The year was 1977. I was probably sporting my usual uniform of cut-off jeans, a Star Wars t-shirt, athletic socks with red stripes around the calf, and some sweet, sweet Pumas. I was three years old. I remember holding my mother’s hand as we passed between the towering skeleton of a dinosaur, its bones burnished to a medium ochre by millennia spent beneath the earth on our right, and a futuristic, bright-white NASA extravehicular space suit with its mirrored visor on our left. The significance of the juxtaposition of those artifacts and my tiny presence between them did not strike me until much, much later, but I was in absolute awe of both of them. The fact that I could stand right next to the two things that dominated my unbounded child’s imagination the most was staggeringly wonderful. My three-year-old boy mind was blown!
My mother and I were at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History for my first day of Museum School, and, although I did not realize it in that moment, that brief but indelible nexus of dinosaur-boy-astronaut was the tip of a mental iceberg that I still contemplate today. Every week of the school year for the next three years, I held lizards, patted skunks, fed snakes, looked at stars through telescopes, looked at amoebas through microscopes, made volcanos, drew pictures, painted paintings, and had the time of my young life! Museum School was one of my favorite childhood activities and remains one of my favorite childhood memories. In fact, I consider it formative, even foundational.
First called the Frisky and Blossom Club, after a pet possum and a pet skunk, Museum School was founded by Francis Hicks Townsend and Ann H. Webb in 1949, only eight years after the founding of the Museum (then known as the Fort Worth Children’s Museum). Sixty-nine years later, Museum School is now a Fort Worth institution and serves as the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History’s foundation of early childhood learning. It was the first program of its kind to be accredited by the National Association of the Education of Young Children. With annual programs tailored for preschoolers through sixth graders, Museum School is a national model for young children’s science education.
Combining natural and physical science, history, and anthropology with art, music, and literature, the Museum School curriculum has for more than sixty years engaged children on a level young minds cannot access elsewhere. The playful learning environment and hands-on approach taken by the school encourages children’s natural curiosity and desire to explore. The journey of discovery is centered on class topics and activities that change weekly and build on each other. The tactile reality of artifacts, animals, and instruments gives students first-hand knowledge of the worlds of science and history and enriches the developmentally-appropriate learning experience.
Since its beginnings in 1949, over 200,000 of Fort Worth’s children have had their minds expanded and their imaginations captured at Museum School. Many friends and acquaintances I still maintain attended Museum School at the same time I did. I knew when I had children of my own that they should get to experience the magic that happens every day at Museum School, no matter what. All four of my children attended Museum School, and they still talk about it. In fact, they occasionally say they wish they could go back.
I know how they feel.
This article originally appeared in the March/April issue of Madeworthy.