Sleepovers: Rocking the Night Shift

Do you have what it takes to star in your own personal version of Night at the Museum?

Sleeping bags in front of exhibit case

Smithsonian Sleepover at the National Museum of American History.

The Smithsonian Associates’ museum sleepovers bring to mind those Night at the Museum movies. Would Ben Stiller (the movie’s star) make a good Smithsonian sleepover volunteer? After all, he’s done the whole night-at-the-museum thing already, right? But then again, maybe he’s just not right for the part. I talked to three sleepover volunteers to find out what is special about experiencing three world-class museums “after hours” with an eager underage audience. Here is some of what they had to say about what makes for a good sleepover volunteer.  It turns out high energy is way up there on the list!

Volunteers sign in guests

Volunteers at a Smithsonian Sleepover event at the National Museum of American History. (Photo by Jenna Jones)

Leah Deitrick did six sleepover volunteer shifts last year, and has signed up to do six again this year. “I love it,” she says. How much does she love it? A big Washington Capitals fan, she gave up watching an important playoff game on a Friday to volunteer at a sleepover. Deitrick is also a huge history fan. Last year she volunteered at all three sleepover venues (American History, Natural History, and the Udvar Hazy Center) but this year she is specializing in just her favorite: American History. About the experience, she says, “Every time it’s different. It’s a lot of fun to see the interaction with the kids and parents.” She adds, “You will be tired, but it never feels like work.”  Leah grew up in Orange, County, Virginia, where a lot of this country’s earliest history was forged. She clearly can’t get enough of it: even though she plans to lead learning activities at 6 sleepovers this summer, she says if her schedule is open she’s more than happy to add another one.

Sherri Watkins, a year-round Associates Event Rep and Art Rep, is a true veteran of the sleepover experience. She’s led activities at 16 sleepovers since May of 2014. She says, “It’s one of the best ways to spend your summer.” Which is her favorite museum? “Natural History, definitely.” She describes herself as “a bit of a plant geek.” She likes that sleepover volunteers can make requests for where they want to be stationed, so for the last few years she has requested the Hall of Origins in the Natural History Museum. She says she loves being in that setting where the kids are learning a bit about science and she can help them really engage with the museum. She says you truly can see the kids connecting with things in the museum like cave paintings.  Sherri says the key to being a sleepover volunteer is enthusiasm and being flexible.

volunteer interacting with young kids

Sherri Watkins has led activities at 16 Smithsonian sleepovers. (Photo by Jenna Jones)

Jason Chang normally volunteers at the National Museum of the American Indian but likes to help with sleepovers, too.  His first sleepover gig was in June of 2015. By this September he will have led activities at 14 sleepovers overall, including the three he scheduled for this summer. Jason says some key traits to being successful are having a good sense of humor, being flexible, patient, and being energetic (“but not so much that it’s creepy.”) He says his favorite museum is the American History Museum, but the Natural History Museum can be a bit more fun as a sleepover venue because of the building’s layout with gigantic things hanging from the ceiling. Watching people negotiate to get their sleeping bags right under the whale in the Oceans exhibit can be amusing, he says.

Head casting director and Smithsonian Associates Volunteer Coordinator Jenna Jones chooses the volunteers who land a role in the sleepovers every summer. Jenna says there are roughly 450 sleepover shifts to fill and she has built up a proven pool of 260 volunteers. Volunteers are asked to do at least three of the 13 dates each season.

Sound like fun? What to learn more and get involved? Check out the flyer Museum Sleepover Flyer July and August 2018 or go ahead and sign up here.

This post was written by guest blogger Janet Hewitt, a volunteer with Smithsonian Associates.

Posted: 12 July 2018
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