Tips for working with kids
I’m a Museum Educator. I’ve seen kids sleeping under display cases, jumping in lifts, making fun of staff and I have been endlessly asked if I’m serious with rolling eyes when I’ve asked for food/lollies/earphones to be put away. It comes with the territory.
So why would you want to work with kids? Because they also provide the most memorable moments, creative ideas, passion and inspiration. On pure business terms, kids are one of your major visitor groups and will be in the future. Engage them effectively now and they will likely come back to you as adults.
Not to mention, they’re a bunch fun.
Effectively engaging school and family audiences is a very worthwhile pursuit – good for them and good for you. So I’m going to share my top tips for working with kids.
1. Be Open
Whether your space is physical or virtual it needs to look like its open to kids. This means child-friendly (but not patronising) language, signage and activities at child-height, colourful and relaxing spaces and an element of fun. Avoiding ‘Do Not…’ signs is a good start. Find a good way to communicate that you want kids in your space.
Child-friendly spaces at the Museum of Australian Democracy.
2. Engage the community through partnerships
Find ways to form good long-term partnerships. This could be through a membership program, outreach events or joining with other local organisations. Effective examples include the community kindergarten at Jamtli Museum in Sweden, UK Museum’s Takeover Day, the State Library of Victoria’s Young Readers program and WA’s Better Beginnings.
3. Accept, even encourage, noise.
Noise often equates to learning and engagement. Sure, quiet reflective spaces are valuable too, but kids like to make noise, ask questions and engage socially. Social and collaborative learning is now the hallmark of modern education. To make children feel comfortable and to encourage their engagement, encourage noise. This might be a physical space to talk, share, perform or ask. Or it might be an online space filling the same purpose.
4. Train your staff
If you embrace kids and work with them positively, all your hard work can be undone by one other staff member who dismisses them, yells or simply makes it very clear they find kids pesky. The kids will pick up a negative attitude straight away, causing them to act out and leading teachers/parents to avoid your organisation like the plague. Spend the time with your staff building a belief in the value of children-visitors, arm them with good tips and tools to respond to ‘pesky’ behaviour and train them in emotional safety awareness.
5. Connect to the curriculum
If you want school groups to visit, you need to show them why they should. Teachers have to follow the curriculum, and to justify an excursion they need to be able to show how it fits in with what they are teaching. So make it easy for them. Highlight links to the curriculum, design programs that specifically address a key concept in the curriculum and create Education Resources for teachers. If you’ve never used the curriculum documents before, ask a teacher to help, or at least ask them to read over it once you’re done.
6. Have some hands-on Activities
Wherever possible it is always worthwhile to have an aspect of hands-on learning. Allow kids the opportunity to touch. Children’s attention spans are shorter than adults and as such they are much more easily engaged when they are doing something with their hands. It also allows for a diversity of kids to get involved, it’s an opportunity for non-English speakers or those with learning difficulties. It’s also a way for them to digest what they’ve heard and seen and construct their own new understanding.
Further to hands-on, participation in any form is crucial. Schools no longer teach skills and facts by rote. Kids are encouraged to analyse, critique, problem solve, create and publish. They expect to be able to participate and have their voice heard and so do their teachers. It is also seen as good practise for museums and galleries in general. Have kids curate an exhibition, publically critique an artwork, publish their own poem, find a solution to a social problem or recreate a historical event. Where possible, give them an authentic audience or platform to be really heard or make real change. Challenge them and they’ll thrive.
8. Be a good story-teller
A ripping yarn is always a winner. If you can’t have kids touch or participate, tell them a good story. Learn how to build suspense, create surprise, shock and gross-out kids (if they’re turning green you’re on the right track). Become a good interpreteller.
9. Always have a box of tissues, some throat lozenges and sanitiser on hand.
No, I’m not kidding. If you physically work with kids a lot, it’s really worthwhile being prepared for snotty noses and accept you may well lose yourvoice. And always wash your hands afterwards.
10. Be positive, be respectful.
The old adage of; ‘You can’t expect respect unless you give it’ is very true when it comes with kids. But I might add that it’s worthwhile not expecting any in return. Kids are kids, and some have not learnt to show respect, may have other things on their mind or are simply feeling sick or scared (it’s surprising how often this is the reason behind bad behaviour). Kids may be rude to you or leave inappropriate comments on your website, but it’s essential not to let that lead you to pre-judge. Try to always approach kids with a positive attitude and respect for them and their prior knowledge. They will often respond with delightfully inspiring moments and the very best questions.
Sovereign Hill is Australia’s foremost outdoor museum, which re-creates Ballarat’s first ten years after the discovery of gold in 1851 when thousands of international adventurers rushed to the Australian goldfields in search of fortune. To experience Sovereign Hill go to their great website here..
To email Stephanie Rosestone Sovereign Hill’s Museum Educator click here