You’ve seen them rumbling into the museum — bundles of energy packaged in all sizes, trailed by moms pushing strollers and a few dads in jeans. In they come, and they want a tour! A tour for all, ages six months to 55. Maybe you, dedicated educator and part-rime magician that you are, can call upon a docent skilled in intergenerational touring to provide them an appropriate experience — or, maybe nor. In any case, home school groups usually require special advance planning to prepare both visitors and guides for a successful museum tour.
At the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum we offer tours of specific exhibits for each grade level, and we require teachers to prepare students by using the free materials we provide. Because our facility is small and full of delicate objects that may not be handled, we cannot turn groups loose without proper supervision, and we have learned that proper supervision means careful preparation and staff presence. Because our docent group has few members in its ranks, and is available on a limited basis requiring advance scheduling, we are nor able to offer guided tours to walk-in visitors. So home schoolers, like formal school groups, must follow certain procedures for reserving tours. But, it takes a lot of time and flexibility to work with these groups and families to make possible a visit that meets their needs.
By trial and error we have streamlined our process as follows:
1- Identify a central contact person who will be responsible for communications between the museum education staff and the home school parents in the group.
2- Establish a schedule for completing the tour arrangements, delivery of materials, student preparation, and return of confirmation forms, evaluations, and any other required paperwork.
3- Make teacher materials available both from the museum’s website and in print form by mail.
4- Notify the contact person of any missed deadlines in rime to remedy the situation. Although there is as much variety among home school groups as among traditional classes, some general characteristics seem to pertain. Many chose this approach to educating children due to their child’s special needs or a parent’s political or religious viewpoint. Home schoolers rend to be accompanied by more parents and pre-school age siblings, while tours are usually developed for one age group.
Although they are accustomed to working at home with siblings of different ages, it is sometimes difficult for home schooled children to adjust to touring in the museum with “classmates” from other families with whom they may not be well acquainted.
The range of abilities and maturity may be wider among home schoolers than a typical classroom group.
All these variables and factors can affect group dynamics and response to tour content. These variables must be taken into account when considering gallery space, possible distractions, pacing and movement through the building, as well as in the amount and types of supplies used for any follow-up activities.
Docents need to be ready to handle everything from the eleven-year-old boy who won’t stand near anyone else, to the mother whose “creationist” beliefs prompt her to object to making reference to fossils in the limestone of the museum’s facade. Parental involvement in tours for home schoolers is often greater. These parents are accustomed to being “the teacher.” In addition, the parents are often both interested themselves and highly invested in their child’s performance. While such involvement can be good, a parent’s intervention can prevent the student from participating fully. When this occurs, the docent should be prepared with diplomatic reminders such as “This time I would like to hear from a student,” or “I hope you’ll be able to discuss that more at home, bur since our rime is short we need to move on now.”
Since we expect students to be familiar with vocabulary and concepts basic to the tour, we have found it wise to use the pre-tour gathering rime to engage these visitors in a conversation that allows us to assess their readiness and, if necessary, provide a brief review. This goes for museum manners, tour logistics, and orientation to the facility, as well as specific tour content. While this may be a technique you already use for all your tours, it can be especially important with visitors as varied as most home school groups. Establishing the common ground on which you will be working together before you begin is certainly easier than regrouping later when you discover that you aren’t all on the same tour.
As is true of all tours, each home school group experience will be distinct, both for them and you. We have found meeting the challenges of adapting our program to their needs to be rewarding. It continues to be a learning opportunity for us all. And who knows? You may even get a hand-calligraphed and illustrated “thank you note” with a basket of home made cookies, as we did recently.
Susan Miner has been education director at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum in Wichita, Kansas, for the past 28years. Ms. Miner has contributed several articles to The Docent Educator, the most recent of which was “Study Trips as Educational Incentives”, which appeared in the Summer 1998 issue (Vol 7, No. 4) that focused on the topic of “Preventing Burnout: Incentives and Benefits.
Miner, Susan. “The Challenge of Touring Home School Groups,” The Docent Educator 12.2 (Winter 2002-03): 6-7.