symposium, Volunteer Services Department, PO Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19010-7646.)
The benefits to the individual of study trips can vary from pleasant diversion to serious scholarship. (I was able to use information from our visit to Old Sturbridge Village in my master’s degree project.) And the museum gains the renewed loyalty of docents who have become travel buddies with shared memories of exciting museum visits, full of new enthusiasm for creating great tours of their own.
Susan Miner is Education Director at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum in Wichita, KS, which is her travel base for docent study trips.
Miner, Susan. “Study Trips as Educational Incentives,” The Docent Educator 7.4 (Summer 1998): 5.