Museum Sleepover Stories

USSMidwayByPhilKonstantinI was at a museum sleepover recently, a group thing 6 to 9 year old Cub Scouts and siblings on the USS Midway aircraft carrier in San Diego.

Museum sleepovers are quite the thing now days, and I think they’re a great way to increase engagement of young museum goers. Kids especially are exposed to education from a different angle.  Simply, more time at the place equals more immersion, and more chances for learning to stick.  You can do things you don’t have the time or lack of crowds to do during operating hours. Kids understand this is special time, are excited to be there. Being able to go “Behind The Scenes” at the Aquarium and see the massive pumps and equipment that keep the water clean, or see the archives of catalogs specimens at a natural history museum are a thrill to kids, especially in middle school when they are ripe for learning.

I couldn’t help but think while on the Midway, there are so many more opportunities museums could be taking, especially to put education into a coherent narrative that would really stay in the minds of the audience.

An aircraft carrier with an over 50 year history, has lived many stories, and should be telling them to their audience.

And there are many stories the USS Midway can tell. Aircraft carrier as functioning city. Aircraft carrier as important tool in protecting freedom. You can follow the day of an average crew member. Tell the story of all the things that must happen for a pilot to safely launch. Or take a singular event in the history of a ship, such as evacuating Saigon during the Vietnam War, and weave a tale around it.

The standard “tour” method of visiting a place is go from point to point with an explanation of what it does, have a few minutes to look around, and then trudge to the next place. Connecting those places into a tale would not just be more interesting, but would make people retain more information about them.

The sleepover hosts mentioned at the start “Freedom Isn’t Free” and how they wanted us to remember that. In fact, they had Scouts march to a microphone in front of the assembled group, and say it for us all to repeat. OK, tell us why? And more importantly, explain it to my 8 year olds in a format they will understand and retain. No one can claim there *isn’t* more than a few worthy stories to go with this phrase, or something important to learn, so tell those stories!

During the walking tour, I watched a 5 minute lecture in a machine room of the mechanics of a wire catch system for planes landing, followed by the first child question of, “So this stops the planes from flying?” (Ooops. Make sure you really have tailored your program to the age group you are hosting.) And in the Engine Room, kids were assigned parts to play in a story of being new 19 year old recruits assigned to take commands from the bridge and move the ship during a Midway battle, with all the heat and noise and chaos during the stress of war. Which were kids more excited by and remembered more information about? Which were adults more excited by and remembered more information about?

You’ve got the audience there for the night. They want to be there and to learn. Give them the stories that they’ll come away talking about for a long time and telling others.