Don’t tell anyone, but I can be one of the sneakiest people you have ever met. Especially when it comes to kids. I have figured out ways to get kids to enjoy learning vacations without even realizing they are learning.
When families come into town, we often head over to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West (BBCW). I never tell the kids they are going to a museum because I don’t want them to put up any barriers or start saying things like “Oh no, not another museeeeeum.” You know, using the tone where teenage daughters roll their eyes and say “Oh, Mother” and turn “Mother” into a three-syllable word.
I don’t want them to think they are learning anything. At least until it is too late.
Fortunately, we have an array of “please touch” exhibits and wow-inducing displays that showcase our region’s history and Western spirit and introduce our larger-than-life town founder. The Buffalo Bill Museum features wall-sized displays and interactive exhibits spotlighting the showman’s legendary Wild West Show, encounters with royalty and some of the colorful characters who traveled with him.
One of my first tricks is to casually let it slip that when he was still known as just Bill, Cody was a Pony Express rider who often made a 320-mile ride using 21 horses. The kids like that fact, but they really start to think when I tell them that he was only 14 at the time. I know many parents who say they would like to send their teenagers out the door to go on a long ride that takes nearly a day, but I don’t think they really mean it.
The Buffalo Bill Museum is just part of the BBCW, and I try to show the kids as much as possible knowing that their interests are all over the place. The Draper Museum of Natural History features some terrific displays, and most kids are fascinated with the wolves that were reintroduced close to 20 years ago. The Cody Firearms Museum is usually met with complete enthusiasm or with skepticism. The skeptics are often captivated as they realize just how much engineering and innovation go into creating firearms.
Others take to the Plains Indian Museum and want to learn more about the history of American Indians tribes. The creative types are drawn to the Whitney Western Art Museum, and I always make sure to stop for a little extra time to view the works of my favorite painter, Albert Bierstadt.
Sometimes with the littler kids, I promise to take them to the coolest diorama they have ever seen. Since most of them have made dioramas at school, they have a pretty good idea what to expect. When they get to Tecumseh’s Old West Miniature Village and Museum, however, they are pretty amazed at just how big it is. I take them around the room-sized, glass-enclosed display and again I casually tell them about a few scenes illustrating the history of the West.
Now when I really pull off my best sneaky work is when I convince kids that they should gather some information, shoot a few pictures and even take some notes because when their teachers assign them a project, they won’t really have to do much “work.” Instead, they can just pull out the stuff they gathered on vacation. I also tell them to play it coy about where and when they learned these things. If they think they are pulling a fast one on their teachers their enthusiasm goes up even more.
I also love it when the parents tell me that their kids repeat things they learn weeks and months later. Nothing compares to that experience.
Until next week, I am lovin’ life – and thinking up new ways to teach your kids about the West – in Cody, Wyo.