How can you make a museum trip interesting to a disinterested pre-teen or teen? Give them a camera and put them in control of documenting their experience. Then, upload and edit their photos into a documentary-style movie.
"Preamble" by Mike Wilkins; The artist requested license plates from all 50 states in order to create this artwork honoring the preamble of the United States Constitution. (Photo by Ashton McGettigan)
My nephew Ashton is 11 years old. I thankfully note here that he lacks the "I don't care" attitude most kids take on at this age. However, lately he's become increasingly independent and has even adopted a bit of a sarcastic streak.
My sister-in-law brought my nephews and niece into DC for a Sunday afternoon museum trip. I thought it would be good to give Ashton an independent activity that would put him in control of his experience. The point was not to have an experience laden with adult-directed learning, but rather to give him some choice and the opportunity for self-expression.
When we arrived at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, I handed him a digital camera and explained that he was our photographer for the day. I showed him how to turn off the flash (since flash photography is not allowed in most art museums). Then, I explained that when we got home he could upload and edit his photos into an iMovie.
While the adults walked through the museum with the younger kids, Ashton went at his own pace-- always nearby, but focusing on the artworks he was drawn to. When he found something that interested him, he really took the time to set up his photo. Often, he specifically zoomed in to the scenes in paintings or aspects of sculptures that interested him most.
Ashton's photo of "The Headless Horseman Pursuit of Ichabod Crane" zooms in on the action scene in the middle of the painting. (Artwork by John Quidor, 1858)
When we arrived back home, we uploaded all of his photos onto the computer. I opened up iMovie and showed him how to transfer the photos onto the movie workspace. Throughout the process, I introduced him to a task, and then let him play around with it for awhile on his own. Though I would check back to help him with the next stage of editing, my help was not needed for the most part. He had never used iMovie, but was quickly able to figure it out-- making my hours spent laboring over it give me the acute sense that I am technologically disabled and old.
He did need some assistance with adding music to his movie. I showed him how to scroll through our i-tunes list. He was less than impressed with our music selections. He complained, "Aunt Tiffany, I don't know any of this music."
A quick trip to his parents' car yielded a Black Eyed Peas CD and an upload to our computer. As he explained to my husband and I who the Black Eyed Pea were, we happily retorted that we had actually heard of them and that despite the extensive jazz music on our computer, we were actually somewhat hip.
As Ashton finalized his editing, he played with the colors and exposure of some of his photos-- making the kind of choices an artist would in order to give the viewer a specific effect. He enjoyed adding transitions between photos, as well.
When he finished, he proudly emerged from our office to request a whole family viewing. We all gathered around to watch the movie, his younger brother bopping along to "I Got a Feeling." Through the viewing, we got special insight into Ashton's museum experience through his eyes.
Later I was able to upload the movie to YouTube. Ashton plans to share it with his friends, and get this- his history teacher.
With the objective of putting him in control of the experience, he not only wanted to participate, but really enjoyed the process. His mom, on the other hand, has a bone to pick with me. Ashton has requested that he make a documentary film every time they visit a cultural site.
Want to do this with your teen?
This process would work well at any cultural venue that allows photography. Just make sure your teen knows how to use the camera, and how to turn off the flash.
Chances are that most teens understand software like iMovie better than adults. To illustrate my point, consider that every YouTube tutorial I viewed on the topic "How to use iMovie" was created by a 13 year old.
Here are some different programs your teen can use to create a movie or slide show:
iMovie-- This software is available for Mac users and allows you to upload photo or video clips for editing. You can add music, text, and special transitions between images.