Min Yu with daughter, Sofia, at a past Barnetimen event.
By Alex Robinson • Photos courtesy Vesterheim Museum
Exploration, creativity, history – and a snack. It’s the perfect combination of things for the children and care-givers who head to Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum’s Barnetimen (Norwegian for “children’s hour”).
The collaborative effort of Jennifer Kovarik of Vesterheim and Jenni and Eric Petersen-Brant of Decorah’s ArtHaus, Barnetimen creates space for children to interact, play, create, and learn.
“The class is designed to be a ‘museum studies class for pre-schoolers’,” says Eric Petersen-Brant. “The goal is to teach them about Norwegian and pioneer history, plus modern art…as well as museum etiquette.”
Held on the third Tuesday of every month, each themed event utilizes the museum’s rotating and permanent exhibits. Activities are geared toward children ages 3-5, along with their parents or adult supervisor, and sessions are free of charge and open to the public with no sign-up needed.
Decorah resident Brenda Carlson helped conceive the idea of Barnetimen back in the early 2000s as a means of involving younger families with the museum. Carlson felt that Vesterheim, one of Decorah’s most iconic attractions, had a lot to offer young children in their development.
The partnership between ArtHaus and Vesterheim began in 2010, expanding upon Barnetimen’s original concept to include an interactive, artistic component. The program continues to grow today, with regular attendance of about 30-40 children per session along with their parents, grandparents, friends, and teachers.
Barnetimen is free of charge thanks to sponsors David and Brenda Carlson, Keith and Amy Bruening, Norwegian Mutual Insurance Association, and Black Hills Energy. Pictured with children attending Barnetimen – Left to right, back row – Eric Petersen-Brant, Amy Bruening, Shawna Wagner, David Carlson, Chris Johnson. Middle row – Nicholas Klein, Brenda Carlson, and Jenni Petersen-Brant.
Barnetimen’s coordinators love the energy and wonder children bring to the museum.
“Going to a museum should be fun, and you should have some ‘wow’ moments,” says Kovarik, Youth Educator at Vesterheim. “Children aren’t afraid to have ‘wow’ moments or fun out loud.”
Kovarik and the Petersen-Brants have created a wow-filled and fun 2016-2017 season of events: From learning about Norwegian crowns and holiday traditions to talking about the Northern Lights and world travel, children will be able to explore a diverse array of topics and activities that will give them the opportunity to ask good questions, meet new friends, and end the morning the way we wish we all could: with a thematically appropriate snack.
The 2016-2017 Barnetimen season kicked off Tuesday, September 20. Children were invited to check out Vesterheim’s ship gallery, where they learned about the many different vessels used to cross the Atlantic, like the “Tradewind,” a boat sailed by two Norwegian brothers across the Atlantic in 1933. The whole 25-foot sailboat sits inside a large room in Vesterheim!
October’s Barnetimen featured the fall folk art exhibit – children were invited to explore the woven textiles on display and learn to make a weaving of their own. In November, participants were royalty for the hour as they learned about Norwegian crowns and made crowns of their own. December’s festive lesson featured Norwegian Christmas traditions followed by a project to give away or keep, and a little krumkake to boot.
January will kick off 2017’s events with a lesson on Aurora Borealis, followed by the opportunity to paint the Northern Lights with special frozen paint. February’s event is all about love – participants will look for hearts hidden around the museum and use them as inspiration to make something special for their loved ones. In March, art will serve as the vehicle for a morning of “world travel,” and in April, children will explore houses from long ago and decorate their own tiny homes.
Kovarik says the goal of Barnetimen is to, “help kids become mini-explorers who know how to seek out interesting objects and use what they see or find to make something new and creative.” And Vesterheim is the perfect place to do just this: “There’s always something new at Vesterheim, and Jenni, Eric, and I try to incorporate that into each season.”
Be sure to bring your own explorers to the Vesterheim lobby at 10 am for some exciting “wow” museum moments!
Barnetimen sessions are held on the third Tuesday of the month, and begin at 10 a.m. and last an hour. The 2017 dates and themes are:
January 24, 2017 (rescheduled from Jan 17) – Northern Lights: Learn about the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights and paint your own version with special frozen paint.
February 21, 2017 – Hearts: Look for hearts around the museum and use them for inspiration to make something special for your sweetheart.
March 21, 2017 – Travel: Make some cool binoculars and take them on a trip around the world through art.
April 18, 2017 – Houses: What makes a house a home? Visit houses from long ago and decorate your own tiny house.