Indulging Curiosities

December 21, 2023

Education alum Jessie Collins poses for a photo inside the London Children's Museum, where she serves as Education Manager.

There’s a core belief at the London Children’s Museum that children are competent, capable and curious.

For the past 15 years, Education alum Jessie Collins has followed this belief as she works alongside her museum colleagues to foster memorable play-based learning experiences for countless classrooms.

Collins takes pride in the immense impact she’s had on the thousands of children who walk through the museum’s exhibits each year, but it’s not a career she always envisioned for herself.

Hailing from a family of scientists, a Bachelor of Science degree seemed only natural for Collins, who went into university unsure if she would become a teacher or a veterinarian.

The debate was settled after she began a summer job at London Children’s Museum, midway through her undergraduate degree.

What Collins expected was a chance to pick up some money to support her studies at Western University. What she received was an opportunity to a carve a unique career path tailored to her interests and skills.

“I got to be involved in running education programs for field trips in the spring, which is one of our busiest seasons, and I just really loved collaborating with teachers and learning from teachers,” Collins said.

Those collaborations saw Collins provide experiential learning opportunities at the museum for both students and teachers, a process she refers to as indulging curiosity.

“I just saw a huge benefit in providing that play-based learning for students, but more so my favourite part was watching how the teachers would react to their students’ reactions,” Collins added.

“It was something that I really enjoyed being a part of.”

The summer job turned into an all-season occupation as Collins continued working through her undergrad with a clear goal in mind.

After obtaining her science degree, Collins was ready to begin Western’s Teacher Education program.

“Up until then, I had a really solid understanding of how the London Children’s Museum runs programs, but I was still learning how to make those connections to curriculum,” Collins said of her first memories in the Teacher Education program.

“The biggest piece for me was that I could bring what I knew about play, as well as the Children’s Museum pedagogy, and apply it in a classroom setting.”

A few months after graduating, Collins moved into a full-time role at London Children’s Museum, where she was tasked with building up educational programming and expanding its reach.

When she began in the role, the London Children’s Museum was experiencing a significant drop in field trip attendance, which prompted the museum’s senior management team to speak directly with school boards in hopes of learning why.

These conversations revealed most schools had issues transporting children out to the museum for field trips, which led to the idea of flipping the script. Collins was responsible for developing the programs required for carrying out this plan.

“We forged these really strong partnerships with both the Thames Valley District School Board and the London District Catholic School Board where we would run programs in the classrooms for students, and that’s how we started to see those numbers increase again,” Collins said.

“Field trips are still core to what we do… but the in-class programs have really helped to accommodate classrooms that maybe aren’t ready to come on a field trip. Maybe it’s not safe for their students yet to venture off property, it could also be a cost piece.”

Now the Education Manager for the London Children’s Museum, attendance for education programs, which includes field trips and in-class programs, is at an all-time high.

Spreading the joy of indulging curiosities

Collins says spending more than a decade at the museum helped her discover what exactly makes their field trips so special.

For her, it boils down to a child-led focus, where staff work to indulge curiosities and spark new ones, combined with the immersive environment of Canada’s first-ever children’s museum.

“On top of that, the people in the building are working in collaboration with children and families, and similarly teachers in my role, to make those play-based experiences come to life,” Collins added.

While her role at London Children’s Museum is unique, Collins believes its impact can be replicated elsewhere, which is why she dedicates so much time to sharing her experiences with teacher candidates at the Faculty of Education.

“I’ve talked with them about the value of having Ontario certified teachers in more support agency roles or community-based roles,” Collins said.

“Writing programs by teachers, for teachers — there is definitely huge value in that. Our in-class programs are a perfect example.”

Collins is also supporting the educators of tomorrow through her ongoing involvement in hosting teacher candidates at the London Children’s Museum for alternative field experience (AFE) placements.

Through these placements, teacher candidates learn about the museum’s pedagogy, see the lens through which the museum views curriculum connections and discover tangible ways to incorporate play-based learning within a school setting.

Collins hopes her work with teacher candidates will guide them to finding the same fulfillment she experiences every day at the museum.

“The core of what I’m doing at the Children’s Museum is just making play-based learning accessible and trying to spread that joy of indulging the curiosities,” Collins added.

“Getting to be a part of that — that’s the whole reason why I do it.”