March 24, 2016
By Dr. Ginny Weibel
The Children’s Museum, Bloomsburg, Pa.
Three years ago The Children’s Museum in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania committed to the goal of enhancing the impact of our programs. One aspect of this goal was to identify underserved populations in our area and develop programs that would benefit these groups. One of the groups identified from this research was the homeschooled community. We found that, although there were many homeschool and cyber-school groups in the area, there was little to no interaction between the organizations. In fact, many individual families felt like they were “on their own.” Additionally, we determined there was little educational support created specifically for the homeschooled community in our area.
The homeschool families we talked with overwhelmingly said they lacked the resources to effectively teach science and technology to their children. From these conversations, we created the Homeschool Hangout program. Now in its second year and funded partially through an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant , the Homeschool Hangout program meets bi-monthly and runs concurrently with the school year. The program is free with discounted museum admission or museum membership.
(Pictured: Student participates in STEAM related activity at a Homeschool Hangout. Homeschooled parents overwhelmingly felt the need for STEAM related resources and expertise. Photo Courtesy of The Children’s Museum.)
Each Hangout is centered on a theme and blended with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) activities. All of the activities are carefully developed by our instructors and are designed to be exciting, interactive and hands-on. We usually have 12-15 “stations” at each Hangout. Each station is geared towards a particular age and learning level. We try to have activities and extended materials for students preschool – 12th grade, but we encourage the kids to try out anything that catches their eye. We purposely made the Hangouts a casual learning environment. We found in less structured classrooms, interaction among students increases and the activities become collaborative. Stations allow children and their parents to work at their own pace and take breaks when needed. We encourage parents to learn right along with their children, but we have facilitators standing nearby to answer any questions. Some of the past topics we’ve tackled are Kitchen Chemistry, Camping Hacks, STEAM Mania, The Science of Color, Pathogens!, Awesome Architecture, and The Science of Spies. Parents that attend the Hangouts with their children reported an increased sense of self-efficacy when talking to their children about the STEAM subjects presented at the sessions.
(Pictured: Homeschool Hangouts offer activities and resources around STEAM themes. Photo Courtesy of The Children’s Museum.)
To our delight, the Hangouts have become much more than a resource for homeschool parents. Since its start, we have seen the program morph into a catalyst for community involvement and networking. Many parents indicated that the ability to interact with other homeschool families was just as important as the educational value of the Hangouts. To incorporate community expertise, we’ve been able to invite outside organizations into the Homeschool Hangout program to present their own station. This not only exposes the homeschoolers to the community partners, but also expands the museum’s network of available resources.
(Pictured: Parents are encouraged to learn along with their children during the Homeschool Hangouts. Photo Courtesy of The Children’s Museum.)
For example; we invited our local theater group, the Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble (BTE), to present a station at our “Science of Theater” Homeschool Hangout. The representative from the BTE created a fascinating activity to show the students how latex scars and wounds are made for stage productions. The BTE was able to promote the classes and clubs they have available, and our homeschooling families identified another educational opportunity.
(Pictured: Samantha Norton of the Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble teaches a student how makeup is used to simulate a bruise in stage productions. Photo Courtesy of The Children’s Museum)
The Children’s Museum is a small 501(c)(3) that operates in a rural section of Pennsylvania. In today’s economically challenging environment we have shifted from an institution that views itself primarily as an educational organization to that of an agent of change within our community. We actively seek out community partners and opportunities to share resources to maximize the impact of every funding dollar we attract to our area. It is our hope that the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ supported Homeschool Hangout program will act as a model for outreach and resource sharing for other museums with limited resources.
Dr. Ginny Weibel is the Education Coordinator and Science Instructor at The Children’s Museum in Bloomsburg Pennsylvania.