Santa Fe Children’s Museum shifts gears to serve the community during the pandemic

 

Fall 2020 Issue     September • October • November

By Susan Lynn and Hannah Hausman

The pandemic has challenged everyone, and the staff at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum has been digging deep to support children and their families. Founded 35 years ago, the museum continues its mission of  discovering the joys of learning, play and community. 

Over the past few months, we’ve turned up our creativity to find new ways to reach the kids of northern New Mexico and continue to spark their curiosity. We expect to open our doors and provide our same quality programming as soon as it’s safe to do so. 

In the meantime, however, the museum has launched virtual field trips, which deliver STEM educational programing and culturally diverse humanities learning to all schoolchildren. We’re also distributing grab-and-go kits to underserved families to help ensure that they don’t fall behind in their education. 

Our schools have been doing an amazing job in delivering remote learning during this time of closure, but many kids will inevitably miss out on breadth and depth of education, especially those in rural and Tribal communities across New Mexico.

Virtual field trips

Stargazer, our portable planetarium, has taken innovative STEM learning to 22,739 kids since it launched in February 2018. The program, which presented bilingual star shows to children at their schools, has been grounded due to the novel coronavirus. We transformed the Stargazer curricula in just a few weeks into these virtual field trips.  First, lesson plans were quickly developed to assist teachers who were learning their way around the virtual classroom. Next, slide shows were created to provide an outline for the presentation, together with internet links for further explorations. 

More than 50 New Mexico teachers took advantage of this free offering, inviting our educators to join their remote learning portals, where the Children’s Museum presented live, interactive bilingual science shows while nearly 800 kids watched from home. We continue to offer these Virtual Field Trips to teachers in other states where school is still in session, to partner organizations for summer camp and for virtual gatherings and parties for private groups. In the fall, we’ll provide this content virtually if remote learning continues, or in classrooms if school resumes.

“Fun in Space” and “Plants and Animals” were developed for each grade (K-6), incorporating STEM Ready state science standards for that age.  Culturally and Linguistically Responsive threads are woven in, to anchor learning for kids with questions that relate concepts in the child’s experience, such as “Did you know that Spaceport America is right here in New Mexico?” All are presented in English, Spanish, or bilingually, according to the teacher’s guidance. 

The museum continues to seek financial support for this program and to develop two additional science shows per grade level — “Geology” and “Weather” — so we can offer teachers dynamic STEM lessons across the science curricula for all grades. We would also like to explore extending this concept to support literacy and the humanities. With this flexible, standards-based curricula, Children’s Museum educators will be prepared to support New Mexico schoolchildren in the coming years, whether in the classroom or virtually at home. As the world and the future of education evolves, we are confident this model will serve thousands of children and families who are going to need our support now more than ever.

Virtual field trips, covid-safe summer camps and Victory Garden kits help kids’ curiosity grow.

Grab-and-go kits

“Access for All” has long been a central tenet for the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, and we’re concerned that not all children in northern New Mexico have access to the internet and our virtual field trips. To provide hands-on learning for all kids, we’ve been developing a series of grab-and-go kits, which include lessons, directions, and materials in a single package, so families can learn and play together. 

Partnerships, both established and new, have assisted in the free distribution of these kits. Victory Garden kits have been developed with curriculum from New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group and seed packets from Lowe’s. Distribution partners Railyard Park Conservancy, Alas de Agua Art Collective, Communities in Schools, Northern Youth Project, and Santa Fe Indian Center have helped give nearly 600 kits to rural communities in northern New Mexico, indigenous families in urban areas, and Southside students. Many of the kits also included an art component contributed by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. In the coming weeks, we will disseminate 500 “Space Science” kits a day, for a total of 2500 kits through the Community Educators Network and the City of Santa Fe Summer Youth and Teen Program. 

The Children’s Museum is prepared to support the kids of New Mexico through this crisis and beyond. Sending best wishes for you to stay healthy and well.

~Susan Lynn is the executive director and Hannah Hausman is the senior director of development and communications at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum.~