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Maximizing museum visits: Part 1.

I grew up in South Dakota, and distinctly remember two field trips--one to the Sunbeam Bread Factory and one to a meatpacking plant. (What were they thinking?) Although I did visit museums on family trips, I never really had an art museum field trip experience until I chaperoned my own children on school tours.

Later, when I became part of the education staff at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I gave tours to school groups from all over the country. This list of strategies for a successful and exciting museum visits will be helpful to teachers contemplating such a trip.

Research the Museum

Visit the site itself or check out the museum's Web site. What is the focus of the collection? Are there special exhibitions, permanent collections, or both? Research the museum's guided tour policies. Print out floor plans and maps, locating entrances and exits, bath rooms, routes. You also might find suggested tour topics and gallery activities developed by the education department.

Consider Your Curriculum

How will the visit fit into your school year? If the nearest museum has a contemporary collection, for example, you may wish to plan your visit to coincide with a classroom exploration of contemporary art. However, remember that a museum visit is a way to encourage your students to use their observational skills and art vocabulary, and this is appropriate any time.

Make Your Reservation

This is best done as early as possible, so that transportation, parental permissions, and other practical arrangements can be made. What kinds of tours are offered: docent or education-staff led tours, self-guided tours where you will lead your students, or is there an option to let your students explore on their own or in small groups?

What is the cost and the cancellation policy? What size group can the museum accommodate, and how many adults do you need to accompany the group? Where do the buses park? Are there lunch facilities? Will the guide contact you to visit about the tour? If your tour takes place in the winter, what about coat storage? What is the policy for allowing students in the gift shop, if there is one?

Prepare Your Students

Read everything you get from the museum carefully! Review policies on waiting time in case you are delayed, check-in procedures, chaperones, and group behavior. I would strongly recommend discussing museum etiquette with your class. Some teachers hesitate to do this, feeling that it introduces the museum in a negative way; however, it is much more negative and disruptive to have a guard shout at your group.

Present the rules in a positive light, discussing issues of preservation and why it is important for the future that we don't touch the artworks now. One illustrative strategy I learned in graduate school was to pass a mirror around and let everyone touch it, and then show how much grease and grime is accumulated from the fingerprints.


Guide to Museum Visits by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine, Visual Understanding in Education, Visit for Off the Wall Museum Guides for Kids.

Rebecca Arkenberg is a museum consultant who lives in Statler, Connecticut.
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Title Annotation:Museum Musings
Author:Arkenberg, Rebecca
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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