Did you know that museums are not only fun but also teach children about life—past and present?
Just ask the Bronx elementary and middle school students who make regular visits to the New-York Historical Society as part of a District 8 educational program. The students don’t just read about history, they actually touch it. During one visit, for example, they passed around a wooden object with a handle at one end and two prongs and a well at the other end. Their challenge: identify the object and determine its use in Colonial times.
Students guessed everything from a children’s game to a hammering tool. In fact, it was a bootjack, an instrument used to remove manure-covered footwear. What followed was a fascinating discussion about farm versus city life, and the shift to a professional class, among many other topics.
District 8’s partnership with the Historical Society, which aims to expand social studies and humanities instruction, fills an important need. “Many of our schools were teaching social studies using textbooks instead of authentic texts and primary sources,” said District 8 Superintendent Dr. Karen Ames. “We wanted to extend the four walls of the classroom by offering the study of history through the experience of a cultural institution.”
During gallery visits, students analyze paintings, observe artifacts and replicas, and examine original texts, such as the Louisiana literacy test, which was given during the 1960s to deny voting rights to African-Americans. Then, students identify the role these objects played in society and write about them from the perspective of a historian.
The experience has been eye-opening for students, many of whom had never been to a museum before. “This partnership was an important way to provide access and equity to a community that, for decades, felt that museums only welcomed persons of status and stature,” Ames said. “We were committed to breaking down that perception.”
The program appears to be succeeding: 28 of the district’s 38 schools have entered into partnerships with the Historical Society, and approximately 15,000 students have participated.
Teachers and principals, who receive training on the social studies topics tied to exhibits, are extremely enthusiastic about the program, as are the parents who have participated in the museum’s educational workshops. “Parents learn what questions to ask their children when viewing paintings or analyzing artifacts together,” said Teacher Development and Evaluation Coach Sarah Sosbe, the program’s organizer. “They are almost more excited than their kids. Now, parents want to go to every museum in the City.”
That’s exactly the reaction district leaders and museum educators were going for. Sosbe, a former social studies teacher, hopes this effort will help shape the next generation of historians. “These students are going to be tasked with telling our stories when we’re gone,” she said. “They’ve got to be historical thinkers, because they’ll be the holders of our past.”
Plan Your Own Cultural Trip
Winter break is a perfect time to take your child to a museum, cultural institution, or live theater, dance, or music performance. The Department of Education’s new field trip guide includes almost 100 field trip opportunities available in and near the City. In addition, many museums offer suggested admission fees, or free admission during certain hours or on select days.
And if you don’t have one already, consider applying for an IDNYC card; this free ID gives New York City residents a free one-year membership at many of the City’s leading museums, zoos, concert halls, and botanical gardens.