How to Sit in a Museum

Have you ever been somewhere new and felt awkward? Maybe it was a crowded deli, a train station in a foreign country, or at the Department of Motor Vehicles – you’re there for a reason but you’re overwhelmed with unfamiliar stimulus and so you don’t know what to do.

That unfamiliar, stressed-out feeling is exactly how students might feel when they visit a museum or field trip destination for the first time. They want to have a good time and engage but they don’t know how… yet.

In this post, I’ll tell you three ways students can sit in a museum, one way they can’t, and why I love this approach. Sitting in a museum might feel like a tiny skill, but I think it’s invaluable to teach students ways to interact with new spaces. I’m sure in your classroom you have systems so students know how to get a pencil, ask to leave the classroom, or work in groups. Teaching kids these skills empowers them; makes them more autonomous; gives them agency over their learning and in navigating new environments. The same is true in museums. When you minimize distractions and build skills, it gives everyone more time to learn and enjoy themselves.  

First, I gather students in an out-of-the-way spot in the museum. After some content review and setting expectations, I tell students that sometimes we will be sitting in front of art/objects in order to look closely and have discussions. To prepare for that I’m going to show them three ways they can sit in a museum and one way they cannot sit. Then, I do it. And it’s important YOU model the behavior, not just say it!

Three Ways You CAN Sit in a Museum

  • Criss-cross applesauce

This way of sitting should be familiar. Sit cross-legged and use your knee or thigh as a desk for the clipboard. If you’d like, ask students to copy what you are doing.

This is my preferred way for students to sit because then my group will take up the least amount of space on the museum floor. I want to make sure we’re not dominating a gallery because that can inadvertently agitate museum staff and visitors.

What’s not great about this option is that eventually students get stiff and their feet fall asleep. The two upcoming options are necessary so that students can rotate positions as they get uncomfortable.

  • Legs straight out

Model sitting with your back upright and legs straight out in front of you. Use your legs to balance your clipboard.

Ask students why you are keeping your legs together and in front of you. They will be able to generate a number of answer but make sure they get to these points: legs together creates a base for a clipboard, it keeps you from taking up too much space so you don’t distract others, and you can see your legs at all times so they don’t accidentally hit anyone or anything.

  • Rolled-up in a ball

Ok, here’s where it gets a little bit awkward: roll up into a ball with your knees under you. Use the ground in front of you as a desk for the clipboard. It’s an unusual position for most adults, but it’s one that kids love.

For younger students, I find that their smaller bodies have a hard time balancing a clipboard on their arm or leg, so the floor acts as a sturdy support. Also, I think students get tired sitting upright without a backrest so the floor gives tiny backs and abs a break.

One Way You CANNOT Sit in a Museum

  • Lying on the floor

Now it’s going to get very awkward. Tell students that you’re going to show them the one way we cannot sit in the museum. You’re going to show them quickly, and then it’s off limits. Now lie on the floor on your belly.  

You, the adult, have to be the one to do this because it horrifies students. Everytime I, or a colleague, have done this, kids are appalled. They exclaim things like, “Oh no!” and “That’s just wrong!”

Then ask your class, “Why can’t I sit this way in a museum?” Student will tell you that it looks bad, that you’re going to get very dirty, that you might trip someone, that you might kick someone or something. All of those are exactly right!

Why I love this approach

  1. It gives students choice.

There are three choices of how to sit, which means students can rotate as much as they want. When students are uncomfortable or in pain they are going to have a hard time paying attention and can become a distraction to others. Alternatively, a student who has choice and can create a learning environment that works for him or her is going to have a more enjoyable field trip experience.

  1. I don’t have to be a giant nag.

We’re in the museum because we want to get immersed in amazing content! As the adults, we also want our students to be on their best behavior, hopefully without any nagging on our part! I have led field trips where it felt that all I said was “don’t,” “stop” and “no.” Those trips felt terrible. Upon reflection, I realized that I couldn’t expect students to know how to behave if they haven’t been taught. When I started to teach students how to sit, I didn’t have to say, “stop lying down.” I could say “check your body,” and students were able to self regulate. This technique also gives students language to remind each other. I love that students can have the confidence to help and support each other.

  1. It makes students confident.

Part of our mission at Live It Learn It is to increase students’ self-efficacy. This technique helps do that.  When kids have a strategy and an example of how to interact in a new situation, they are more confident about their presence there. They are less self-conscious and therefore more able to focus on the fantastic experience.

In Conclusion

I hope this post can be a valuable tool that will make your field trip experiences more polished. The more stress-free your trip, the easier it is for you and your class to enjoy the destination. I love talking about museum skills. If you have any ideas or tips please share them in the comments!

Have you ever felt anxiety about bringing your students to an art museum? You won't need to after you learn these three quick tips for teaching your students how to sit in a museum. Set expectations in a student-friendly way and they'll be ready to learn at any museum!

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