The Children's Museum of Indianapolis has launched an exciting new preschool venture beginning this fall. As the mother of a not quite four year-old, I can say for certain that my daughter would love the idea of attending preschool inside the Children's Museum galleries. Currently my daughter attends a preschool in University Circle, an area of Cleveland rich in museums and cultural organizations. As part of her school's curriculum program she and her classmates take regular outings to the surrounding museums, the Botanical Garden, and even the world famous Cleveland Orchestra. However, the Indianapolis Children's Museum, staffed by experts in early childhood education, is taking this idea from an every-now-and-again experience to a new height of immersive learning, moving the preschool onsite and integrating the museum into every class day.
About ten years ago the idea of the "museum school" was showing potential as an exciting way for museums to take a greater role in educating students about the world around them, but although some very fine museum schools exist today, the trend never caught on as an initiative embraced by most museums across the country. I think preschool is a wonderful thing to teach in a museum setting. Typically, the preschool day is short, children only attend a few days each week, and very little of the instruction requires textbooks, white boards, or number 2 pencils. The children lucky enough to enroll in this new preschool will have a wealth of engaging learning environments all around them. I must admit to being a little jealous that the Montessori preschool I attended as a child, although wonderfully enriching in its own right, didn't have an indoor carousel or a Chihuly on the ceiling.
Here in Cleveland we have a new Montessori High School, also located in University Circle, which makes partnerships with the surrounding institutions an integral part of their specialized college preparatory program. Could we see the museum school reemerge as a viable alternative to traditional private schools, or even charter schools, in the future? With so many quality programs on diverse subjects already in place at museums, the next step towards some form of "museum school" might not be as a great a leap as once imagined. Perhaps tuition from onsite schools, or revenue sharing from cooperative programs could help pay the expensive educational bills? Consider the exciting possibilities of having students support public outreach efforts and the response from families whose children participate in building their communities from the museum out.
Certainly, opening a school within your museum is not an endeavor one enters into lightly, or with the expressed goal of making money, but as budgets grow increasingly tighter, education departments are forced to find new and sustainable revenue streams and just maybe the museum school comes off the shelf again. Best wishes to The Children's Museum of Indianapolis and this first class of students beginning their lifetime of learning in the new preschool this fall. I am looking forward to hearing about how this program comes into its own and supports the mission of the museum at-large.
Indianapolis Children's Museum to offer preschool - chicagotribune.com
Photo: My daughter Nora, age 1 1/2, in the dinosaur dig exhibit at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.