Dimenna Childre's History Museum

Enjoy reading the interview we did with Alice Stevenson, the director of the DiMenna Children’ s History Museum.

The Turtle’ s Knapsack Team:

Can I learn the story and history of the Children’ s History museum? How did it start? What was the idea and inspiration behind it?

Alice Stevenson:

The museum opened to be public in 2011. The leadership at New-York Historical Society was interested in creating permanent gallery space and programs to serve families and elementary –age kids. Let by our trustee Joe DiMenna and his wife Diana DiMenna, we embarked on a multi-year process to build the themes, scope, content, and space. This work coincided with a larger institution-wide renovation that aimed to open up N-YHS more to the public, both literally (taking down walls and creating new front doors) and intellectually (creating a wide range of exhibitions, multi-modal installations, transparent collecting practices). In the Children’s Museum we talk about American history through the eyes and lives of children and adults. We use six pavilions containing a mix of digital interactives, museum objects, and manuscript reproductions. Each pavilion tells the story of an individual or a group of individuals. The content covers about 350 years.

 

The Turtle’ s Knapsack Team:

What is the development story of the the Children’ s History Museum? After its foundation, what has been changed until now?

Alice Stevenson:

We selected the six people/groups for the Children’s History Museum based both on strengths in our scholarship and engaging stories for elementary-aged kids. The content and exhibition has stayed mostly intact – we have made some changes based on wanted to add or refine a message in a pavilion, but there have been no major changes.

The Turtle’ s Knapsack Team:

What is the biggest goal/ dream/value that Children’ s History Museum share?

Alice Stevenson:

We have a few!

History is an ongoing process, and historians are like detectives

Intergeneration learning is incredibly important and “sticky”

Kids need to see their stories in the past as well as be exposed to new stories and people

Kids have had an impact on our history, and kids will continue to shape this city and country

Children can start with our programs and galleries as young as 2, and they can grow up here with programs, internships, and exhibitions.

The Turtle’ s Knapsack Team:

Could you explain the structure and parts of the museum?

Alice Stevenson:

DCHM has four full time staff and almost two dozen part time staff. We oversee the physical space, content, and objects in the children’s museum, and we develop and enact all programs for families (generally – out of school time programs). We also create content and programs inspired by New-York Historical Society’s exhibitions, some of which have challenging content.

The Turtle’ s Knapsack Team:

What kind of the programs and events do you organize here for children and families? Why do you think these are important?

Alice Stevenson:

We provide early childhood programs which are largely storytelling and hands on. We offer a range of family days when all ages can participate. We lead monthly deep dive history programs for upper-elementary age kids. We run camp in summer. We have drop in programs on the weekends including gallery activity kits. Programming is essential for families in museums, as they often are looking for an entry point, or some light facilitation to start in a museum. Our deeper dive programs are essential because they give families with serious history kids a place to be intellectually challenged as well as meet other kids with similar interests.

The Turtle’ s Knapsack Team:

What is your educational goals in this museum?

Alice Stevenson:

Through authentic and unique learning experiences, DCHM invites diverse multigenerational families to meaningfully connect with American’s past, present and future. The exhibits, collections, programs, and staff challenge visitors to grow up with history.

The Turtle’ s Knapsack Team:

How do you think Children’ s History Museum supports children’ s development and wellbeing?

Alice Stevenson:

We incorporated as much learning theory for elementary age students as possible in the design of the museum – it encourages small group work and peer to peer conversations; it is multi-modal; and it included game based digital interactives. In the themes, Ee provide kids and families with rich stories from the past, wherein we can learn about kids who have struggled, lost family members, traveled for opportunity or education, and were supported by their communities. We don’t always tell the easiest stories in the Children’s History Museum, but it is important for us to know that many of our visitors today can find threads of their own lives in the stories here.

 

The Turtle’ s Knapsack Team:

The language used in the museum is very child friendly. How do you manage to do this?

Alice Stevenson:

We hired a label writer! We were struggling with the tone. If the labels sounded too simplistic, older kids and adults would check out; too scholarly and dry and younger kids wouldn’t be hooked. In the end we turned to a copywriter who had done a lot of creative projects for kids and worked with him to hit the right note.

The Turtle’ s Knapsack Team:

What does working in this museum mean for you?

Alice Stevenson:

Every day I get to go to work and think about how we can better serve the families of New York City. I deeply appreciate how we treat our young visitors – as intellectually hungry and capable kids who are ready to dig deep and get hooked by history. New-York Historical Society and the DiMennas have created a one-of-a-kind experience, and I am privileged to be a part of it!

 

 

The Turtle’ s Knapsack Team:

Thank you!