Goodbye stuffy, boring museum. History is coming alive in Johnson County.
At a history-themed camp, youngsters can learn to play a dulcimer or make a bonnet. They can tour a log cabin that was home to an affluent pioneer family in Franklin or try on clothing a child in the Victorian era would have worn.
Staff at the Johnson County Museum of History are trying to show a new generation of kids that history is relevant and fun.
With an aging membership at the museum and with the challenge of making sure residents know that the museum even exists, programming, special events and displays are being designed with a younger crowd in mind, museum director Brenna Cundiff said.
“Kids learn better if they are participating, “ she said. “We don’t want to be a stodgy old museum.”
First, families have to know that the museum exists and is available, she said.
Museum membership is mostly made up of senior citizens who visit the museum in some cases to see their personal history or look up their family’s genealogy, Cundiff said.
Just a few years ago Johnson County families outside Franklin hardly knew the museum existed. She said that even Franklin residents would zoom past Main Street without knowing about the piece of history in their town.
“Traditionally (senior citizens) are the ones interested in history and genealogy,” Cundiff said. “If you don’t change that, that is what you are going to have.”
Changes have happened gradually over the past few years with a children’s history camp here and a scavenger hunt for children around the museum.
Hands-on exhibits were added, where kids can try on Victorian era clothing or make up the name of a band in a musical history of the county.
“We made the changes so we could be more attractive to families,” Cundiff said.
Museum employees go to strawberry festivals and barbecue cook-offs in local communities, armed with kid’s crafts to let people all across the county know they are there.
“We are doing a lot more as far as outreach,” she said. “We find that many people outside of Franklin don’t know that we are here.”
Educational packets are sent out to teachers in the area who may not have the money in their budgets to take a field trip to the museum. Scouting groups can request that a program be tailored to their troop and what they are learning at the time of their visit.
“We truly want people to understand that history isn’t just something in the past,” said Goldie Jones, education coordinator at the museum. “It’s not just the boring stuff that some kids think.”
The start of their effort to target kids is a history camp geared at third- and fourth-graders.
Local storytellers and educators teach the kids about history using exhibits in the museum.
And the log cabin on the grounds of the museum is open more and has started attracting more families, Cundiff said.