200 North Main Street | Bloomington, Illinois | 309-827-0428

Free Educational Programs at the McLean County Museum of History

Are you looking for an interactive learning experience for your students to enhance your classroom curriculum? The Museum is an award winning educational institution accredited by the American Alliance of Museums that offers FREE hands-on, educational programming for grades pre-K through college.

Programs facilitated by educators at the McLean County Museum of History are designed to ignite curiosity, inspire creative expression, elicit critical thinking, and provide a broad sensory experience to learners of all ages. While visiting the Museum, learners will:

  • Be constructive
  • Voice their perspectives
  • Engage with historic material culture
  • Recognize diversity in the community‚Äôs shared history
  • Experience historical empathy
  • Embrace avenues of lifelong learning

Learners will accomplish these goals by actively participating in a range of hands-on, inquiry-driven, interdisciplinary, and object-based activities. These activities will help them to understand the challenges the people of McLean County have faced, the choices they have made, and the change they have brought about.

The Harriet Fuller Rust Education Endowment funds admission fees for all pre-arranged educational programs and for all individual students using the Museum's resources for class assignments. Donations are always gratefully accepted!

All programs meet Illinois State Board of Education learning standards in several subjects and are facilitated by the Museum's Education Department.

Group reservations are required at least three weeks in advance. April/May and November/December are our busiest times, so plan accordingly!

Programs are booked between 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and Friday. Thursday mornings until 12:00 p.m. are reserved for weekly staff meetings. Programs generally run between 60 and 90 minutes, but can be tailored to fit individual class schedules. Limited program changes and time adjustments may be made with advanced notice. Following your phone call or email reservation, a confirmation letter will be emailed or mailed to the address provided. Any cancellations must be made at least 24 hours in advance of the program barring any unforeseen circumstances.

A minimum of one chaperone is required for every 10 students. Chaperones are expected to assist students with program activities and must help with discipline. Chaperones should not bring additional children to school programs.

Parking in front of the Museum is limited to 90 minutes and is strictly enforced by the City of Bloomington. If traveling by car, we suggest you park in the free 4-hour parking deck on Market Street (lower level), or in the $1 per hour Lincoln Parking Deck on Front Street (one block south of the Museum). Groups arriving by bus should unload and load in the bus loading zone outside the Museum's entrance on Washington Street, then park at the YMCA overflow lot south of Downtown. For a printable PDF map with instructions, please click here. Bus drivers are welcome to tour the Museum while they wait.

To schedule a program or for more information, please call or email:

Candace Summers, Director of Education, Hannah E. Johnson, Education Program Coordinator, or Anthony Bowman, Education Outreach Coordinator

309-827-0428 or education@mchistory.org

Pre-K to 2nd Grade

  • photo of students learning about prairie pioneers
  • Prairie Pioneers
  • In this two-part program, students will explore lifeways of early settlers in what is now McLean County through immersive, object-based activities. Students will examine period items and discuss means of travel in the Museum's Making a Home exhibit, as well as visit the Museum's hands-on Pioneer Discovery Room where they can dress in period clothing, pretend to fetch water, wash clothes, plow a field, and more.
  • 60 minutes
  • This program satisfies various Illinois Social Science standards by encouraging students to consider and determine answers to essential questions, to verbally communicate their inquiries and conclusions, and to address the ideas of change, continuity, and context.

  • Students learning about Life on the Farm
  • Life on the Farm
  • With the opening of a new exhibit - Farming in the Great Corn Belt - in March 2017, the Museum will be able to offer a wider range of farming-themed programming. Themes will include: food culture, advancements in farming technology, animal husbandry, history of corn planting in McLean County, urban sprawl, and more. Activities will include exhibit exploration, hands-on manipulation of period artifacts, seed planting, butter making, and more. Contact the Education Department for specific details. Program can be adapted for older students.
  • 60 minutes
  • This program satisfies various Illinois Social Science standards by encouraging students to consider and determine answers to essential questions, to verbally communicate their inquiries and conclusions, to address the ideas of change, continuity, and context, and to better understand the relationship between people and the geography of McLean County.

  • Kickapoo of McLean County
  • In this two-part program students will learn about the people native to McLean County, including those of the Kickapoo tribe. Students will explore the Museum's Making a Home exhibit - complete with a replica wigwam - and will engage in hands-on manipulation of period artifacts. Students will be taught period games, as well as learn how to grind corn, and use a pump drill. Native traditions pertaining to food, clothing, home life, and family roles will be discussed. Program can be adapted for older students.
  • 60 minutes
  • This program satisfies various Illinois Social Science standards by encouraging students to consider and determine answers to essential questions, to verbally communicate their inquiries and conclusions, and to address the ideas of change, continuity, and context.

3rd to 5th Grade

  • Students making a Chromotrope, a traditional Pioneer toy
  • Challenges, Choices, and Change
  • <p>In this three-part program, students will be introduced to the various migrant and immigrant groups who have made McLean County their home and continue to shape the county we know today. Activities include guided interactive exploration of the Museum's Making a Home exhibit, a craft station, and play time in the Museum's hands-on Pioneer Discovery Room.</p>
  • 90 minutes
  • This program satisfies various Illinois Social Science standards by encouraging students to consider and determine answers to essential questions, to verbally communicate their inquiries and conclusions, to defend said conclusions with supportive evidence, to address the ideas of change, continuity, and context, and to better understand the global interactions between the people of McLean County and the rest of the world.

  • Pioneer Toys and Games
  • History of Toys and Games
  • <p>Toys and games may have changed from generation to generation, but the process of learning through play is as old as time. In this program students will investigate how modes of play have evolved over the last 300 years in McLean County. Students will not only experience the history of these toys and games firsthand, but will also craft their own toy to take home.</p>
  • 60 minutes
  • This program satisfies various Illinois Social Science standards by encouraging students to consider and determine answers to essential questions, to verbally communicate their inquiries and conclusions, and to address the ideas of change, continuity, and context.

  • Image of Asahel Gridley
  • Finding Lincoln's Friends
  • Abraham Lincoln made many friends as a lawyer in McLean County before he became President of the US. Students will complete a scavenger hunt inside and outside the Museum to find 11 Lincoln statues, plaques, and portraits. Next to each Lincoln is a photograph and short biography of one of Lincoln's close Bloomington friends. Find all 11 and discover what type of cookie Lincoln loved to eat and share with friends. Program is also available as a self-guided tour.
  • 45 minutes

6th to 12th Grade

  • Image of Downtown Bloomington
  • Standing on the Corner
  • Students will witness history with their own eyes during this guided walking tour of Downtown Bloomington, where art and architecture abound. By the end of the tour, students will become familiar with a range of architectural vocabulary and the names of a few of Bloomington-Normal's most notable architects. Interior tours of the Museum's architecture can be added to any walking tour upon request, and can also substitute an outdoor walking tour in cases of inclement weather. This program can be adapted for all ages.
  • 45-60 minutes
  • This program satisfies various Illinois Social Science standards by encouraging students to evaluate historic source material, to consider the economic incentives of a downtown district, and to more generally address the ideas of change, continuity, and context, as well as place.

  • Miller-Davis building
  • A. Lincoln in McLean County
  • Abraham Lincoln spent more time in Bloomington than anywhere else outside of Springfield before becoming president. In this program students will learn about the impact Lincoln had on the people of McLean County while riding the 8th Judicial Circuit. Activities include exploration of the Museum's exhibit Abraham Lincoln in McLean County, an immersive Circuit Challenge game, and a letter writing craft inspired by Lincoln's habit of using his hat as a briefcase.
  • 90 minutes
  • This program satisfies various Illinois Social Science standards by encouraging students to consider and determine answers to essential questions, to verbally communicate their inquiries and conclusions, to address the ideas of change, continuity, and context, and to contemplate changes in political processes.

All Ages

  • image of students in work gallery
  • General Gallery Tour
  • During this program students will explore the entire museum to learn about the varied history of McLean County. After a brief introduction to the Museum, students will be divided into smaller groups and guided through the exhibits by a Museum educator. Total number of students should not exceed 75-80. Larger groups are encouraged to consider a self-guided program. Contact the Education Department for further details.
  • 60-90 minutes
  • Family touring exhibits
  • Self-Guided Tours
  • Sometimes the best way to engage a student is by individual exploration of the Museum. A self-guided tour allows teachers to bring their class, with chaperones, to tour the exhibits at their own pace without a staff interpreter. Teachers are welcome to create their own worksheet or activity, or just explore the Museum freely.
  • However much time you need

Other Group Programs

Contact the Museum Education Department by phone at 309-827-0428, or by email at education@mchistory.org, and Museum Staff will work with you to create customized resources or experiences that meet your educational needs.