Look, Listen and Touch: Kids and Museums

By Corinne Swanson, Coordinator of Youth and Family Programs at the Connecticut Historical SocietyKids Having Fun at the Connecticut Historical Society

Do you have a childhood memory of visiting a museum with your class or family? During these visits, did you ever feel that if your voice rose above a whisper, or if you dared to try to touch something, that you would be immediately asked to leave?

Families who visit CHS know that this is not that kind of museum. Like most museums today, we work hard to be kid-friendly, encouraging our young visitors to experience history with all their senses. Right away as you pass the visitors desk, kids can pick up a real “history nut”. They can cast their vote on how much they love history. They can open drawers of artifacts to check out. When they walk through our Making Connecticut exhibit, kids can sit in a Native American dugout canoe, play in a colonial kitchen, feel the thread bobbins as they work in a factory simulation, and enjoy one of the other many opportunities in the exhibit for kids to play, touch, and be kids.

But what about when there’s a different kind of exhibit? Our brand new Connecticut: 50 Objects / 50 Stories exhibit offers visitors a variety of multi-sensory experiences, from watching and listening to recordings of various clips from ESPN, to writing down and posting their feelings, reactions or suggestions for a new object on one of the boards in the exhibit. Still, as I’ve seen from bringing classes of students through this exhibit, the temptation for kids to reach out and touch all the “cool things” is hard to resist.

So how can we find new ways for kids to engage with an object-based museum exhibit when touching the actual objects is not an option?

Enter our kids tour. This Saturday, June 6, kids will have the opportunity to explore the Space SuitConnecticut: 50 Objects / 50 Stories exhibit with a guided tour. But this is not a “stand and listen quietly for 30 minutes” kind of tour. We’ll be looking and learning together as we focus on a few of the objects in the exhibit. Kids may not be able to touch the spacesuit loaned by UTC Aerospace Systems, but we can work together to try to figure out how this spacesuit works, what all the knobs and buttons are for, and what it would feel like to walk inside a spacesuit on earth and in space.

We’ll inspect a piece of hardtack from the Civil War, and think about how it was made, why it was made that way, and what it might taste like for soldiers back then, and even today. Through close looking and critical thinking, kids will get a chance to form a connection with the objects we look at, objects that tell the stories of Connecticut. And, because this is a kids program, after the tour there will be time for arts and crafts, where kids can add themselves into one of the many outfits or scenes featured in the exhibit, and create their own ‘object’ to take home and tell their own stories about.

Free Kids Tours of Connecticut: 50 Objects / 50 Stories will be offered this Saturday, June 6 at 10:15am, 2:15pm, and 3:15 pm. For more information, contact me at (860) 236-5621 x222 or corinne_swanson@chs.org.

A firm believer that knowledge and interpretation of history shapes our understanding of our world and ourselves, Corinne Swanson actively supports history engagement for all ages. As Coordinator of Youth and Family Programs at the Connecticut Historical Society, she manages family programs, scout programs, and other non-school children activities, as well as teaching the organization’s many school programs both at the CHS museum and around Connecticut. She has a B.A. in History, with a particular interest in social history.

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