Traveling Trunks Reach Audiences Beyond the Doors of Your Museum

Thanks to Kaitlin Lloyd, Distance Learning Coordinator at the North Carolina Museum of History, for this guest post.

At the North Carolina Museum of History, we aim to provide educational programming for all of the citizens of North Carolina. We offer tours, classes, festivals, and concerts for the visitors that walk through the doors of the museum. However, North Carolina is a big state, and with school and family schedules and budgets being tight, not everyone has the opportunity to travel to the museum in Raleigh. We think it is important to find ways to reach these people, particularly schoolchildren and teachers, so that they can benefit from our programs without ever leaving their classrooms. We do this through our traveling trunks, called History-in-a-Box Kits.

Our History-in-a-Box Kits are large plastic boxes filled with hands-on objects and a notebook with background information and lesson plans. The hands-on objects go along with the lesson plans, and are typically costumes, craft supplies, or reproduction artifacts like cotton cards, haversacks, or K-ration meal kits. Teachers request to borrow a Kit for a three-week period, and can either pick up the Kit at the museum, or have it shipped to their school. Currently, we offer nine different Kit topics, and have ten to fourteen copies of each topic. When writing lesson plans for the Kits, we use the curriculum standards established by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, which most public teachers in North Carolina follow. While our Kits focus on a history topic, we work to make them multidisciplinary by incorporating math, science, language arts, music, and visual arts into the activities. We try to make the lesson plans fun and interactive, so that students will enjoy learning about history.

Since we serve students and teachers that live all across the state, we ship the Kits via UPS almost every week. They experience a significant amount of physical wear and tear, and it has taken some experimentation to find the best way to package the Kits to prevent damage to the objects and to the Kit boxes themselves. We used to use plastic file tote boxes that we bought from an office supply store. These boxes, made from polypropylene, proved to be so rigid that they cracked easily and required replacement frequently. We switched to polyethylene Rubbermaid Roughneck Storage Boxes, which are very sturdy, but flexible enough to withstand being jostled around in the mail.

When we prepare a Kit for mailing, we line a cardboard box with a layer of bubble wrap, and wrap the plastic box with bubble wrap on all sides. Bubble wrap has proven to be a useful tool in protecting both the plastic boxes, and the objects inside the Kit. Despite the drawbacks and the potential for damage, we still choose to include some fragile objects, such as pottery, drinking gourds, ceramic models, and plastic echo microphones. We understand that students may handle the objects roughly, so when choosing objects we usually use reproduction artifacts, as opposed to originals. We buy the objects in bulk so that we will have plenty of extras.

Even though the objects are not original artifacts, we still try to protect them as best we can. In the past, we tried using thick squares of foam that lined the bottom of the Kits that had cutouts in the shapes of the objects. We thought this might protect the objects, and help the teachers see how to repack the Kits correctly. However, in our experience, these have not withstood wear and tear, and teachers frequently did not put the correct object in the correct cutout. We understand that teachers are busy, and so we try to make the repacking process as easy as possible. We instruct teachers to wrap all of the objects with the bubble wrap, and to fit the objects back inside of the Kits however works best. We also have small, loose objects with many pieces, such as jacks, marbles, and coins. We package these in plastic sandwich bags with clearly marked labels, to help teachers repack correctly. We laminate most of the paper resources, to protect them from being torn.

Traveling trunks are easy to modify, depending on the volume of use, and the type of visitor borrowing your trunks. For instance, if museum staff members are going to take the trunks with them while they do a presentation, and will be able to supervise the objects, you may be able to use original artifacts. If you plan to make the trunks available for pick up and drop off at the museum, instead of going through the mail, you might not need a heavy-duty storage box. You could get creative with your packaging, and send your lessons and objects inside of a steamer trunk, a soldier’s haversack, a rolling wagon, or a suitcase. A traveling trunk program can be a great way to provide an artifact-based hands-on learning experience to an audience that is unable to visit your museum. Just start with one topic, a few lesson plans, and some objects, and then build your program based on the response you get from your users. Each museum does traveling trunks a little differently, and you can tailor your program so that it works best for your organization.

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on January 15, 2013, in collections access, guest bloggers, public programs and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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