School holiday programs—it’s not just about colouring in
As the new school term begins and we here in Community Learning tuck our school holiday programs away for a winter hibernation, we thought you might like to know a little more about the philosophies that underpin them.
The Hats Off to Democracy program that we ran during the July school holidays began in the same way that we begin all our program development:
- Does this program take as a starting point an idea or theme that children are familiar with?
- Will this program inspire and interest children?
- Will this program provide children with the opportunity to get up close and personal with objects from our collection?
- Will this program encourage children to hypothesise and ask questions?
- Does this program provide parents and caregivers with opportunities to engage with the content in exciting and creative ways so that conversations with children continue after leaving the museum?
We would like to think that the answer to all of the above questions was yes. Hats Off to Democracy started with an object that all children are familiar with. The work of museum researchers such as Barbara Piscitelli indicates that utilising children’s own prior knowledge and experience and building on this in programming ensures a more meaningful and rich learning experience for children and their families (Piscitelli & Anderson, 2000).
At school and when riding bikes children are asked to wear hats and understand that there are rules governing the wearing of hats. This was our starting point for beginning a conversation with children about a different set of rules about hat-wearing and hats as a symbol of power. We also examined the dissenting Quaker community who refused to take off their hats in the presence of important people.
We engaged with a series of authentic objects from our collection including paintings, statues, physical spaces such as our Senate Chamber to examine the kinds of head wear used by people such as Clerks, Speakers of the House and Chief Justices. Children also had the opportunity to try on a variety of hats and wigs from our props collection and read about and discuss people who have played a significant role in democracies who wore similar kinds of hats.
Providing children with the opportunity to handle objects from our collection is an important part of our programming. Child-centred and object-centred ‘constructivist’ learning recognises the centrality of the child as an active learner in hypothesising, problem-solving and questioning in authentic, open-ended and rich learning experiences. Active learning experiences that involve interrogating objects provide children with opportunities to become highly absorbed, formulating questions and hypothesising. This in turn helps children to process and recall information as well as develop a skill-set of higher order thinking to utilise in all their learning experiences.
If we break the learning that occurs in school holiday programs into development areas it could be seen as:
- Investigating—children ask questions, interrogate objects and gather information using all of their senses
- Communicating—children begin to express their ideas in the form of hypothesising, discussing with other children, applying their reasoning and offering of potential explanations
- Representing—this is an important part of the consolidation of learning and might take the form of drawing or making using a variety of different mediums, imaginary play and songs to demonstrate and consolidate learning
- Recalling—museum learning can provide powerful experiences for children to recall and share with family members long after the school holiday program is finished.
This final developmental area is fundamentally important from a Community Learning perspective. As a museum we are committed to supporting people to become life-long learners. Our school holiday programs ask adults to be in attendance with the children in their care because we believe that cross-generational learning is vital to continue the conversations and enrich the learning experiences that occur in the museum.
We look forward to developing ongoing relationships with families involved in our school holiday programs that encourage life-long learning and with this in mind we look forward to seeing you at the next school holiday program running from Tuesday 2 October to Friday 5 October, daily.