Emma St. Dennis - Executive Assistant to the President & CEO
April 29th is Logan’s eighth birthday so I’d like to share (brag) about my oldest grandson in this month’s blog. He and I really enjoy each other’s company and we both love to explore Conner Prairie’s many offerings together.
Just this past weekend, I decided to ask Logan about his memories from Conner Prairie. We chatted about his 2nd grade Boy Scout troop’s upcoming trip. They will be coming from Richmond, Indiana to Conner Prairie for a visit on April 14th for the Scout Day on the Prairie
program. Scouting is a tradition in our family. I’ve been a Girl Scout since 1960 and all three of my daughters were in Girl Scouts. My girls attended many programs offered for the Girl Scouts here, I even remember “camping” in the Prairie House once or twice with our troops. Now the two oldest granddaughters are in local troops and you guessed it, Mamaw is right there in the midst of things helping with their troops also. Logan is my first Boy Scout, so this is new, exciting territory for me.
Logan and I also talked about the River Crossing water area and how he remembered building a boat lock last summer for his ship to travel from one height of water to the lower level. I love having a dialogue with him regarding what he has learned here, he’s like a sponge, as kids seem to retain everything at this age. Logan, of course, will be the tour guide for all his Boy Scout friends, as he knows Conner Prairie so well. He will instruct them in marching like a Union soldier in the Civil War Journey
area, show them how to pack the horse saddle in Lenape Camp and of course make sure they stop by the barn to see all the baby animals. He is especially anxious to show off his balloon piloting skills.
Stay tuned, as the adventures of this lively group of grandkids explores the outdoor grounds at Conner Prairie this spring. We promise to have lots of fun and hope to have you join us – you’ll recognize us – I’m the proud Mamaw taking pictures every three or four steps! Happy Birthday Logan!
Posted: 4/6/2012 4:14:14 PM
Emma St. Dennis
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So we have 25 fresh, new youth volunteers
, announced a couple weeks ago, and the question before us now is, “What do we do with the UFO in our backyard?”
Let me back up…
Over 80 wonderful young people applied for our Youth Volunteer Program this winter. In an intense interview process, we ask them a variety of questions. Some questions are meant to show their communication skills. Some questions show us their historic skills. My favorite interview question, however, was a funny one: “If a flying saucer landed in your backyard, what’s the first thing you’d say to the alien?”
This question was meant to set the kids at ease by making them laugh, but it turned out to be one of our most profound. Most kids wanted to ask the alien, “Where are you from?” and “Why are you here?” Perfectly natural. Some would run away screaming. Also natural. But a handful of kids showed guest service potential:
• “I’d introduce myself and shake his hand. Or hands.”
• “I’d learn his language or invent a translator like on ‘Star Trek.’”
• “I’d give the alien ice cream.”
The faces of some kids lit up as they imagined everything they could learn from an alien:
• “I’d ask how to drive the flying saucer and how old you had to be on his planet to have a license.”
• “I’d want to know about their families and clothes and food and what they did for fun and everything.”
With this silly little UFO question, I see in our applicants guest service skills and enthusiasm to learn from others. I also see the challenge before me. In the month and a half before Opening Day (March 31), somewhere between training, costumes and policies, we still have to deal with this UFO in the backyard. Because the most important thing I can teach these youth is how to deal with “the other.”
“The other” may be a guest. The shy little 10 year old will have to smile at unfamiliar guests on the historic grounds and invite them to try an activity. Figuratively, the youth will “offer them ice cream and learn to speak their language.”
“The other” may be a new uncomfortable experience, like picking up after a goat in Animal Encounters.
“The other” may be a different worldview. The youth volunteer hears stories from a Lenape Indian, takes on the role of a fugitive slave in Follow the North Star
, looks at the Civil War from both sides or literally steps into the shoes of a character in 1836.
In the end, I hope when my youth and our guests come to Conner Prairie, they echo this answer about the UFO: “I want to know about their families and clothes and food and what they did for fun and everything.”
If you’re interested in learning more about what our youth volunteers are up to be sure to ‘Like’ us on Facebook!
Posted: 2/28/2012 1:57:23 PM
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Emma St. Dennis - Executive Assistant to the President/CEO of Conner Prairie
Welcome to my blog this year – “Our Favorite Things.” As the executive assistant to the President and CEO I have the opportunity to work with Ellen and our board of directors on a daily basis. I’ve been on staff for a year now and really enjoy the daily variety that comes with this position.
The focus of my blog will be to share the exploits of five of my favorite people. Emma, 11, her sister Ella Rose 7, cousins Logan 7 and his sister Eliza 3, and youngest cousin Beau almost 3. Being Mamaw to this handful is the best job ever!
As a long-time member of Conner Prairie, I first brought my oldest daughter here in 1978 – and we’ve been coming back ever since – first with my three girls and now with the five grandkids.
Our entire family has made Conner Prairie the place to create lots of memories. We have a tradition of attending the 4th of July symphony concert and we never miss Headless Horseman in October. The best memories are the in-between times – from throwing tomahawks in Lenape Village, walking on stilts in Prairietown, visiting the barn with all the young animals or even riding a circular bicycle big enough for all of us during Maker Faire. Stay tuned all this year to see what this active group is doing next.
A visit is never complete until we have visited Discovery Station inside the museum center, especially during the winter. We come often for a tea party, play with the trains and of course, milk the cow! Playing “store” and purchasing bread and vegetables in the market is always a highlight. Best of all, there are comfy “big kids” chairs for the when the grandkids outlast Mamaw!
Meet Conner Prairie's Staff Bloggers!
Posted: 2/3/2012 4:03:34 PM
Emma St. Dennis
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Rosie Arnold - Education Programs Manager
Hi! My name is Rosie Arnold, and I’m Conner Prairie’s Education Programs Manager. That means I spend most of my time creating programs and activities for both our school and general audiences.
I recently finished grad school, and so my head is still full of research data and technical terminology. One of my favorite things I learned in grad school was a concept called informal or “free-choice” learning. Essentially this means any kind of learning that takes place outside the traditional classroom setting, like watching TV, attending a play, or (most importantly for me) visiting a museum. This type of learning is particularly powerful because it is driven by people’s interests. We are all free to choose when, where, and what to learn. Best of all, research shows that free-choice learning works best when people are having fun!
So that’s my job- to make learning fun. To do that, I ask myself a few simple questions.
1. Do I like what I’m working on? If I don’t like a program I’m creating, how could I expect anyone else to like it either?
2. Would a kid like what I’m working on? What would my fourth-grade self have thought about this activity? If she wouldn’t have liked it or understood it, fix it.
3. Am I creating a “real” experience? I can’t tell you how often we get asked if our fires/bugs/food/buildings/you-name-it are real. (For the record, the answer is almost always yes.) I plan to elaborate on this phenomenon in a later post. For now I’ll just say that most of us live our lives on a screen, so my goal is to create experiences where people can put those away for a while and instead focus on something authentic, tangible, and, dare I say, real.
4. How can I make a “required” subject exciting? Conner Prairie serves approximately 50,000 students a year, and there’s no getting around the fact that most of them must meet certain academic standards. But there’s also no reason we can’t help students learn about required (and therefore often perceived by kids as boring) subjects in a fun way. Need to learn about the causes of removal of Native American Indian groups in Indiana? Go talk to a real member of the Lenape tribe, in Lenapehoking. Have to observe, compare, and record the physical characteristics of animals? Meeting Shelly the goat or Ed the sheep in the Animal Encounters barn will help.
5. Will this spark someone’s curiosity? There’s no way you can learn everything there is to know about a particular topic in one hour-long program. And we’re okay with that. However, history is chock-full of interesting tidbits, and I try to include just enough of them to spark your curiosity. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll go home and want to learn more on your own. And that, after all, is the most powerful kind of learning there is.
Posted: 1/25/2012 9:55:23 AM
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Last month I blogged (is that really a verb?) about figuring out what you really like at cultural places you visit – not waiting for an “expert” to tell you what’s great. And, I asked readers to tell me what they really like at Conner Prairie.
I’m pleased that a few readers wrote in to express their thoughts. Now it’s my turn to say what I really like at Conner Prairie. Here goes.
• As someone who grew up around New York City, the only animal I knew well was George our standard poodle. Working here, I’ve been amazed by our farm animals. I never expected them to have personalities, no less communicate their needs so clearly. Our enormous oxen Red and Blue lift their chins to be scratched when someone approaches; I’m always happy to comply.
• Doctor Campbell and his mysterious and ghastly assortment of cures continues to surprise and amuse me. Someday I’m going to see if blood letting with leeches actually improves a headache.
• I like handcraft – always have, and am riveted by the spark of hammer on anvil in the blacksmith’s shop and the rhythm of the shuttle on the loom.
Toddlers are my favorite age because they express delight with every muscle. In the past month I’ve seen one tiny boy dash madly after a baby goat and another yell “train” with glee when the tram rounded the corner. Can you tell I’ve just become an empty nester and am ready to adopt grandchildren?
I could listen to Mike in the Lenape Village wind tales for hours, and I always tear up when former slave Albert Cheatham escapes from Morgan’s Raiders in 1863 Civil War Journey
• Finally, I am most at peace when I round the dusty path south of Prairietown and can view the White River snaking around the bend. I can just imagine canoes loaded with furs headed further north up to William Conner’s trading post.
How wonderful it is to stop and name the things I like best. Like counting blessings instead of worries.
Posted: 8/31/2011 11:30:24 AM
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See, Feel, Smell the Civil War
Our Mother’s Day Tradition is Conner Prairie
A Year in the Life of a Conner Prairie Volunteer