For nearly 30 years, the Houston Museum of Natural Science has collaborated with the Junior League of Houston, Inc. in a science box outreach program for children with special needs — children for whom it would be difficult to come to the Museum on a field trip. The Junior League provides the funding and the volunteers to serve as docents, and the Museum supplies the artifacts, specimens, and training for this highly successful program.
The outreach program is accomplished using 17 science boxes. Each explores a different topic, such as Reptiles and Amphibians, Mammals, Fish, Birds, Native Americans, Astronomy, and the Human Body. Large-sized fishing tackle boxes work best because their little shelves and compartments accommodate objects of various sizes and shapes.
Each docent is assigned to one school, where she teaches one or two groups of children. She presents all 17 topics throughout the school year during 1.5 to 2 hour visits to her assigned school, twice a month. Repeated visits allow the docent to get acquainted and bond with her group.
This extraordinary program works well primarily because of the skill and dedication of the volunteers who staff it. For example, when teaching students whose ages were 9 to 13 (but whose learning level was between 1st and 2nd grades), docent Susan Doherty used a book with large, colorful drawings and photographs to instantly captured their attention. She kept the children focused by never taking more than two specimens out of her box at a time, and by putting each object out of sight after that discussion ended. Throughout her lesson, Susan engaged the audience by asking questions and acknowledging every answer. Glowing, attentive faces revealed how impressed the students were with her presentation.
Like many docents, Susan gives something very special to this outreach effort … her time, her enthusiasm, and most of all, herself. Countless children throughout the past 30 years have benefited from people like Susan, who care enough to participate in this program.
We, at Houston Museum of Natural Science, invite others to use our outreach program as a model for their own adaptations. We would be delighted to share our information and experience. Just write or call:
Coordinator of Volunteer and Docent Programs
Houston Museum of Natural Science
One Hermann Circle Drive
Houston, TX 77030-1799
Marilyn J. Young, Coordinator of Volunteer and Docent Programs, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, TX
Young, Marilyn J. “It Works for Me…Sharing successful techniques and ideas.,” The Docent Educator 3.2 (Winter 1993): 14.