An educational museum program for children at the National Gallery of Art

“Feeling Through Photos” is an educational museum program for children designed around the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Seeing People at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

For a final project in a graduate class in museum education at Georgetown University, my group was interested in the challenge of creating an educational experience for elementary school-age children in a museum that does not traditionally appeal to children. We felt this would present an opportunity to design something unconventional.

To this end, we considered two big motivating questions:

  • How can we engage children in fine art museums?
  • How can we meet the needs of both children and their accompanying adults?

Further motivated by a desire both to cultivate empathy in children as well as to improve how children and their caregivers talk about feelings and emotions, we focused on the power of art to serve as a conduit for personal reflection. Our engagement is built around a short program that presents a modification of the See-Think-Wonder thinking routine that we call “See-Feel-Wonder.” Instead of asking, “What do you think about that?,” we ask children, “What do you feel about that?”

Traditionally, See-Think-Wonder exercises are centered around group sharing, but in our program we ask adult-child pairings to answer first and foremost amongst themselves. Sharing with the group is secondary and optional. This age-appropriate adaptation allows children to use their developing imaginations to observe artwork through sight, engage their bodies to enact physical impressions and responses to the art, report how their movements alter their emotional and physical states, and finally wonder about what other people–in this case, the subjects of photographs–are feeling.

“Feeling Through Photos” provides museum educators with a simple guide to help children identify emotions, understand how their emotions change through regarding photographs, and verbalize those emotions to an adult. To guide participants through the activity, we developed a worksheet (“Worksheet and Wander”) for both facilitated museum groups as well as for solo adults leading their children through the exhibition outside of group events.

See a similar project in which I designed a game for children and parents to play together in art museums.

Thank you to my project mates, Emma and Cambria, as well as to our professor Anna Hindley.

Photo from Library of Congress

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