GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is opening its doors to Head Start families for a special before-hours educational experience.

people using gear activity on whiteboard
Families take part in an interactive gear activity in the “Discovery Zone” exhibit. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace

The Florida Museum Family Discovery Time program has partnered with Episcopal Children’s Services, the leading provider for Head Start and Early Head Start education in the north and central Florida areas, to provide families and support staff an hour of hands-on exploration in the “Discovery Zone” exhibit from 9 to 10 a.m. every month. These families can then stay for free entry into all exhibits, including the “Butterfly Rainforest.” Head Start is a federal education program that promotes the school readiness of infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children from low-income families.

This partnership aims to create a space for exploration, allowing participants to see all that the museum has to offer in support of early childhood education. Head Start teachers visited the museum for training workshops, which provided lesson ideas and activities to better support and engage with the program’s participants.

In addition to the before-hours activities in the “Discovery Zone,” families can also stay until the museum opens and receive free admission to the paid exhibits.
In addition to the before-hours activities in the “Discovery Zone,” families can also stay until the museum opens and receive free admission to the paid exhibits. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace

“We are excited to welcome Head Start families and teachers and help continue to make the museum a place of discovery for all,” said Tina Choe, Florida Museum Discovery Zone coordinator and program organizer. “Collaborating with the Head Start team has been wonderful, and we’re looking forward to becoming a special place where all families feel comfortable and welcome and inspired about the natural world.”

Attendees take part in themed activities on topics such as butterflies, fishes and more. The next Head Start Family Discovery Time session will be about reptiles and amphibians, Saturday, March 12, from 9 to 10 a.m. The families will be invited from multiple Head Start classrooms and centers around the area, including ECS Waldo Community Head Start, Small Steps Institute and the CHILD Center for Early Learning.

Melanie Clough, assistant vice president of early childhood education at ECS, said collaborations like this offer unique opportunities for families to go out and explore the community, something different from its usual programming, in which families go to the centers instead.

“Children’s early experiences play a critical role in later success, yet our children often have limited learning experiences before starting school,” Clough said. “This unique opportunity for them to have a hands-on visit at a museum on a college campus connects their learning to real-life experiences while involving the whole family.”

people at a touch table in the discovery zone
As part of this program, Head Start teachers were invited to the Florida Museum in December for a teacher training workshop to learn about activities and lessons they can incorporate into their classrooms. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace

Choe said a highlight of this collaboration is engaging Head Start families through new experiences as well as fostering a love of nature and learning through play, regardless of age.

“Early experiences with science and nature as well as exposure and access to books add to the long-term success of students,” Choe said. “There is nothing quite like seeing a child’s face light up as they discover the wonders of life on Earth.”

The first session was offered in January, and so far, the museum has partnered with the Gainesville Early Head Start Center and Northwood Head Start Center, among other organizations, covering topics on habitats and animal babies.

The Head Start Program reaches more than 1 million children every year in the U.S. by providing funding, oversight and assistance to 1,600 public and private agencies around the country.


Writer: Nikhil Srinivasan,
Source: Tina Choe,; Melanie Clough,
Media contact: Kaitlin Gardiner,; Altoria White,