Have you been to The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum lately? Many of us remember loading up in the big yellow bus to visit the museum for our elementary school field trips. The museum is not only a part of Oklahoma history, but our own personal history. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum opened in 1965 and you are probably one of the more than 12 million visitors welcomed since then. That childhood memory may be what we still think of the museum today, but you will be surprised and inspired by all the museum has to offer that it didn’t then.
The museum is always changing and adding new exhibits, programs and activities for people of all ages. Families are especially drawn to the hands-on exhibits and to Prosperity Junction, a recreated 19th-century frontier town.
“Sometimes people think that museums only showcase ‘old stuff,’ but there is always something new and fun to discover, from floor puzzles, to gallery hunts, storytelling in the galleries and make-and-take activities,” said Inez Wolins, chief public experience officer. “We are proud to be a national museum and a top tourist attraction, but we also want to be a community resource and gathering place, especially for children and families.”
The museum also provides a variety of public and academic programs year-round, including films, workshops, gallery talks and music to both educate and enlighten.
“The museum is focusing attention on engaging experiences to attract younger audiences, so for example, we presented more than 600 programs last year for pre‐school age through adult learners,” said Wolins.
So what would you find at the museum now that you would not have 10 or even 20 years ago? Lots of activities to do with your family and friends!
“Parents and grandparents are so surprised to see how much they can now do,” Wolins said “and how many ways they can spend their time at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and how many activities are free!”
Visitors will find movies, regularly scheduled local musicians and a new hands-on gallery for children coming this spring, drop-in activities for children on the first Saturday of each month, extended summer hours and new summer camp opportunities.
“It’s very gratifying to know that the museum is making a difference,” said Wolins. “The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum has attracted so many 4-12-year-olds in the past two years, with a particular emphasis on 4-6-year-olds, so creating fun-filled camp sessions for young children felt like the right strategy for us to meet the need for engaging kids all summer long, not just on school break weeks and Saturdays.”
The new Western Explorers Summer Camp at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum offers half-day, weeklong opportunities to learn, play and create. Led by experienced teachers, the small-group sessions feature age-appropriate themes, crafts, games, art projects, snacks and stories. Campers explore the Museum’s collections, exhibitions, gardens and trails, which inspires their imaginations and provides the foundation for fun-filled, creative self-expression.
Your little buckaroos can find sessions like Getting Around in the West, which investigates things that go fast and slow with activities like locomotive exploration to drawing horses to building a stagecoach. The Naturally Nature session explores crafts, folklore and Native foods. Other sessions include making toys and games from the past to the present. Cowhand Couture, where children saddle and buckle up to try their hand at ranch life and Western Inspired Art, introduces both 2-D and 3-D art projects inspired by surroundings.
“We even created a few sessions for parents and adult caregivers. Just for Me Mornings give adult Trail Bosses the chance to meet and mingle, try some crafts and daily projects to take home as well,” said Wolins.
Western Explorers Summer Camp sessions start the week of June 19, with other sessions beginning the week of July 3, the week of July 10, the week of July 17 and the week of July 24. There is still time to register! The deadline to sign up for camps is May 31. Go to the museum’s website at nationalcowboymuseum.org/summercamp/ or call (405) 478-2250, ext. 264.
“The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is not the same place you visited on your fourth-grade field trip,” said Communications Coordinator Tara Carr, “and won’t be the same place you’ll visit next year.”