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Educational Programming

How do we better understand, connect with, and engage learners served by our organizations?

Educational Programming

How do we better understand, connect with, and engage learners served by our organizations?

A group of children seated on purple pillows in an art gallery listen to an adult crouched in front of them.

At Smithsonian Affiliations, we work with our Affiliates to help them curate their educational programming with community in mind. Together, we aim to identify resources from the Smithsonian to build out their offerings.

Learning Audience and Goals

As with all things, we encourage you to start with your community to understand how you might best build on your current offerings in ways that support your audience’s needs. As we work with Affiliates on educational programs, we encourage them to:

  • Identify opportunities and needs in their community to best support their learners. 
  • Specify the intended audience. Rather than trying to be “all things to all people,” consider who can best be served with available resources and expertise.
  • Determine what you want to communicate or teach through the program.
  • Establish learning goals and objectives. What will visitors learn, understand, or be able to do as a result of their participation?
  • Think about how the Smithsonian’s content and resources can add to, amplify, and/or bring new perspectives to their programming.

Collaboration and Capacity

In addition to understanding one’s audience, we encourage Affiliates to identify strategic collaborators within their communities. This may include community organizations, preK-12 schools and program, and colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations.  

In order to have sustaining impact, being clear about your capacity to initiate, execute, and maintain exceptional programming is critical. This includes—but is not limited to— financial and staff resources. 

How might you best leverage Smithsonian connections to make a difference? Other partnerships or collaborations can bring additional capacity, resources, and expertise to a program or project.

Leveraging Smithsonian Resources

As an Affiliate, you can leverage the Smithsonian and its resources to shape and augment collaborations with community partners. You can work with the Affiliations team to explore opportunities to collaborate with the Smithsonian on educational programs. We think of these offerings not as a menu of options but as a collaboration that is developed and shaped to fit the needs of your organization and audience. 

While Affiliations is not a grant-making organization, we periodically receive funding that allows us to offer small awards to Affiliates to participate in various opportunities. These projects link to Smithsonian priorities and allow Affiliates to engage with their communities in new or expanded ways. Through these projects, the Smithsonian is able to understand how its resources and expertise relate to and impact diverse communities; Affiliates are able to build capacity in catalyzing community engagement.

National to Local Stories

Smithsonian Affiliations collaborates with museums and educational and cultural organizations to bring the Smithsonian to your neighborhood. We support you in articulating your story within and alongside the narrative told by the Smithsonian.

Here are some examples of how we have worked with Affiliates to support their work. How does this inspire you? We encourage you to include your ideas in the Statement of Purpose included in your Affiliate application.


Smithsonian Initiative
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AFFILIATE Initiative
National Youth Summit: Woman Suffrage The Ballot and Beyond poster

The National Youth Summit

The National Youth Summit hosted by the National Museum of American History brings middle and high school students together with scholars, teachers, policy experts, and activists in a national conversation about important events in America’s past that have relevance to the nation’s present and future. Past topics have included gender equity, abolition, woman suffrage, and Japanese American incarceration.
A group of people pose in front of the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy at the Japanese American National Museum.

The National Youth Summit in Los Angeles

In 2016, the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) collaborated with the National Museum of American History to host the National Youth Summit – Japanese American Incarceration in World War II. The museums worked together to identify speakers for the summit, leveraging the Affiliate’s knowledge, expertise, educational resources, and community connections. The live webcast of the summit drew 3,600 students and teachers from 36 states and three countries and fostered conversation in communities across the nation.
Smithsonian Initiative
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AFFILIATE Initiative
Two people wearing sunglasses seated at a table with a blue tablecloth hold a container

Smithsonian Science How

Smithsonian Science How—a weekly series of free, live, and interactive webinars from the National Museum of Natural History—connects students to authentic science, discoveries, and collections while inviting them to participate in live polls and ask and answer questions throughout. In addition to the live programs each week, there is a robust archive of recorded programs to share with your audiences.

Museum Live

The Durham Museum worked with Smithsonian Affiliations to develop Museum Live—a weekly broadcast-style show that brings 30 minutes of interactive and engaging content straight to homes and classrooms. The show includes segments featuring guest speakers from the Smithsonian, a behind-the-scenes look at museum exhibits and artifacts, cultural connections to the community, and current events.
Smithsonian Initiative
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AFFILIATE Initiative
Telescope at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is a research center that works to advance our knowledge and understanding of the universe through research and education in astronomy and astrophysics. Its Science Education Department designs, develops, researches, and evaluates major collaborative science education initiatives, including exhibitions, innovative learning technologies, classroom curricula, out-of-school-time learning programs, and professional development initiatives.
A child peers into a telescope as an adult sits next to them.
The Springfield Museum of Art (Springfield, OH)
Abbe Museum (Bar Harbor, MI)

Reaching for the Stars Together

Through the Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos (YCCC) program, participants access the SAO robotic telescopes, take images of the cosmos, and manipulate the photographs to produce their own artistic and scientific interpretations of the stars and galaxies. Since 2012, YCCC has included 29 Affiliate collaborators. Each Affiliate adapts SAO resources and materials to meet the needs of its community. The Springfield Museum of Art combined visual arts and astronomical imaging techniques to engage incarcerated youth, while the Abbe Museum developed a summer camp program in which indigenous knowledge of the Wabanaki Nations informed the experience of students in the local Indian Township School.

Educational Programming


This is a tool to reflect on your own organization’s work as you consider whether affiliating with the Smithsonian is right for your organization.

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