Are We Doing Our Best to Serve Youth?
Despite mandates to be community-focused, many historical organizations struggle to interest younger visitors. Family programming is a great outreach method to include small children, but as kids grow, hanging out with their peers usually becomes a stronger draw for them than parent-guided activities.
Many museums and historic sites currently support school groups by hosting field trips. Some even offer history-in-a-box kits to augment curriculum and serve students, while allowing the school to avoid the inconvenience and expense of field-trip transport. Many also offer enrichment opportunities for home school families. While this audience is often more convenient for standard museum hours and staff schedules, it excludes many youth who may be interested or could benefit from historical resources. The NC Museum of History, for instance, has a selection of programs available each month for school-age children during the school day. In addition to home schoolers, tracked out students are the only possible participants.
For the past 2 years NCDCR has been reaching out further to promote its facilities and services to the home school contingent by buying exhibit space at the annual home school conference in Winston Salem. NCDCR-organized programs such as Tar Heel Jr. Historians clubs and NC History Day have disproportionate numbers of home-school participants. The in-depth scholarly activities that these organizations nurture are often an easier fit for home-schoolers and may conflict with scheduling and test-preparation directives in standard public school classrooms.
Since many of the activities NCDCR and many other history organizations offer are not reaching the general population of youth enrolled in public schools, is there a way to bridge the gap and engage teens with programming at times that work for them? Can limited staff resources stretch to accommodate more after-school-hours activities? Even then, will kids care to show up? Here are a couple of ideas from other parts of the country that have been low-budget, widely accessible, and successful:
- A California organization set up several “Community Science Workshop” spaces filled with interactives and set up as a drop-in free resource in a walkable location to kid-filled housing areas.
- The Seattle Art Museum has used social media effectively to promote a regular teen night out successfully.
Could either of these model programs work at your institution? What does your organization do to engage youth? Which activities and methods of promotion have been successful? What could be improved?
Posted on March 31, 2015, in public programs and tagged community science workshops, National History Day, NC Museum of History, Tar Heel Jr. Historians, teen night out. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.