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Unschoolers on Museums

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Today’s guest post is from Ilana and Maya McGrath, passion-driven learners who live with their mother Sara, a National Unschooling Examiner, in Seattle. (You can read more of Sara’s observations on education here.)

The McGraths responded to my recent post about unschooling with some personal observations about museums as learning resources.

Ilana, 5-year-old unschooler and amateur artist:

My favorite museums are the Pacific Science Center and the Museum of Flight. I like OMSI in Portland. That place is really my favorite, because it’s fun. At OMSI we had my cousin’s birthday party.

At the Burke Museum I went to “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway.” It had dinosaur bones and art. I want to be an artist. We got the CD of “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway,” too.

Maia, 8-year-old unschooler and amateur marine biologist:

I like museums because they’re fun and help me learn about all kinds of stuff. I just love the fossil sections. I especially love the marine life fossils. Marine life is one of my interests. I plan to be a marine biologist when I grow up.

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One time for my cousin’s birthday, I went to a really big museum called OMSI in Portland. I had lots of fun, but I missed the saber-tooth tiger fossil.

I did get to pet a snake and hold a stick bug. The stick bugs were sort of sticky. That must be how they hold on to sticks. My cousin thought they were sort of gross.

I went on a Navy submarine tour behind the museum. I went under water. I was in a torpedo room. It was quite cool. When I went into the bedrooms, I actually heard snoring. I think it was an animatronic. I asked if there were rats there. The tour guide said no.

Then I saw a battery bunny down through a little glass hole. I asked the tour guide where the bunny slept. Then the tour guide showed me a gigantic plastic rat. I screamed because I’m scared of rats. Then he said, “The bunny sleeps wherever he wants to.”

Now I want to have my birthday party at OMSI, but I don’t want to see the giant plastic rat. I was very disappointed when we had to leave, because I wanted to stay there all day.

(You can read an interview with Maia about her unschooling experiences here.)

Sara: There’s so much more my daughters could say about their experiences with museums and how those trips tie into their learning adventures. For example, Ilana listed the Museum of Flight as one of her favorites after we read a Magic Tree House book about Leonardo DaVinci and his Great Bird. The Museum of Flight has a model of DaVinci’s flying machine.

When Maia was two years old, we took her to a Chinasaurs exhibit at a science museum in Minneapolis. She developed a fascination with dinosaurs that made for some impressive toddler conversations and continues to influence her life plans. She has transitioned from a focus on fossil digging to marine life, but often ponders how she might combine her two great interests.

For my part, I felt so privileged to be able to take my daughters to see “Lucy” when she came to the Pacific Science Center. Going and seeing museum exhibits has so much more impact than reading about a topic of interest or even watching a video.

You can read my introductory post about unschooling here. If you are involved in homeschooling, unschooling or other non-traditional forms of education (as a learner, a facilitator, or a resource provider) I would love to hear from you about the role museums do or can play in the changing educational landscape!

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