Museum Tours Help Schoolchildren Understand Life in the Ancient World

Area schoolchildren can glimpse how kids their age would have lived in ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome thanks to new tours offered at the MHC art museum. The "Daily Life and Afterlife" tours showcase the College's collections of ancient art and help youngsters grasp how ancient peoples thought about life in the here-and-now and the hereafter. The free tours began in February and will continue through the spring. According to museum education coordinator Amy Dane, "There's been lots of interest from teachers; thirty tours are already booked." If the pilot program is successful, it will be continued in future years, Dane says.

Before the tour comes general instruction about ancient cultures in students' own classrooms. MHC students visit the schools and discuss questions like "What is archaeology and why do we care about it?" and "What do bc and bce mean?" Melissa Morse '97, who designed the in-class programs, also made a twelve-foot timeline of the ancient world to use for classroom presentations.

In addition to helping visitors prepare for their museum trip, Dane says the program helps MHC students develop public-speaking and teaching skills.

>>> "Your mother is a mummy?"--Students from Longmeadow's Glen Brook Middle School play the parts of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian youngsters comparing their cultural practices in an original skit designed to complement a tour of the MHC art museum's ancient art collections.
Students then travel to the art museum for a sixty-to-ninety-minute tour of the ancient art collections, which include plaster casts of Greek, Egyptian, and Roman artworks housed in the museum's stairways as well as original pieces in the galleries. They are introduced to the collections by being asked, for example, to find objects that were household items, or to compare the styles various cultures used to represent the human body. The idea is to have students think about ancient objects not as precious pieces kept under glass, but as everyday items that people once used, Dane explains. "We're really trying to teach students empathy with people of other cultures."

The museum visit sometimes ends with an original skit written by community volunteers who serve as museum docents. Seven visiting students are dressed in period costumes and take the parts of young people from Rome, Egypt, and Greece comparing their respective cultures' approaches to life and death. During the twenty-minute play, the actors discuss everything from mummification practices to the Olympic Games, religious beliefs, marriage customs, the Roman military structure, favorite foods, and medical procedures.

Teachers are encouraged to follow the museum visit with class activities such as art projects, making food from ancient recipes, or fashioning togas and chitons.