History museums and villages sometimes have the stigma that you can only do have programs and events that fit within your time period. But that is not true. I helped present a session at last year’s Texas Association of Museums annual conference titled “Knocking Off the Dust: New Approaches to Programming at Historic House Museums” and it was mind opening and exciting to see and hear what other institutions are doing that are outside the box.
It can be nerve wracking to do something different. Will people show up? Will they be upset? Will we get push back? But, you will never know if it is a smashing success unless you try. And that’s what I have been doing with our educational programming and events.
Sure, some of our unique programming has failed, but that’s OK as that’s how we learn and how we adjust future programs. And some have been such success that we’re going on the 4th year and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.
The last few years, our unique programs have been events with partners, such as the Jazz Age Sunday Social with the Art Deco Society, or the Front Porch Showdown with the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation. But lately, I’ve been introducing this new approach of thinking into our family programming.
For our annual homeschool day this past October, I created a choose-your-own-adventure science and detective themed event based on the death of Edgar Allan Poe. Families went around to different homes and buildings where they met with “detectives” through literary time, and did hands-on activities such as a litmus test, fingerprinting, and decoding invisible messages in order to determine the cause of Poe’s untimely death. Did it have to do with Texas history? No. Was it in our time period? Sort of, since Poe passed away in 1849, and perhaps you could stretch different activities to meet that criteria. But, it wasn’t my focus in creating the event. This was a fun, science based event at a history museum and it tied in with the Dallas Public Library’s Edgar Allan Poe Victorian Halloween month. And it was a smashing success.
Hearing the feedback from visitors and staff alike bolstered me to stretch our educational limits even more. This spring break for our annual Spring Fling, we will be hosting a week of jumbo games for families to participate in. Have you ever done jumbo lawn bowling, or played with giant dominos or checkers? No. Well then stop by March 14th – 17th from 10am to 4pm. This week of oversized fun is for the young and young at heart and you may learn about the history of the game as you play.
For our family day, History Quest, on May 13th, my coworker and I are bringing the Oregon Trail to Texas. It will be a day to see if you and your family can survive the trail or die of dysentery. Families will learn the difference between medicinal plants vs poisonous plants, and they’ll use their math skills to make sure they purchase the necessities with the limited money they have.
Programs like these make coming to work enjoyable as who knows what ideas we will come up with next. Though we will always have our blacksmith programming as well as our weaving-themed programs, we are reaching out to new audiences to get them interested in history in a different way.