Friday, May 7, 2010

At What Age Does Museum Advocacy Begin?

As we are now in May and my staff has got a full month of school field trips under their belt, it seemed appropriate timing for the Reach Advisors to send out an email about the importance of field trips and how important they are to the growth of advocates for museums. They surveyed over 40,000 households that were active museum visitors and asked them about their museum experiences as children. The results, they found, were that 1/3 of those surveyed remembered visiting museums with school (rather than with a mother or father). They then went even further and found that as children, those whose parents were less educated meant the memories of school field trips were even more common. "In short, for children who grow up in households with lower educational attainment, school field trips are an incredibly powerful and important pathway to future engagement with museums as adults, figuring in nearly half of memories for those whose parents have the lowest educational attainment."

Previous studies found that the time in a child's life that is the most influential to creating a sense of advocacy for museums is between the ages of 5 and 9. So what does this all mean? What's the point? The point is that every day schools are cutting the budgets for field trips or getting rid of them entirely. Schools are taking less trips, and for the lower-income school districts this means no trips at all. And if you remember, for those lower-income familes/schools, where it is more likely that parents have less formal education, these trips are so important for those students.

We've been fortunate here at the Mark Twain House, that for the past few years we've been able to receive grant funding to provide a Free School Visit program to the priority districts in the state of Connecticut. This allows those schools to visit for free, and we are able to provide a subsidy for their bus costs. So far this year we're finding that bookings for the Free School Visits has increased approximately 130%! More and more schools are taking us up on it because there aren't many other museums that offer a similar program.

So this of course got me thinking about the kids who come through here daily. In the past few weeks we've had students from Stamford, Waterbury, Darien, Hartford, West Hartford, Haddam, Reading, Massachusetts among others. When I give a tour, I spend an hour with these 3rd, 4th, 5th grade kids who are completely enthralled by every word coming out of my mouth. They demand to know what every object was used for and where Mark Twain sat and what he touched. They tell me continuously that they want to live here and can they move in? Their excitement is contagious and by the end of the tour I really think that I've made an impact. Then I open the door and they exit the house and their talk turns to the candy they bought in the store and they just got a new pair of shoes and don't you like my hair today? And I think, well hopefully they'll remember this visit next week. It's encouraging to know that their visits stick with them and turn them into advocates later in life. We need more of those.

To read past blogs by the Reach Advisors about school trips go here and here, and for more information on the study go here.

*Caitlin

"Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog." -Mark Twain