Summer museum programs designed for children
Published: Sunday, June 23, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 5:59 p.m.
The children in Bonnie Bernau's home school program at the Harn Museum of Art crowd around the mirrors at the entrance of the newest "Much Ado About Portraits" exhibit.
Museum summer programs
Matheson Museum: The Matheson's summer program, in conjunction with the Alachua County Library District, teaches students about archeology, the Civil War and geology, among other topics. Every Wednesday from June 26 to Aug. 7, students ages 5-11 can visit the Headquarters Library at 11 a.m. for programs. For more information, call 378-2280.
Florida Museum of Natural History: Camps run through Aug. 2. Topics include paleontology, nature photography, engineering and butterflies. Camps are designed for students enrolled in grades 1-6 for the 2013-14 school year. Parents can choose between morning sessions ($115 for members/$125 for nonmembers), afternoon sessions (same price), all day ($220/$245) and field camps which take students off museum grounds ($265/$295). To register, call 273-2061.
Harn Museum of Art: Weekly camps for ages 7-10 run through Aug. 9. Topics include self-portraits, printmaking and recyclable art. Morning or afternoon sessions cost $120 for members/$140 for nonmembers, and full day camps cost $240 for members/$280 for nonmembers. For more information, call Lisa Stevens at 392-9826, ext. 2112.
Appleton Museum of Art: Six weeks of summer classes run through Aug. 9. Separate classes for students ages 4-6 and 7-12 will focus on experimenting with several art mediums, including Venetian masks, robots and clown puppets. Class size is limited to 20 students and costs $95 (members)/ $110 (nonmembers) for ages 7-12, and $75 (members)/ $90 (nonmembers) for ages 4-6. For more information, contact Mary Moore at 291-4455, ext. 1613.
Brick City Center for the Arts: Art camps run through Aug. 2, 10:45 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. For $80 a week, students will learn the color wheel, animation and anime, mosaics, pottery, photography and more. For more information, call 369-1500.
Bernau, education curator of community programs for the Harn, asks them to imagine how they'd look if their portraits were taken.
One boy tries on several faces — sneers and scowls — before settling on a calm and collected composure. Another girl stares at her reflection, eyes wide and shouts, "It's alive!"
Museums throughout Alachua and Marion counties are using personalized, meaningful interaction with the collections, hands-on activities and technology to attract the newest generation of patrons.
Bernau says when teaching children's programs, she doesn't rely entirely on dishing out the facts. She honors her students' thoughts and asks them open-ended questions. When discussing a portrait of a Hurricane Katrina survivor, she asked her students to describe the emotions the piece conveyed, and to attempt to convey those same emotions on their own faces.
"Will it lead to appreciation? I think they'll be back. For me, that's the goal — getting them to appreciate the museum's value," she says. "Every program we do helps people to have a personal connection with the collections."
Bernau says even with the 2- to 5-year-olds in Tot Time classes, the Harn emphasizes both the preciousness of the art contained within and the students' ability to create it themselves.
"I tell them, ‘You can be inspired by what's in the museum' and try to instill a spirit of ‘And I can, too,'?" she says. "Isn't that a message for children? We honor diversity and celebrate uniqueness."
Mary Moore, museum educator at Ocala's Appleton Museum of Art, says she emphasizes hands-on activities to engage younger patrons. The Appleton is in the process of building a hands-on space for families to make art every day.
"It's really important for us to show children we're not just a seeing museum — we're a doing museum," she says. "We're giving them something to remember by doing activities."
Sheila Ramos teaches art classes at Ocala's Brick City Center for the Arts. She says she often encounters students who claim they can't draw, but she motivates them by showing them how every complex art piece is just a compilation of the same few shapes, shapes the students know how to reproduce.
"It's about opening up the door and letting kids see things and make their own decisions," she says. "If you make things interesting, kids are going to be willing to try anything."
Vanessa Thomas, co-director for the Marion County Museum of History, says she is working on upgrading the museum's website and social networking presence to attract young patrons. She also says within the next 18 months, the museum will have Quick Read labels, which can be used to download information to smartphones.
"Today's younger generation is very social," she says. "They don't want to stand there and just read something."
Alicia Antone, executive director of Gainesville's historical Matheson Museum, says she employs several technological strategies including QR labels; cellphone tours of the museum itself, the botanical gardens and the historic antebellum Matheson home; televisions; and the website http://omeka.org, which streams footage of exhibits and photographs. Soon, the Matheson will upload to the site nearly 100 historic posters from events at Downtown Bo Diddley Community Plaza.
"What we've done to unglue children from their technological boxes and screens is use that same technology while they're here," she says. "Our emphasis is on making more of our static exhibits more dynamic with technology."
Catherine Carey, public programs coordinator for the Florida Museum of Natural History, says summer programs for children will not only use the current technology of the exhibits, including Smart boards, touch screens and digital cameras for nature photography, but they'll teach children about technology's previous incarnations.
"When we think of technology, we think of plastic and metal. But technology has existed for a long time," she says. "We certainly explore technology as a tool for science."
Bernau says though these techniques can pique the interest of museums' youngest visitors, museum appreciation itself cannot be taught. Rather, museums can simply provide opportunities to cultivate the important skill of appreciation.
"Appreciation for anything goes slowly," she says. "Art appreciation is about learning about yourself and having personal connections with art. Museums invite people to have those experiences. I can't teach appreciation — that is what happens inside a person after they have valuable experiences."
Thomas says museums like the Marion County Museum of History are important for their roles in explaining the evolution of creative thinking.
"As a kid, your world is small," she says. "Through museums, you can show children how big the world really is and what's out there to create."
Antone says historical museums open residents' eyes to the rich history and culture lying in their backyards.
"Without museums, which are the keepers of culture, children would not have an understanding of who they are, where they came from and those around them, all of which make up our community," she says.
Carey says the skills learned at the Florida Museum of Natural History's children's programs will remain valuable for years to come.
"Learning to observe accurately and learning concepts of science have immense applications," she says.
Clarence Dagins often brings his children, ages 6 and 8, to the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Harn Museum for children's programs.
"The world becomes smaller and smaller the more we learn about it," he says. "Programs that cater to the children are a phenomenal asset. Museums have vast resources and tremendous stores of knowledge that other places just don't have."