SKOWHEGAN – On a recent afternoon, fourth-graders at Bloomfield Elementary School examined owl skulls and the webbed feet of a loon. They made drawings of birds and searched for bones in owl pellets.

They also practiced their writing by taking notes for a journal entry.

The activities are part of weekly visits from the L.C. Bates Museum in Fairfield. The museum runs an educational outreach program that takes exhibits to schools, helping them save on transportation costs while still giving children an opportunity to explore beyond the classroom.

The Bloomfield fourth-grade classroom is one of about 106 in the area to incorporate the growing program into the curriculum.

Once a week the class welcomes Serena Sanborn, one of three teachers at the museum, who brings a different exhibit from the museum’s natural sciences collection.

“The number of field trips we can take is limited, so it’s a more economical and acceptable solution to get kids access to things we don’t have,” said their teacher, Peter Hockmeyer.

“A lot of schools don’t have money for field trips, so this is a way of bringing the museum to the school,” said Deborah Staber, the museum’s director. “It doesn’t cost the museum anything because it’s funded with grant money and the schools don’t have to pay for busing. It’s a win-win,” she said.

The program started in 2006 with one part-time teacher going to five or six classrooms, Staber said.

Last year it reached about 60 or 70 classrooms. Since then, it has grown to reach 106 classrooms in 17 schools and 10 pre-schools this year, she said.

Staber said demand has grown at the same time the museum has seen fewer school field trips coming to it.

“There’s just a huge drop in the number of field trips everywhere,” she said.

Realizing that need was one of the reasons the museum started its educator program, which is funded by grants from a variety of sources, Staber said. Some of the money comes from the national Institute of Museums and Library Services. Some comes from local donors such as Skowhegan Savings Bank, Franklin Savings Bank and the Plum Creek Timber Co.

FITTING IN MUSEUM VISITS

The Bloomfield fourth-graders haven’t gone on any science-related field trips this year, Hockmeyer said, and the museum program is a way of letting them explore things in nature that they might not see otherwise.

Because of scheduling limitations, Sanborn comes to the class during their language arts period, so Hockmeyer said he has incorporated writing into the visit. Students take notes during the visit so they can write journal entries later on.

In the fourth-grade curriculum, Hockmeyer said he covers three major science topics: land and water, motion and space, and ecosystems. The program provides access in the way a traditional field trip would, he said.

Sanborn visits classrooms at the pre-kindergarten, second- and fourth-grade levels. She spends about an hour a week in each classroom. The programs typically run eight to 10 weeks.

The program focuses on Maine’s natural history, with each week organized around a different topic. Themes of the current program include Maine habitats, animal groups, rocks and minerals, and trees and plants.

The birds lesson the Bloomfield students recently engaged in fell under animal groups, which also might include visits about insects, reptiles or endangered species.

Sanborn still hopes children will visit the museum with their families to see the things they won’t see in school.

As part of the program, the museum offers four family days with free admission to students and their parents.

The family days have themes that relate back to the lessons in the classroom and often include outdoor activities, such as exploring the pond at the museum’s campus.

“The idea is to still get them here but get their parents to bring them,” Staber said.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

rohm@mainetoday.com