Planning and Launching a New Education Program at the Museum: What it Takes

Some of the children's books selected for the program (photo by Willamarie Moore)
Some of the children's books selected for the program (photo by Willamarie Moore)

From Director of Education Willamarie Moore:

This fall, the Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) and the NM Museum of Art (MOA) will offer a brand new program for children aged 3 – 5 and their adult caregivers: S.T.A.R.T.  (Sharing Time, Art, and Reading Together). Scheduled for Thursday mornings, the series of September classes will take place at the MOA and the October series at MOIFA. Each hour-long program will focus on a theme—such as “Home and Family,” “Transportation,” or “Shapes”—and will include storytelling, gallery time, and a hands-on art-making activity related to that theme.

Mexican Kitchen in the Multiple Visions exhibition

Educators at both museums have been hard at work for months to research, develop, and plan for imminent implementation. What does it take to start an entirely new museum education program from scratch?

The initial impetus was identification of the need for such a program; an important role of museums is to support the community’s needs. Willamarie Moore, new to MOIFA as of January 2016, and Sara Van Note, whose tenure at the MOA is just coming up on one year, both have experience with early childhood education (Willamarie in other museum settings, and Sara as a former classroom teacher), and noticed that programs for pre-school aged children were few and far between in Santa Fe. In particular, caregiver/child classes did not exist at all.

Serendipitously, the Santa Fe-based Brindle Foundation expressed an interest in funding early childhood education programs conducted as a collaboration among Museum of New Mexico entities. With that, we drafted a proposal, and received funding for a pilot program.

Spring 2016 was largely spent doing research. We visited the other early childhood programs that do exist around town (e.g., Storytime programs at the libraries; the Garden Sprouts program at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden). We observed the children’s interactions, talked to the educators, and surveyed parents. Survey respondents provided helpful information for our planning (e.g., their preference for registration vs. drop-in), and expressed excitement about participating in the new program at the MOA and MOIFA.  When asked what they would like their child to learn, one parent replied, “That art is for everyone; it’s not just something on the wall.” Another offered, “The wild and undirected nature of creativity (access to cool materials without instruction).” A third parent expressed her desire for her child to learn “How to express herself and her individuality through art.” One particularly enthusiastic parent exclaimed that “Creativity is cool and essential and fun!”

Children's books selected for the program

Thus, we were energized even more to develop the content of our program. Over the course of the summer, we selected themes. We reviewed and selected books. We chose songs and games. We hired a part-time Early Childhood Museum Educator and developed in-gallery activities and art-making projects.

Interactive storytelling introduces new themes and concepts, and promotes vocabulary building essential to pre-literacy; engagement with vibrant picture books develops visual literacy (making meaning through images). Building on the close-looking at beautiful artwork from high quality children’s books, children carry images in their mind’s eye as they move to a gallery space to explore artwork related to the theme. A critical outcome of the gallery tour is the modeling of museum behavior and art-based discussions for families. The art-making component gives children opportunities to explore different materials through an open-ended creative process, develop gross and fine motor skills, and also explore their artistic abilities. Games and songs provide fun interludes and promote understanding of rhythm and patterning while reinforcing the theme. The group format of the program promotes the social and emotional development of the child, and also offers support for the adult caregiver. Parents will receive books and other materials after each class to continue learning and exploring at home.

And now, we are ready to launch! The program starts on Thursday, September 8 at the MOA. We have a few spots left, please contact us or register online ASAP if you are interested:

And check back in a few weeks for a blog post about how things are going!