Dixon Discoveries

As a child growing up in Chicago, I remember having some amazing field trips. Surprisingly, the Lincoln Park Zoo and Kiddyland don’t stand out in my memory. What I remember best were the Museum trips. The memories are strong because I was left to discover something on my own, so at the end of the day I felt accomplished and proud. Thanks to those trips I have a warm connection with museums. No matter how big or small, quiet or noisy, artistic or historic-I am at home in a museum.

Fast-forward to the present. I am now the Children’s Program Coordinator at the Dixon. And I find myself in charge of instilling these same feelings with the students who visit this unique museum. The task in my eyes is exciting but also a bit terrifying. As an art educator, the thought of a child being bored by a lesson is an unthinkable consequence, one that could be detrimental to a child’s relationship with our museum. Thankfully, my predecessor and my boss feared boring lessons as well, and when they created the field trip program Dixon Discoveries, it was bound to be fun!

The groups hardly every fit a perfect mold, so it has been a challenge to describe a Dixon Discoveries trip on a pamphlet or postcard. One of the beauties of working here is the freedom to be flexible and creative. A few weeks ago, we had a group of 70 ESL (English as a second language) students from Oakhaven Elementary visit the Dixon. The coordinating teacher wanted: Some students in the galleries, some in the gardens; a lesson based in literature and writing; plenty of free time; and she wanted them to stay all morning and have lunch here. I was excited!

But this was a new problem for me to solve. How can I have 70 children, all different ages, in all corners of the museum, and still make it an enjoyable and insightful visit? How can I make these children want to come back again with their families? Also, I had to be sure the teachers wouldn’t find the trip too stressful because I wanted them to come back too. So the project had to be fun enough to become self-guided by the student’s own motivation.

And what do all kids love to do? They love to tell stories, play make-believe, and tell YOU what THEY think. Luckily, the teacher at Oakhaven Elementary was passionate about letting her children take time to explore.

In the end, the lesson was as follows: All 70 kids filled our auditorium and made a book with colorful covers, yarn binding, packed with drawing paper and line paper. Then they went out to the galleries to see the amazing show Private Memphis. I asked THEM what THEY thought was going on in each painting. And boy-oh-boy, they had some fascinating stories! Then they wrote in their hand made books and illustrated them using the characters in the paintings as springboards. The younger kids went into the gardens with a scavenger hunt made just for them. They too were instructed to write a garden story.

The group stayed for well over 2 hours. As the kids left, many asked if they could come back and bring their families. “PLEASE DO!!” Despite my intense morning, I couldn’t help but spend my afternoon daydreaming about what I might do with my next group.