Planning Family Programming When You Have No Space

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Written by Brenda Stultz, originally published September 3, 2013

How can you serve a multigenerational group of attendees when there is no space to gather? Make Mother Nature your best friend. Invest in a canopy or a tent and move the gathering outside. This is the current situation at the Clyde Museum where summer family programs have been offered for the last seven years.

Outside programs are natural for a pioneer day or for relay games. Clyde is known for washing machines, so the old-fashioned wash day is perfect outdoors. An “old tyme” medicine program includes stirring and pouring potions. A child’s pool filled with wiggly, rubbery treasures under suds aligns with a program on campfires and swimmin’ holes. Sailing a paper navy adds to a military-themed day.

Children and teens sit on blankets (a good way to teach manners in offering seats to elders). With coloring or pencil and paper activities that require a flat surface, foamboard works well. Outdoor hand wash stations during an arty affair with paint and clay help on a hot day. Bottled water is always appreciated by attendees, and individual flavor packets make it easy to offer a beverage they can make themselves.

The few times we have had to move our programs inside, we have managed to adapt. Our church museum has a center aisle perfect for lining up chairs like a train or bus for a “depot days” program. We’ve also improvised the waiting room of a barber or beauty shop, and even a old schoolhouse.

Other tips for planning outdoor programs:

  • Have self-adhesive name badges and pens at the entrance to the event, and introduce board members and volunteers in attendance.
  • Explain the program agenda at the beginning, but keep speaking presentations brief.
  • Have a few related toys or books for toddlers to play with.
  • Have children work on a craft or activity while they listen.
  • Involve the audience whenever possible.
  • If refreshments are at the end of the program, let attendees know.
  • Inform guests of special displays or exhibits related to the theme.

If there is time after an outdoor program to explore the museum, always invite guests in.

Brenda Stultz is a Region 2 representative of the Ohio Local History Alliance and curator at the Clyde Museum and General McPherson House in Clyde, Ohio.