Museums exist to serve the public and they do so in a variety of ways, but how do museums that are not necessarily “children’s museums” serve youth aside from school tours? In the case of Naper Settlement, programs range from summer camps to volunteer programs that appeal to families and younger audiences.
During Summer 2019, I was a building interpreter intern at the Naper Settlement Museum. The main thing I did at Naper Settlement was create lesson plans for summer camps. Every week we would have one to two camps going on with a different theme. The camps were about six hours and ran Monday through Friday. The camps I planned ranged from “Passport to the World,” Extreme Animals” and “Mad Science.” I also got to help with pre-existing camps like our Civil War Camp and Throwback Camp where we taught campers how to tie dye and use a rotary phone.
We also had several anniversaries at Naper Settlement over the summer that we celebrated with the community. This past July marked the fiftieth year that we have had our chapel at the museum so we invited all of the couples who have gotten married there to come and participate in a group vow renewal with their families. That was also the same day we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing so we had a mini rocket launch and created moon themed activities for the younger guests that day.
Naper Nights is another event that I got to be a part of. Naper Nights is a concert series that takes place on the museum lawn. Every Naper Nights had a historical theme. These themes included the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and the 50th anniversary of the weed ladies, a group of historical society volunteers. I worked three of these events and each one had activities to accommodate children. Chuck E. Cheese was one of our sponsors and they provided games for the children to play. The museum itself also provided “retro” games like rock em sock em robots and rubix cubes. There were two other local businesses also in attendance: Pinot’s Palette who provided paints and canvases and Players Indoor Sports Center who brought in equipment for guests to play gaga ball. All of these activities were free for people to participate in.
I also got to work with our Junior Volunteers. These volunteers wear period clothing and show museum visitors pioneer era games. They also attend a classroom lesson in our school house. Once junior volunteers age out of the program they are also welcome to become interpreter volunteers, where they can work in one of our many buildings.
Naper Settlement is also unique because it is a primarily outdoor museum that revolves around interpretation. This makes it easier for the material being presented to be adapted to best suit the visitor. Children are able to ask questions as the information is being presented to them, whereas in more traditional museums, when they are shown a label or artifact and they do not fully comprehend what they are being shown, they are more likely to simply move on without gaining and sort of understanding on what is being exhibited. We also had different activities and information we had prepared for different age groups. For example, when I interpreted in our print shop, I had stamp sets so younger kids could be printers.
Because museums are often perceived as places that are full of fragile objects and demand silence, they do not appear to welcome younger audiences, unless they are children’s museums. However, Naper Settlement is one of many museums that serve the community and this includes children. Through their many summer camp programs, special events, volunteer program, and accommodating interpretation style, Naper Settlement offers many ways for the younger members of the community to be involved with the museum despite not being a formal children’s museum.