What I Learned from Our Third Graders

Each spring the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar and the Oklahoma Wondertorium partner for our award winning 3rd grade program “How Oklahoma Began.” Each year we host around 600 students from area elementary schools.  As we approach the half-way point for this year’s program, it is a great time to talk about some of our experiences with the 3rd graders. 

When the children arrive at our museum, each class is asked who has been to our museum before?  Usually only a few hands go up, but when we ask them at the end of the program most had a great time and would like to visit again.  We always ask the students what types of museum they have been to and what all museums have in common?  This morning I received one answer that I wanted to share, “a museum is a place you go to have fun while learning things”.  I love this answer. As a museum professional, my job is to help facilitate learning, but if people are not connecting to their experience, what will they remember?  Both children and adults want to have a fun and memorable experience, and if they learn something in the process, this is really a bonus. 

Pretty much all of the 3rd graders have been to some type of museum.  They all know that they are not supposed to touch the objects, and most even realize that the objects are old and they could break.  Many seem surprised to learn that we have “please touch carts” in our museum and that we encourage visitors to touch and experience these items.  One child even asked me if we forgot the word “not”, since most museums ask you to NOT touch. Once upon a time, visiting a museum was often a stuffy affair, where all of the objects were in cases or behind ropes.  As times have changed, modern museums are increasingly adding more hands-on areas and experiences for guests of all ages.

Next we ask the students if the Wondertroium is a museum?  We usually get mixed answers, but the Wonderorium is definitely another type of museum.  They are a hand-on children’s museum that collects objects and shares stories with the public.

Through our partnership with the Wondertroium for this program, the children learn how Oklahoma was formed, through participating in a giant map exercise.  Then they are divided into groups and they rotate through the museum where they play games, make wood spoon dolls, and experience the museum gallery, including the “hands-on carts.” At the end, the students are gathered back in the auditorium where we wrap up the program.  Often we will ask what they saw in the museum that that they didn’t expect or what their favorite part was?  While their answers vary widely, I never doubt that they learned something while visiting our museum and I hope that maybe one day at least one of them will grow up to work in a museum, just I like did.

Originally published Stillwater Newspress