At Sydney Living Museums, learning is at the heart of everything we do.

From playing Victorian children’s games to making ‘convict’ bricks, the Experience & Learning Team deliver inspiring and fun educational experiences at eight of our 12 historic places. Learning groups from preschoolers to Year 12 students dig deep into history, sometimes literally, as we use archaeology, object handling, storytelling and play to unpack the past.

SLM exists to cherish, protect and share our places and stories, and in doing so we create opportunities for visitors to learn about and from the past, to spark ideas, get curious, challenge themselves and discover new ways of thinking. We want this to be the experience of every visitor, from the youngest one to the centenarian. We’re focused on making these connections possible. When we do this, we’re sure that more and more learners will want to be part of what we do, and by 2022 we hope to see 100,000 learners visiting our sites every year.

A new approach to learning

We’re ambitious to reach more people with programs that are rich and inspiring, that activate learners’ curiosity and empathy, and deepen their connections to our places and stories. To achieve this, we’ve established a new learning strategy for the next three years. It sets out a shared philosophy and objectives for our organisation, enabling us to work together to deliver the highest quality learning for all.

At the core of this approach are four principles:

  • Be learner-focused, experiential, inquiry-based, social and active. Our places provide authentic contexts, and our programs cultivate curiosity, agency and empathy through storytelling, object handling, play and inquiry.
  • Respect, promote and embed Indigenous perspectives. Our museums and places are on Aboriginal land. We respectfully explore Aboriginal connections to these places, through objects, stories and historical sources. We embed Aboriginal ways of learning, thinking, and seeing the world.
  • Connect multiple disciplines and build innovation and problem-solving skills. Exploring our places actively and imaginatively stimulates critical thinking and collaboration, and connects different kinds of knowledge and perspectives.
  • Be accessible and inclusive. Our programs are designed for learners of all backgrounds and abilities.

To ensure that these principles are at the centre of our work, we acknowledge that we’re learners too, and must remain curious and open to new ways of thinking and doing, willing to take risks to learn.

Consulting with education experts

In 2019 SLM established two new Learning Advisory Panels. These panels give us the opportunity to work with and learn from other educators with diverse expertise in primary, secondary, tertiary and special education. At our initial meetings in the first term of 2019 these generous people shared their insights and expertise. It’s clear that in the months ahead their contribution will bring enormous value and benefit to SLM and our learning visitors.

Exploring Indigenous perspectives

Another important area of the strategy is deepening engagement with Indigenous perspectives and focusing on the Aboriginal histories and cultures of our places. Our heritage places provide great insights into the stories of early colonists. The stories of thousands of generations of First Peoples are sometimes harder to see, but they are there waiting to be explored and cherished too.

In February, Curriculum Program Deliverers (CPDs) came together on Gadigal Country at the Museum of Sydney to participate in an enrichment day to build their capability and confidence delivering programs with Aboriginal perspectives. The day’s activities were presented by Hayden Walsh, Wiradjuri man and SLM’s Indigenous Programs Producer, and Sharon Zeeman, Gamilaroi woman and SLM Learning Programs Producer. The aim was to ensure that participants were learning through and not just about Aboriginal culture. By actively participating in Aboriginal ways of learning – ‘yarning’ and working together, learning local language – CPDs learnt experientially, reflecting on and strengthening their own connections to Aboriginal histories and cultures. Aboriginal ways of learning are interconnected and holistic. Language is not separate from culture, land, relationships or place, as it is in western models of learning.

Exemplifying this approach, Garuwanga Gurad (‘Stories that belong to Country’), a new Stage 3 program at the Museum of Sydney, explores the shared and contested Aboriginal and European histories linked to the first Government House. The program uses Sydney Aboriginal language and lore, storytelling, cultural plant knowledge and objects. It was developed in collaboration with Dharawal storyteller and educator Shannon Foster – an enriching process for the Learning Team who will bring these important stories to many students and teachers.

Captions: Students wrapping the maypole at Rouse Hill House & Farm as part of the Lessons from the Past program. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums; Students examine a bangala (water carrier) in Gadigal Place at the Museum of Sydney. Photo © Stuart Miller for Sydney Living Museums; A student plays skittles on the carriage loop at Vaucluse House. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

  • Students holding ribbons and dancing around the maypole outside the schoolhouse at Rouse Hill House & Farm.

    Students wrapping the maypole at Rouse Hill House & Farm as part of the Lessons from the Past program.

    Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

  • A student resets a game of skittles on a lawn.

    A student plays skittles on the carriage loop at Vaucluse House.

    Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

  • Children in uniform gathered around a glass topped display table.

    Students examine a bangala (water carrier) in Gadigal Place at the Museum of Sydney.

    Photo © Stuart Miller for Sydney Living Museums;

About the author

Portrait of woman against plain background.

Colleen Fitzgerald

Coordinator, Learning Programs

Colleen leads the Learning Team at Sydney Living Museums.