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Education in Museums: Fostering Unique Student Learning Experiences

By Laura Kilian Jaster, Senior Manager of Docents & Outreach

A bus stops at ornate metal gates in the middle of downtown Cincinnati. Students stumble out of the bus onto the sidewalk, excited to be out of school and on a field trip. As they come down the sidewalk their eyes grow wide at the site of the large house which is the Taft Museum of Art. For many students, a school experience at the Taft is their first visit to the museum – for some, it is their first visit to any museum. 

“Who lives here?” asks a student as the class walks through the doors into the museum. This is the first indication that the Taft Museum of Art is not like other art museums. It is, perhaps, not what students envisioned when they were told they were going to an art museum. Almost immediately, with this question, students connect the museum with something they are familiar with – a home, a place where people live. This ready connection to their own lives, experiences, and prior knowledge is a crucial first step in how the Taft activates art and place for 21st-century learning.  

From the start of their visit, students connect the museum to their own lives. But they also experience a sense of wonder – the knowledge that this is a special place, different from their school, different from the world outside. Their experiences in the museum build on this sense of wonder. Students encounter works of art, inhabit interesting spaces that encourage closeness, and participate in unexpected activities that enhance their learning through play and creativity.

School experiences at the Taft foster engagement with original works of art as well as student learning, thus underscoring creative thinking and highlighting collective meaning-making. What makes our museum special is our ability to do this through small group engagement in intimate spaces with works of art that are readily accessible. Students may not have direct experiences relating to the works in our collection, but together we can examine what is being depicted and dig deeper into larger discussions. The feeling of closeness and being “at home” contribute to a feeling of comfort that allows students to engage more freely and think about art differently. Art doesn’t just belong in a big white box; it belongs in homes and spaces they are familiar with.

The hallmark of these experiences is exploring the connections between what students are viewing (works of art), their own lives (experiences), and their classroom learning (prior knowledge). This three-pronged connection with the student and museum space at the center creates a powerful learning moment that allows students to apply what they've discovered in fresh settings helping them to activate their knowledge and practice skills such as critical thinking. The combination of a unique museum setting with deep engagement with works of art is where the Taft shines.

This school year, the Taft invites educators and students to share in these transformational learning experiences for a curricular-aligned, arts-engagement experience that is truly unique. Learn more by clicking here or by emailing

Laura Kilian Jaster, Senior Manager of Docents and Outreach

About the author

Laura Kilian Jaster, Senior Manager of Docents and Outreach

Laura Kilian Jaster is a museum and arts educator focused on engaging students of all ages with original works of art to facilitate connections between their lived experiences and their learning. Laura has her Master of Arts in Art History from the University of Oregon and has worked for museums and nonprofit arts organizations across the Midwest.

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