Museum Opening: Museum Voorlinden

We sent our very own Danielle Carter to the opening of a brand new museum of modern and contemporary art in Wassenaar; the Museum Voorlinden. Here’s her thoughts:


Photo courtesy of Danielle Carter

Wassenaar is mostly known across the Netherlands as the classy town that houses the royal family. Now a chic, new neighbour is now garnering additional attention for this little town that sits between Leiden and the Hague: the Museum Voorlinden, which opened its doors to the public yesterday on the 11th of September.

The Museum Voorlinden is nestled among cosy suburban houses, puddles of lavender and dandelions, and a sprawling green oasis. The modern and contemporary art collection is the new project of Wim Pijbes, the former director (2008-2016) of the Rijksmuseum, which Pijbes famously guided through its arduous renovation. After an admirable tenure at the state-owned and -funded public Dutch Golden Age-centric museum, this switch to a privately-owned modern and contemporary art museum is surely a new challenge for the director, whose campaigns at the Rijksmuseum also included opening the museum further to the public with efforts such as uploading the collection online.

Like many modern and contemporary art museums, the Museum Voorlinden embraces plain white walls and minimal contextual information; however, the Museum Voorlinden encourages a narrative in the way that the museum is organised, fosters a flow to the museum visit through the museum guidebook, which directs the visitors through the spaces in an ordered sequence and pairs together artworks that seem to have conversations with one another. This was particularly evident with Sherrie Levine’s (2011) Monochromes After Seurat: 7-12 and Andy Warhol’s (1986) Camouflage and, perhaps more overtly so, with Magritte’s (1931) La Malédiction and Marcel Broodthaers’ (1966) La Malédiction de Magritte. The army green hues in Levine’s Monochromes seem to directly echo Warhol’s Camouflage, which stands across from Levine’s work in the exhibition hall like a mirror, giving the entire room a feeling of wholeness and completeness. In a similar fashion, Magritte’s and Broodthaer’s works face one another from opposite walls, almost as if Broodthaer’s sculpture were greeting its original inspiration.  

Roni Horn (1955), Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar [foto: Antoine van Kaam]

Roni Horn (1955), Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar [foto: Antoine van Kaam]

Overall, the Museum Voorlinden is an excellent option for a short day trip from Amsterdam for lovers of modern and contemporary art, as well as those looking for a small quiet getaway from the city. The Museum Voorlinden is approximately one and a half hours distance from Amsterdam’s city centre. To reach it, take the train from Amsterdam Central Station to Den Haag Centraal and bus 43 from platform G. After 8 stops, get off the bus at Wittenburgerweg and you will have a quaint fifteen to twenty minute stroll down the Zijdeweg and Buurtweg to reach the museum. The entrance to the museum is slightly less pedestrian-friendly than Amsterdam (cars, bikes, and pedestrians all share the path leading to the museum—and there are many more cars here than in Amsterdam), so be aware.

You can purchase a ticket online or at the museum in person. Tickets are 15 euros each for adults (please note that the Museumkaart is not valid) and you can choose to book your ticket for the morning (10.00-13.00) or the afternoon (13.00-17.00).  You can also find more information about the sculpture garden at the Clingenbosch estate—and book a tour—on the Museum Voorlinden website.


Tuinontwerp door Piet Oudolf Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar


The Significance of Rembrandt’s Marten and Oopjen

Danielle CarterWe are delighted to welcome Danielle Carter, owner of Tangible Education and museum educator for Thinking Museum, to write for us. You can learn more about Danielle’s research, educational and practical experience here.


There have been numerous images of Rembrandt’s Marten and Oopjen (1634) splashed across billboards and walls throughout Amsterdam for the past few months. Some solely featured Marten’s extravagant shoe. Some featured Oopjen’s coy half-smile and smouldering eyes. However, it’s hard to really understand the significance of these portraits without more context. This is where we, at Thinking Museum, can assist: the importance of Marten and Oopjen from the museological, historical, and art historical perspective.

From a museological standpoint, the display and acquisition of these paintings is what counts. These paintings have only been shown once in public—in 1956 in the Rijksmuseum for Rembrandt’s 350th birthday. Other than that, they have remained in private hands over the past three and a half centuries—unseen by the public eye. Thus the fact that we have the special opportunity to see these paintings is quite amazing in itself. Furthermore, these paintings were revealed in the Rijksmuseum shortly before Rembrandt’s 410th birthday (on July 14th of this year), a serendipitous arrangement that has given me goosebumps several times. The paintings will go into restoration for a year starting in October, so they will soon be out of the public eye once more.

Additionally, these paintings were—to say the least—pricey. Paintings by Rembrandt are hard to come by and a situation in which one (or two!) comes onto the market is very rare. Even more importantly, however, is that the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre partnered to purchase these paintings. This is unheard of in the museum world thus far, but seems to be a solution to a prevalent issue in the contemporary art world; the fact that private collectors are able to outbid public museums and artworks are thus swept into private collections rather than preserved for the public eye. Technically speaking, the Louvre purchased Oopjen and the Rijksmuseum purchased Marten, but the two museums have agreed that the two paintings will remain together forever. The two paintings are married just as the couple once was.

Historically speaking, these paintings indicate a large amount about the Dutch Golden Ages. During this time, the Netherlands was waging war with the Spanish crown to gain its independence, after which it would establish a republic (rather than a monarchy). During the Dutch Golden Ages, royalty are typically the only ones who have full-length portraits painted; Rembrandt has painted these two “civilians” in this manner, symbolising the status of the wealthy in the Netherlands as well as the (lack of) status of the aristocracy. Oopjen herself was the heir of her long-established Amsterdam merchant family’s fortune in trading gunpowder and grain, whereas Marten was the son of an Antwerp merchant who fled from the cruel Spanish regime enforcing the Inquisition at that time. Again, societal structure was much more based on affluence rather than aristocratic title, lending Rembrandt the authority to paint Marten and Oopjen in this manner that would typically be preserved for royalty.

Finally, for the art history lovers out there, there are many reasons to gawk at these portraits. Rembrandt was relatively new on the scene in Amsterdam at the time that he painted these portraits. They were painted during the same period that he painted The Anatomy Lesson, which is often regarded as the painting that initiated his fame as well as his status as the most prominent portrait painter in Amsterdam. However, because Marten and Oopjen were truly part of the elite, it is very plausible that these wedding portraits launched Rembrandt’s notoriety among the highest and wealthiest of circles in the Netherlands, skyrocketing his reputation—when he was just 28 years old.

Furthermore, these portraits are the first—and only—full-length, life-sized pendant portraits that Rembrandt ever painted. And he painted every single detail of them, rather than having one of his apprentices help with the fabric or background (as he often did with other paintings). These paintings are also relatively typical of Rembrandt’s style early on in his career in Amsterdam. Although the Night Watch (1642) is definitely his most famous painting, his technique and style becomes much more loose by that time, making the juxtaposition of these masterpieces in the Gallery of Honour that much more remarkable.

Make sure you get a chance to marvel at these two portraits at the Rijksmuseum before 02 October!


Interview with Katrina Posner, creator of ‘Ceramic Arts in the Golden Age’

This week Thinking Museum is proud to announce a new programme ‘Ceramic Arts in the Golden Age’ to add our growing list of in-depth tours. Conservator Katrina Posner has designed a special tour focusing on the wonderful ceramics collection in the Rijksmuseum. We caught up with Katrina to find out more:

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
 I grew up in Los Angeles and journeyed to the other side of the country for college, where I studied Art History and wrote my senior thesis on the American artist, Agnes Martin.  After college I joined the mass-migration to San Francisco, where I apprenticed to a paper conservator by day and took chemistry and studio art classes in the evenings. After four years of living the good life in San Francisco, I packed up and moved to Buffalo, New York to begin my studies in art conservation.  I decided to specialise in three-dimensional artworks, or as it is known in the US, objects conservation.  After two years in Buffalo and a year treating objects from the fantastic collection of Egyptian art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, I found myself back in Los Angeles with a Graduate Internship in the Decorative Arts and Sculpture Conservation department at the Getty Museum.  I eventually became a permanent member of that department where I was responsible, among other tasks, for the care and maintenance of the Getty’s collection of modern outdoor sculpture.  In 2013, my family and I decided to shake things up and we moved to Amsterdam.  I’ve since taken a step away from the ‘bench’ and have been exploring different ways to talk about our shared cultural heritage.

How did you come up with the idea for the new programme on ceramics? What was your inspiration?


Part of my recent explorations have been an attempt to consider the history of objects through the lens of my education and professional experience: art history and conservation together.  My impetus was the field of Technical Art History – where the ‘how’ of an object’s genesis is explored alongside the ‘why’ of its contemporary context.  This field invites art history, conservation science and the examination methodologies of art conservation to the same table, and through all of these facets we, as modern scholars, can really explore the internal and external components of an object.  


OK, so why ceramics?  I think clay is a very interesting medium for this kind of focus.
.  It is one of the four natural elements and it exists all over the earth, right there in the ground.  And, when it is combined with fire – another natural element – we get a hard-bodied vessel, plate, sculpture, building material.  The possibilities are, and have been, endless.  The Rijksmuseum’s ceramic arts collection contains examples from a wide range of time periods, cultures and aesthetics.  And, the ceramic objects are nestled in among all the other, sometimes louder, media.  Considering them closely is an opportunity to spend time with some very beautiful gems.  

What can visitors expect from the new programme? Who is the programme aimed at?


Visitors will take a journey through ceramics of the past 1,000 years.    We will look at porcelain from China and then European porcelain from the beginning of the 18th century, we will follow the trail of faience, or majolica, through the Middle East, into Southern Europe and then Northward to the Netherlands.  We will examine how developments, both on the other sides of oceans and the other sides of feudal territories, complimented and encouraged each other.

Because the tour is specialised and somewhat focused, it is for visitors who are looking to go deeper into the context of the ceramics of the Golden Age (and its preceding eras).  It can be a natural compliment to the time that a visitor had previously spent at the Rijksmuseum, or for the visitor who intends to look at the larger collection at a different time.  

What is your favourite object in the new programme and why does it appeal to you? What makes you keep coming back to it?


I am very fond of the Monkey who sits in the case with the other life-sized porcelain animals made by the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory.  The figure is so playful and focused and present.  I am partial to these animals because they were made at the tail end of a completely manic drive to crack the code of porcelain in Europe.  They are examples of a technical tour de force that are equal parts stunning and ridiculous.  

How does your work as a conservator influence your work as a museum docent?


I’ve always said that it is hard for me to walk through a museum’s galleries and not look for damage.  It is, unfortunately, wired into my approach to art – how is this object doing, how has it fared these five centuries since it was made, are we taking good care of it so that future generations will be able to marvel at its artistry? But when I push this sometimes distracting focus to one side and let in appreciation and wonder, I find these all make a good team.  I have had the great privilege of being able to touch many works of art.  I have looked inside the cavities of bronze sculptures with my own eyes and a flashlight, with a borescope, with x-rays.  I have spent quiet hours with a terracotta bust, encountering the hands of the artist through the fingerprints left behind in the hardened clay.  I have marveled at an Egyptian alabaster vessel from 1400 B.C.E. Its walls so even, its surface so smooth.  I know how to look, how to be careful, how to let objects tell their stories, and I look forward to sharing some of these experiences in the galleries.
You can find out more about ‘Ceramic Arts in the Golden Age’ here.

Making Art Accessible for Children

I first met primary school teacher and Cultural Education Developer Ruud van Ooij at our November 2014 Visible Thinking workshop. Since then we have met up again recently to discuss his inspiring art project which selects artworks and then pairs them with thinking routines and open-ended questions for use in the classroom by primary school teachers.  I asked him to write a guest blog post to explain more about the project which aims to make art more accessible to young children.  

The goal at the Nicolaasschool in Oss, where I work as a teacher, is to make children citizens of the planet. We want them to look at the world with an open mind and to develop social awareness. Therefore, we find the ability to reflect very important.

To make it as easy as possible for teachers to reflect with children, I am currently developing a set of cards with which teachers can look at and discuss art with their students. This project is being carried out with help from the Stedelijk Museum in Den Bosch and Kunstbalie. The front of each card will show the artwork and on the back there will be questions and information about the artwork and the artist. The questions will be based on Visible Thinking. It is a great way to structure thinking, and of course… make it visible! To learn more about Visible Thinking I followed a workshop with Claire Bown after having reading the book ‘Making Thinking Visible’ by Ron Ritchhart et al.

ruud blog post 1


Through using the routines in conversations, children learn to form their own opinions and at the same time are also confronted with other opinions. This will help them to listen and have respect for other views. With this way of looking at art there is no right or wrong, as long as you are able to explain yourself. Children become more aware of how to look without immediately giving an interpretation. I find this very refreshing

The artworks used in this project are from various sources. Working together with a few museums, some of the works can be viewed in real life. Some can be viewed around the corner from our school at Museum Jan Cunen, others for example are in the Stedelijk Museum in Den Bosch. This will hopefully help children find their way into museums!

To bring the art even closer to home, the project will also feature artwork that can be seen in the in Oss’ public space. What I notice myself is that you become so much more aware of the art you actually see every day, the artworks you don’t really ‘see’ anymore. By discussing these artworks in class you raise awareness of the art that’s out there, what details you can see and what the meaning is or might be. The connections between school and its cultural surroundings are strengthened.

Ruud blog post 3


Another way to make art more accessible is by including local artists next to other Dutch and international artists. The selected artworks focus most on modern art but covers a wide range of art disciplines, like paintings, sculptures, photography, street art and fashion and so on. The artworks also include a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. By selecting works children (and teachers) will be talking about, works or disciplines they  might otherwise not have looked at can be brought to their attention. This is done to make sure we teach our students to keep an open mind and introduce them to a lot of different art forms.

Visible thinking gives you great structures for conversations. With just one piece of art you can easily talk for half an hour. Because the routines slow you down, time flies by. It is fascinating to see how children can pick up thinking routines so quickly. They learn really fast to just ‘look’ first before giving their own meaning to the subject. I noticed how it is really important to use conditional language. There is so much difference in the feel of the questions “What is this?” opposed to “What do you think this might be?” It is exciting to see children becoming really enthusiastic about looking at art after only discussing a few works . With Visible thinking being used I’m positive that they will never look at art in the same way as they did before.


Drawing and Thinking in the Museum

Today we are starting a series of guest posts from people working and actively experimenting with using Visible Thinking. I got to know Bodil Eide and Paulo Borges at our most recent Visible Thinking Open Workshop at the beginning of March. Bodil and Paulo design courses for students and teachers of art, for people with a creative art practice and for art lovers looking for opportunities to spend more time looking at and learning from art. They offer ‘in-depth’ teaching, where people are invited to explore their real creative capacities through structured tools and strategies. 

My partner Paulo and I offer a series of different art courses, from foundation drawing classes, to art teachers training, to creative strategies for artists with a studio practice. We decided to do Claire Bown’s Visible Thinking workshop in Amsterdam in March, because we use a lot of art historical references in all of our classes. We see looking at art as paramount to developing one’s aesthetic sense and understanding of art as a language. When we heard about Visible Thinking we knew that it would be a great tool to incorporate in all of our classes.

CFB51E2D-842E-4E11-A701-E4767F4FFD7DWe were eager to put the routines she taught us into practice with our art students. We are currently teaching a group of adults observation drawing, and we decided to leave the classroom and do a full weekend with them sketching from the works in the museum of Arte Antiga here in Lisbon, that harbours a large collection of paintings and sculpture from the gothic to baroque era.

Drawing in the museum is a challenge that we are very mindful of. Our main aim for the weekend was of course to further enhance the student´s skills in regards to observation and drawing techniques. But we wanted them to make drawings that were sensitive to each works unique expression, and not merely making a flat, photo-like copy of the painting surface.  Another aim for us was that they’d look at diverse ways that the human figure had been represented at different times, and to convey the differences in feeling, expression and atmosphere in, lets say, a medieval pieta and a baroque portrait of a layman.

B68F87FE-EADC-4A1E-A45E-93191868BA2BThe Visible Thinking routines were perfect for our context. For those of you that know them, we did See-Think-Wonder, and Step-In. We did them with the group before each drawing session. Using the clever questions of the techniques, the students were invited to look and look again, to connect observations, listen to each other, and discover more and more possible ways to understand, receive and acknowledge the art work in front of them. They would go from being quite analytical, to also using their senses, feelings and insights. Then, beside our technical instructions about shading and markmaking with the pencil, their task was to keep this content in mind, to keep a connection to the reflection they had just done, and draw the artwork with the aim of not just copying it, but to show what they were thinking and feeling about it.

The results throughout the weekend were just astounding. We know, and we do our best to teach from this knowing, that one’s state of mind, the quality of one’s attention, one’s interest and empathy for what one is drawing, highly influences and changes the technical skill in each moment. A bored student will make a flat drawing. An inhibited and self-critical student will often make a stiff and hardly visible drawing. But in the next moment, that same student will draw like a master, if the right connection is made. And in the drawing sessions we did on these two days, all of our students made huge technical leaps. They started integrating their sense of light and shade, the use of line and mark, with a very mature and refined rendering of the human figure, as seen in the great art they were observing.

E4A7969C-26AB-457A-A5E2-E681668115BD   8A3CF8F2-0F08-44F8-B82D-B6981E57C090   701C61D6-1158-4539-8C9A-D2F3EF8FCB97   F31FC228-A2BD-48FD-AB03-1A34DEDF546A

Some comments from the students themselves about the weekend:

“I learned to see and feel the artwork. It became easier to convey what I felt in the drawing because I was looking with the eyes of the soul. I think it took me closer to the author.”

“I stopped being a mere spectator, and made an effort to penetrate the mind of the artist, trying to see the work from the inside outwards, identifying the artists state of mind and intentions. I think this made me draw the characters and their surroundings with more vivacity. ”

“There is always a stage of starting a drawing before things come together, and you are not sure if it is going to look alright or not. And you need to have some faith. Keeping a contact with the content felt like an anchor, something that guided me as I was drawing.”

From an art teachers point of view, it felt like the Visible Thinking made it possible for me to make full circle. The students stepped in to the attitude and intention of artists, connecting with other artists, through time and space. They forgot about being “good students”, their judgements dropped away, and they allowed themselves to receive and express the content they were connecting with. And this is what makes good art!

To find out more about Bodil and Paulo’s work, visit their website


‘Late Rembrandt’ Exhibition at the Rijksmuseum

‘Late Rembrandt’ exhibition at the Rijksmuseum. February 12 to May 17 2015.

On February 12 the landmark exhibition ‘Late Rembrandt’ opens at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the city where Rembrandt lived and worked. This is the first time that an exhibition has been dedicated to Rembrandt’s late works from the 1650s until his death in 1669. In collaboration with the National Gallery in London, more than 90 works from leading museums and private collections from around the world will be on display here in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt was born in Leiden, the Netherlands, in 1606 and died aged 63 in 1669. Despite having achieved youthful success and prosperity, his later life was marked by tragic personal losses and professional setbacks, including the death of three of his children shortly after birth and the death of his wife Saskia in 1942. He suffered ongoing financial difficulties which resulted in his bankruptcy in 1652, the forced sale of his large house and his huge collection of props, costumes and naturalia. Later he also lost his common-law wife and only remaining son, Titus.

This exhibition demonstrates how Rembrandt, far from diminishing as he grew older, pursued a new artistic style in his later years experimenting with painting and printing techniques and new interpretations of traditional subjects. The late period of his life can be seen as the most innovative and individualistic of his career. The exhibition expertly examines the ten themes that characterised Rembrandt’s late art such as light, experimentation, self-reflection and intimacy.

NB: Due to large visitor numbers expected at the exhibition, private tours are not permitted. However, we are happy to purchase your timed ticket for you and to prepare you for the exhibition during our Rijksmuseum: The Dutch Golden Age private tour. For more details, contact us. Don’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition!


Field Trips that Teach Thinking Skills

Originally posted on Museum Questions:

Field Trips that Teach Thinking Skills

A number of people have reached out to me to share ways in which they, too, are exploring new approaches to school visits to museums. Some of them have generously agreed to write guest posts to share their ideas. 

The first of these guest posts is from Claire Bown, a freelance museum educator based in Amsterdam. Claire started her own company, Thinking Museum, in 2013. Claire designs innovative learning activities, workshops and training for museums and heritage organizations, and specializes in the use and application of Visible Thinking in the museum environment.

In order to mine these guest posts for ideas related to the bigger question – “What if we tried a whole new approach?” – I have added a few of my own thoughts at the end of the post, in italics.


photo - Claire Bown

In 2011 I joined the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam with the aim of creating a new English language primary school programme for a growing number of international schools in the Netherlands. These schools, free from the constraints of nationally imposed curricula, have long been able to embrace new and innovative ways of learning and teaching. From the outset, therefore, it was important to develop a programme that linked not only to what was being taught in international schools but also and, more importantly, to how it was being taught.

Indeed, there is a great deal of emphasis on the ‘what’ of museum learning: the content. For school groups, especially, there is still a strong need to cover and provide distinct content created to link to school curricula in order to appeal to teachers and school authorities. Whilst this content-based approach certainly has its benefits, defining museum school programmes by their ability to link to curricula limits the potential of museum educational experiences. For my part, I was interested in developing a programme that supplemented learning and complemented the curriculum and worked throughout the project in partnership with teachers from four international schools.  These teachers were an integral part of the research and development on the programme and dedicated considerable time and energy to discussing and piloting the new programme.

On the basis of results from research and focus groups, a new programme was developed based on a common theme of stories and storytelling. However, Stories around the World, as it was christened, was not a content-led programme but one that was guided by it. The main focus was to let students slowly explore and discuss objects for themselves using elements of Visible Thinking as a structure to guide their thinking and to help them practise and develop certain skills, such as careful observation, thoughtful interpretation and considering different viewpoints.

SATW Wonder

Visible Thinking is an initiative developed over a number of years by researchers at Harvard’s Project Zero in collaboration with various schools. At the heart of Visible Thinking are several practices that help to achieve these goals – such as thinking routines. These routines, originally designed for the classroom, are flexible mini-strategies that we adapted for use in the museum. They provide a structure for student-led discussions and encourage the exploration of ideas and also help to spark curiosity and provoke debate about the Tropenmuseum’s extensive collection. Each different routine encourages certain types of thinking – for example, observing and describing, reasoning with evidence, making connections and even wondering.This allows different types of thinking routines to be used easily around the museum for different objects and in a variety of educational programmes. In Stories around the World we used a mixture of historical objects, such as The Great Pustaha, with contemporary art objects and sculpture, such as Yinka Shonibare’s Planets in my Head: Literature.

Pustaha A-1389

The thinking routines trigger lively discussion facilitated by a museum teacher who encourages multiple interpretations from all group members. The process of using a routine also helps to teach students to work collaboratively and to listen respectfully to other student’s opinions. This is an inclusive method that grants even the quietest and most reticent of students the confidence to share their thoughts.

The programmes were launched in 2012 and have been enthusiastically supported by international schools. We discovered fairly quickly that thinking routines have a broad application within a range of subject and age group areas across the museum and two further educational programmes have been created for Dutch primary and high schools. Thinking routines have also been incorporated into adult programming and special events like Museum Night. Museum docents, once trained in using this method, start to incorporate the routines independently and flexibly into other areas of their work with other age groups and types of programmes. These routines can be easily applied in many different types of museums – not just art museums – to target and develop a wide range of thinking skills and promote engagement and curiosity.

When developing a skills-based programme for schools, it is important to manage teacher expectations from the outset and to build strong partnerships and collaborations with schools that can then understand and support the way the educational programme works. Teachers are often surprised (and sometimes even disappointed) that the students will only explore 3-4 objects in around 1.5 hours. Attitudes and assumptions change once teachers have experienced how the programme works in a completely different way to content-led programmes. Educational promotional materials and the museum website and/or blog should be used to their full advantage in explaining the benefits that the students will gain – that is, valuable skills that can be transferred to other locations and contexts.

Ideally, more research needs to be undertaken as to how many schools and students are taking these skills and routines back into the classrooms or their everyday lives and using them again. However, there are numerous possibilities for extending the learning possibilities further and to other contexts. Museums offer a different learning experience from the school environment and as such should not duplicate the learning that takes place there, but be duty-bound to offer a broader range of experiences for students demonstrating the full potential of what museum learning truly has to offer.


For educators who are offering and promoting programs that link to the school curriculum, thinking routines offer an alternative which may be attractive to teachers. For those who have designed programs that teach skills, thinking routines may support what you are already doing.The use of thinking routines during field trips is interesting for a number of reasons:

  1. If students know what to expect, it may be easier to create a specific culture and community in a short time. Ron Ritchhart of Project Zero wrote about this in the Journal of Museum Education in 2007. Claire has written about this on her own blog, here.
  2. These routines suggest a number of skills, or – better termed – habits of thought that we might consider teaching students in the museum. In this way, they support a broader exploration of possible goals for school visits to museums.
  3. I wonder whether thinking routines might offer museum educators strategies for ensuring that conversations are rigorous – open, but not so open that every answer is considered equal. This is a question many of us grapple with: How do we teach students what good, rigorous interpretation looks like, in the context of constructivist educational approaches? (See the post When is Inquiry with Art Philosophical Inquiry? for another approach to that.)
  4. Thinking routines, like Visual Thinking Strategies, are routines that teachers can use in their own classroom. This allows museums to work with teachers to create bridges between museum and school time, deepening impact.



Museum Language

As an educator, docent or guide, do you pay attention to the language you use when you are with a group? Do you notice how certain words, phrases and tenses can have a positive or negative effect on a group?

We regularly facilitate training and workshop sessions to museum educators and docents on how to facilitate discussions in the museum using elements of an approach called Visible Thinking. As part of these sessions, we spend a significant amount of time discussing the language we use in the museum and practising ways to improve the way we frame subjects and facilitate discussions. Whilst the thinking routines help to provide a structure around which we can base the group discussion, the language we use as educators can have an important impact on how the conversation flows.

1. Use neutral language.

Staying neutral as a facilitator encourages feedback from every participant and allows for multiple interpretations. By keeping the words you use and responses you give as neutral as possible, you avoid alienating members of the group and keep the discussion as inclusive as possible. Neutrality also prevents the museum educator or docent being cast (or casting themselves) into the role of the ‘expert’.

2. Use non-judgemental feedback.

Giving feedback to a group member who has made a comment or stated their opinion is  important as it creates a connection between the participant and the facilitator (docent or educator) and also with the group itself. How you react to each comment will have an impact on the group itself. Overly positive or negative feedback can limit and close down a discussion. If you are interested in hearing a wide range of comments from all participants, giving feedback without any implied judgement is essential. This requires practice and patience. Effective feedback  requires careful use of language and a neutral stance (verbally and through body language). If you find it hard to offer a neutral response, try summarising or paraphrasing what the person has said using the conditional language described below. Using feedback in a neutral way opens up the group discussion so that everyone in the group feels their opinions are valid and valued.

3. Use conditional language.

This simply involves the use of language that implies allows for multiple correct answers or options for example, ‘might’ ‘could’ ‘maybe’ and so on. This opens up the conversation within the group and allows for more possibilities and interpretations. Compare, ”Finn says that the object comes from Africa’ to ‘Finn thinks that the object might come from Africa. What does everyone else think?’

4. Use the language of thinking.

The language of thinking can be simply defined as words that describe and evoke thinking. The aim is to develop and encourage a rich language of thinking; where one hears words like reason, conclude, opinion rather than think, guess and feel as using these precise words actually helps people to think better. As a docent, you can use a rich and diverse vocabulary to paraphrase participant comments thus modelling the use of such words.

5. Use thinking routines.

As educators and docents, we are often given checklists of language and questioning ‘do’s and don’ts’ with our groups. As I’ve said before, this tends to confuse and overload the very person who is in control of a group’s museum experience.

Thinking routines provide a structure for your conversations and discussions and alter the way educators and docents interact with their groups. The carefully structured questions in these routines prompt the educator to model similar language. Regular and repeated use of thinking routines has been shown to help build a language of thinking, encourage the use of conditional language (‘might’ ‘could’ etc) and help people externalise their thoughts more clearly (for more information, see here).

Remembering to stay neutral, use non-judgmental feedback and being aware of how the language you use can affect the group, takes time and practice. I struggled with neutrality in the early days of working with this method – particularly after comments that I was personally impressed with or that opened up new lines of inquiry. I have now learned to curb my enthusiasm which benefits the group as a whole. The next time you are leading a group in the museum, try to pay a little more attention to the language you use and observe what effect this has on the overall discussion and participant experience. A few small changes could yield a more open and balanced discussion for all.




6 Steps to Stress-Free Museum Visiting with your Kids

I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues about how and when you should introduce your children to museum-going. Museums can seem quite daunting places for families when you are unfamiliar with them. So, before you visit, do some planning and get the most out of your visit:

1. Do your research.

Choose your museum carefully. Ask your children where they want to go. Look online to check transport links, admission prices, layout and facilities. Find out if you can take refreshments and a sandwich to eat there (the Rijksmuseum has a picnic room, for example) or if there is a museum cafe. Find out how large the museum is, how many floors there are and what the lift access is like. Look at the collection and scan to see what parts interest you and what you think would interest your children. Talk to your children about the visit before you go to trigger their interest and curiosity. Tell them the name of the museum and ask them what they think they are likely to see there? Make it a game!

2. Time your Visit Well

Plan when you want to go – some of the larger museums can be extremely busy in peak times and frustrating for families. If you have to spend time queueing for tickets and the cloakroom before you’ve even seen a single object, the kids will start getting restless. If you can buy tickets online, do so!

A visit at opening time or later in the afternoon is the best time of day to go. If you do choose to go in the middle of the day, opt for a less busy part of the museum (the hidden galleries rather than the Gallery of Honour, for example) or go to a less well-known museum instead.

3. Limit bagage

Take as little as possible with you. Backpacks are generally not welcome in museums because they can cause damage to objects, so take a small shoulder bag instead. Anything you don’t need can go into a locker or a cloakroom. Check you have change for the lockers! And remember to use the toilets before you start..

4. Use their educational facilities or book your own..

Check before you go to see if the museum has a family audio tour (the Rijksmuseum has a good one) or a children’s activity trail. Some museums have a dedicated room where you can go and create artwork or take some time out (check out the Family Lab at the Stedelijk). Join a guided tour – most museums have an agenda or calendar on their website with what’s going on. There are usually guided tours that you can sign up for in advance or at the information desk when you get there. Plenty of museums are now doing family tours too. Book a private guide or museum educator, particularly one that is specialised in working with families and children to get even more out of your visit. There are a variety of companies out there specialising in designing private museum programmes especially for families which involve a variety of educational activities and interactive exercises for children of all ages. If you go with one or two other families, this can be a fun and educational option that ensures both children AND parents have an interesting time.

5. Bring your own fun

I started off taking my children to museums with a small notebook each and a pencil. I just told them that whenever they saw something they liked, they should make a note of it either with a drawing or by writing. As they are now older, they get to hold the maps and decide where we are going. When we get to the art work or object, you can ask some very simple questions to get them talking ( ‘What do you see?’ ‘What do you think is going on?”‘What are you still wondering about?’). You don’t need to give them lots of facts and information, concentrate on getting them to look and observe and making up their own minds. You can let them take turns in using a camera and taking selfies with the artworks or objects. You could also bring a pair of binoculars or magnifying glasses to let them explore everything in detail!

6. Set a time limit

With museum cards and free entry in some countries, you really don’t need to see the whole museum in one visit – that just leads to museum fatigue! For the first visit, start with 45 minutes to an hour and see how it goes. You can then increase it from there. Bear in mind that most children will start to lose interest after 90 minutes without a break (or a very interesting activity to keep them amused).

A few simple steps ensure that your museum visit is stress-free and focuses on enjoying the art and museum objects rather than finding the toilets and buying the tickets. Happy museum visiting!