On March 14, 2020, the Staten Island Children’s Museum was forced to close it doors as the COVID-19 crisis deepened in New York City. As an organization dedicated to education and discovery, the move to offering in-home classes and services was a challenge.
“The museum as a space dedicated to people playing together, and touching and sharing objects and learning by doing has been upended by the pandemic,” explained the museum’s Executive Director Dina Rosenthal. “Learning how to pivot and adapt how we do that virtually has been a learning experience for us.”
“The museum as a space dedicated to people playing together, and touching and sharing objects and learning by doing has been upended by the pandemic.”
This is an exciting opportunity to live out the mission of the museum, said Rosenthal, who believes it’s fitting that an institution devoted to lifelong learning would need to find new ways to be creative.
Suddenly, the Staten Island Children’s Museum was its own production studio creating original videos and print content to serve its virtual visitors.
“I am in awe of people who produce content, because it really is an art and a craft and a skill,” added Rosenthal.
Using Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the museum has offered a wide range of fun digital experiences, including sharing video from its much-loved insect exhibit and posting weekly, family-friendly recipes. But, they’re also spending time creating printable documents that can be safely picked up at various sites including the New York City Department of Education’s Grab and Go Lunch Centers.
“So, people who don’t have access to the internet or online access reliably can go to one of these places that are printing out our materials,” she said.
And while the museum has received an outpouring of support from its members and local families, they have been impacted by the loss of volunteers who typically dedicate time and talent to the facility.
“We understand that we are in a crisis of resources and extra time, and the need to help the human services; the first responders, the healthcare workers, the food pantries, are where resources need to be,” said Rosenthal. “We know that the museum will reopen, and we welcome the community back to come help us, but, we understand where priorities need to be and we hope that people do that work to help the most needy right now.”
As for lessons learned during the pandemic, Rosenthal said even when the museum returns to normalcy, it will now rely more on social media and its website to connect with the community.
“Technology in kid’s lives, there has been a re-thinking of it. Screen time and how it is appropriately used. We can use social media to either provide supplemental material that says, ‘Hey, you may have missed this’ really exciting workshop or art program that you wanted to participate in, so here is some information about it and how you may be able to recreate it at home or try a project related to it on your own,” she said. “And then, it also helps us create a document, an archive of the kinds of work we did and a way for people to interact with us virtually to say, ‘Hey, I loved this program that you did and I want to share how I did it at home or I want to retry it again and here’s a picture of it.”
Photo courtesy Staten Island Children’s Museum.