Serena Anfuso dissects a owl pellet as part of the Night Wings program at Kelowna Museums.

Serena Anfuso dissects a owl pellet as part of the Night Wings program at Kelowna Museums.

Hands on learning helps kids enjoy Kelowna’s museums

Jennifer Ferguson is getting ready to head back to school.

  • Aug. 25, 2011 6:00 p.m.

Jennifer Ferguson is getting ready to head back to school.

Technically speaking, she’s already graduated from an anthropology program with a university degree.

But, as a volunteer docent at Kelowna Museums, this September she will once again return to the classroom—though this time she won’t be hitting the books.

“It’s really nice for students to have experiential learning time,” explained Michelle Harvey, who runs the five Kelowna Museums education programs.

Ferguson and four other dedicated docents help her give students from all over the Central Okanagan School District a different perspective on everything from the local bat population to military history and the medicinal plants that grow on the hillsides; and they do so in the most hands-on way possible.

“All of the programs are curriculum-based, so they meet certain learning outcomes,” said Harvey.

“We do the programs at the museums and we also take them out to the school, but the focus is on hands-on learning.”

Each program begins with a discussion about the museum, what it does for the community and how it enriches the cultural life of the valley.

From the Okanagan Military Museum, to the Orchard Industry Museum, B.C. Wine Museum, Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame and Heritage Museum, the collections run valley-wide and now have a 75-year history in the area. Yet many don’t realize the breadth of the museums’ work.

Introducing students to what’s available at a young age gives them an additional resource for learning about their community and opens new angles to learn the information contained in their textbooks.

Popular programs like Night Wings, which looks at owls in the region, give students time to explore the taxidermy owl specimens, for example, and learn about the natural history of the area while holding a once live owl and dissecting owl pellets brought in from a Lower Mainland sanctuary.

“At first, I thought it was going to be creepy,” said Ferguson, who admits she wasn’t sure of the taxidermy portion of the program.

“But it’s really not and the kids really, really like it.”

Ferguson connected with the docent program at the volunteer fair hosted inside the Parkinson Recreation Centre every September by Kelowna Community Resources and says the experience has been exactly what she was searching for to help her connect with the community.

“I like everything about it,” she said. “I like the fact that I get to work with all different kids from all the different schools. I like being an ambassador for the museum itself. And I like the fact that I’m using what I went to school for.”

The museums have four other volunteer docents like Ferguson who deliver 25 programs.

In addition to the owls, the small animals programs break out a stuffed rabbit, chipmunk, squirrels, a bat and two weasels to the younger students’ delight.

This year a new program will show off the lives bees now flying in and out of a hive at the Laurel Packinghouse’s Orchard Industry Museum.

And one of the stronger programs for the high school age-group—focusing on military history— will bring retired social studies teachers and veterans into the classroom for a survey of local military history.

Ask Harvey which program is the most popular and she will say that the dress-up version of pioneer Susan Allison’s life on her homestead (located on what’s now Quails Gate Estate Winery) has been a huge hit since the beginning.

There are programs which don’t get as much attention, though, and many of them are very successful when the docents get to deliver the material.

Ethnobotany, for example, is largely under utilized, according to Harvey.

Students get a chance to learn about the various sages and roses and lavenders growing in the valley, and often pick up some of the details of how the area developed along the way.

Rose hips, a small red berry, grow abundantly in the area, and were chewed by the first European settlers to ward off scurvy on the journey over, she said, while lavender can ward off insect bites.

Whether pulling apart the old orchard machinery or surveying the museums’ ancient Egyptian artifacts, a day at the museum will likely prove an intriguing part of most Central Okanagan students’ school program this year.

Teachers are already booking classes, but the museum could use some more volunteer docents to do more research and help teach the programs.

To volunteer, call Michelle Harvey, curator of education and public programming, at 778-478-4098 or email



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