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The Mystic Seaport StoryKit Project

Museum storykits use the same concept as storyboxes to make visits to museums and other cultural sites accessible to children who are blind or visually impaired.

Like most TVIs, the preschool Education Consultants at CT Services for the Blind have been using “storyboxes” for many years with our students. Also, like most TVIs, we’ve tried to provide a variety of social activities for our Mystic Seaportyoung students and their families. Many of our “preschool family field trips” combine both, so families can share an experience with each other, and then take a related storybox home with them. This past year, with the encouragement of Brian Sigman at BESB, and the enthusiastic response from Barbara Jarnagin from Mystic Seaport, I decided to try to expand that concept to that amazing historical site in CT, the Mystic Seaport Museum. We thought that having the storyboxes (or storykits, or storybags…) at the site for families whenever they visited would make it more accessible to more people (they didn’t have to wait for the given field trip date, and then hope there wasn’t a conflict with the one day and time we chose). The Seaport is known all over the world, and the thought of helping make it an even more exciting place for our young students with visual impairments was incredibly energizing!   

The concept is simple, the rewards are great. We created 25 traveling bags full of tactile and auditory objects relating to 5 different exhibits and a questionnaire booklet. This is also a great way to address the Recreation and Leisure area of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC).

Contents of traveling bag with tactile and auditory objects for Mystic Seaport
Contents of traveling bag with tactile and auditory objects for Mystic Seaport

I am a TVI and COMS from the Connecticut Department of Rehabilitative Services-Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind, and I worked with Barbara Jarnagin, Supervisor of School and Family Programs at Mystic Seaport to develop a special on-site program for preschoolers with visual impairments and their families visiting in the summer. This year’s program was fully funded by a grant from the State.  I handle the advertising for the program through contact with my students’ families and give the interested families vouchers for the program.

At the Museum, the families receive half-price admission, a blue StoryKit bag and 4 Horse and Carriage tickets. When the families visit each selected exhibit, they can take out the 2 or 3 related objects from their bag and ask guiding questions to their children and the Interpreter. These objects will help bring the exhibit right into their hands!   When the families leave the Museum, they take their bags home with them to revisit their experience again and again. 

Cover of Town Small
Cover of Town Small

After they return evaluations about the program to Cindy, they also receive a Print/Braille copy of Town Small by Lolly Stoddard, to tie their visit to Mystic together.

Why we did it:

  • An enriching interactive program easy for the parents to lead and experience with their children
  • A Museum experience tied to a local children’s book.
  • Cindy approached Mystic Seaport, looking for a program with a history museum.
  • Funded by a grant from the state
  • This kit is just what museums want to provide:
    • Tie a variety of key exhibits together
    • Highly sensory: tactile objects, unique smells and many new and unusual sounds.

What we did:

  1. children around a table with craftsWe chose six very different exhibits/locations for preschool children with visual impairments and their families to explore
  2. Cindy and Barbara walked thru the exhibits together to see what experiences we could provide and what we thought would work the best for the children Cindy worked with.
  3. Barbara gathered materials for 2 prototype bags. Materials were relatively cheap or free. Most items are used with groups that come for a guided tour.
  4. Cindy and two families came to Museum to try the storykits. We both took lots of notes and had a debriefing session with parents.
  5. We refined the number of exhibits and what the visitors could do in one to two and a half hours. 
  6. We made 23 more bags.
  7. 4 bags were kept in the Visitor’s Reception Center.
  8. Gate and exhibit staff were briefed on the program.

Lessons we learned:

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to museums; they probably have lots of ideas and resources, and just need a little help to market to people who have visual impairments!
  • The Education staff and the exhibit Interpreters were thrilled with the storykits.
  • The kits are great for children of any age and ability.
  • The vouchers need to go from Visitors’ Reception Center to Barbara so Cindy and Barbara know who, when and how many families came for the kits.
  • Revise evaluation- ask what you really want to know.
  • Take photos (with the parents’ permission) of the storykits being used.
  • Label objects and have corresponding letters in the instruction booklet.
  • Don’t put objects in a zip-lock bag (they are a little too much like snack bags!).
  • Think about where you will store the bags, for easy accessibility.
  • Have photos or iPad images of inaccessible areas.
  • Don’t hold the books hostage for the evaluations (we will now be putting the books in the story bag).
Children examining outdoor plants with museum interpreter
Children examining outdoor plants with museum interpreter

How can YOU do this?:

  • Reach out to Education Directors and Supervisors of museums. Think of museums other than science and children’s museums.
    • They will probably have ideas to share with you that they have in place already.
    • Share each other’s expertise.
  • Use your existing successful storykits as a springboard.
  • Split the cost of the storybags. 

o  Supplies & staff time on both sides

o  Museums may have grant funding for the program.

o  Other funding may be available from community groups (Lions, Junior Women, school groups, etc.)

  • Make a prototype and experiment.
  • Get the word out to your network of families. 
  • Experiment with versions of the evaluation form. Make it simple, easy to complete and return.
  • Ask your families for photos and testimonials.


materials used for storykit bag

Free objects

  • Jib hank from Shipsmith shop (happily made by our shipsmith)
  •  Coal chunk
  •  Piece of rope 
  •  Piece of sail canvas 
  •  Piece of dried fish (yum!)
  •  Wood shavings 
  •  Sanded stave (happily made by our Cooper)
  •  Broken, sanded clam shell (donated by the clams) 
  •  Booklet of questions and things to experience in the exhibits (written and revised together)

Purchased at the Museum Store at a discount

  •  Mystic Seaport Museum bag 
  •  Toy boat 
  •  Jacob’s Ladder toy
  •  Town Small book 

 Purchased/provided by CT DORS-BESB

  •  Stuffed seagull with authentic seagull call
  •  Knitted cotton square (made by BESB volunteers)
  •  Dried herbs 
  •  Containers
  •  Evaluation form and stamped envelope
  •  Braille labels for book and objects
$350 to Seaport Store (includes partner discount)
$370 for Horse & Carriage ride tickets (4/family)
$400 by BESB/Cindy/Barbara
15 hours of museum staff time
$1350 for 25 kits

Get more information here:

Accessible Story Kit collage

hands reading braille

Braille Bicentennial

Seedlings 40th Anniversary logo annoucment October 2024

Seedlings 40th Anniversary

Student accessing the window art activity.

Accessible Window Art