At Thinkery, we get the privilege to welcome hundreds of students every week, many for the first time. We believe that “Learning is a joyful, fun and lifelong endeavor” and that “Playing is Learning”, which helps drive the work that we do. We welcome more than 25,000 local students every year through our field trip program. This year has seen some changes to our field trip program, designed to open the doors for more students to come to explore and learn at Thinkery. We spoke with School & Gallery Education Manager Brenda Lopez and School Programs Specialist Denise MacLeod about some of the amazing new changes that large groups can look forward to during their upcoming visits.
Q: What is your favorite part about School Programs?
Brenda: The wide array of programs that it encompasses. It includes our field trip program as well as professional development for educators like EdExchange, which provides up to 18 hours of professional development and a 6-8 weeks of onsite support at the educator’s campus.
For most of our school groups, this is either their first time to the museum or their only field trip for the year. So I love to watch their eyes light up with excitement every time a group of students walk through our doors as they get ready to play.
Denise: Seeing the faces of all the students when they first walk through the group doors. The look of excitement and adventure to come just fills me with overwhelming joy. I’m also proud [that] we can offer affordable rates for Title I schools. Knowing that some schools only get one opportunity a year for a field trip and they choose Thinkery, it’s extremely moving.
Q: How often do field trips happen at Thinkery?
Brenda: We have field trips every Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm during the school year and 9:30 am to 3 pm during the summer.
Q: What activities do students get to explore during a visit?
Brenda: Students will have the opportunity to explore and play in all our galleries, which are full of hands-on activities. We also have special activities that rotate monthly in Spark Shop, our Makerspace, and Kitchen Lab. Those range from sewing to design challenges to chemistry-based activities.
Q: Are field trips just for schools?
Denise: No. Any student-based organization with more than 10 students can book a field trip. We receive lots of requests from child care centers, recreations, and afterschool programs.
Q: Why do all the students wear stickers?
Denise: Each school that visits receives an amazing color sticker for all their students. If a student loses sight of their group, our staff can easily reunite them by finding the other kids in the same sticker color.
Q: How do teachers book a field trip?
Denise: It’s very easy. Our visits are booked in the order the requests are received. The request forms can be found on our website (Thinkeryaustin.org). Once a request form is received, I personally reach out to follow up and schedule the visit.
Q: Do School Programs offer any discounts?
Denise: Yes. Based on a campus’ Title I percentage, we are able to offer sliding scale discounts for those students and schools.
Q: What is Teacher Orientation Nights? Why should teachers go?
Brenda: At Teacher Orientation Nights, we help teachers better prepare for their upcoming field trip by walking them through the galleries and providing them an opportunity to ask questions. We also provide resources and tips for their upcoming visit to share back with the chaperones.
Q: What is your most memorable field trip as a child?
Brenda: I fell in love with museums on a school field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art as a child. It was through that field trip that I grew a deep appreciation for museums. My most memorable field trips are the ones where I got to experience something hands-on, either candle making or pretending to run a gift shop while learning how to write a check.
It’s surreal to have come full circle and now oversee our museum’s school programs and welcome thousands of students every year. I get paid to play and develop programming and activities for others to experience the joy of playful learning.
Denise: When I was in elementary, I remember visiting the Austin Children’s’ Museum. I specifically remember playing with this oversize anatomy doll that you get to take its organs out and put back. In that gallery, there was a “secret door” that would lead to this big open space filled with a market and other science exhibits. I never experience anything like that before. The experience was overwhelming and exciting.
It is definitely an amazing feeling that I get to be apart of an organization that delivers that same excitement to other children who visit Thinkery.