Educational Services Within the Museum

The Educational Department

By: Eleanor M. Moore

Originally Published in 1946

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FROM THE CHILD in the first grade who is interested in “How the Indians Lived” to the occupational therapist or the designer of commercial products an individual approach is used in interpreting the collections. Groups of all sorts make appointments for talks in the classrooms or guidance in the galleries. These include every school age, college, teachers and nurses in training, scouts and those in pursuit of hobbies, physically handicapped individuals such as the deaf, dumb or blind, veterans of overseas service, industrial and commercial designers, representatives of religious and civic organizations, and the ordinary layman.

A group of school children in a paved courtyard
PLATE II. The Museum’s school entrance opens on a court where buses may unload classes and where children may play in safety

FOR SCHOOL GROUPS a definite routine is planned with talks in the classrooms supplemented by especially selected objects which may be handled and their uses demonstrated, accompanying music, correlating motion pictures and trips to the galleries. Thus a 3rd grade class studying the Hopi Indians of the Southwest may try on some dance paraphernalia, shake a rattle and listen to recorded music chanted by the natives themselves. At the end of the hour the class has received more than visual education, for all the senses have shared in the experience.

A group of school children dancing in the grass
PLATE III. Children enjoy giving an interpretation of an Indian dance while waiting for their school bus
Image Number: 29698

SENSORY EDUCATION is especially valuable in the case of the blind who “see” more with their fingers than the average child does with his eyes. Yet it is impossible for these students to derive any benefit from material displayed in cases. Seated in groups of ten or twelve around tables, various objects may be passed from hand to hand and questions answered as things one cannot describe in words are discovered.

School children inspecting a canoe
PLATE IV. 1st grade children study the Indians

FOR THE AVERAGE high school or college group, where gallery exhibits are adequate, full time is spent among the exhibits. Where it is primarily an art display, as in the Greek and Roman section, the talk is sometimes supplemented with a discussion on houses and furniture, as illustrated by scale models and reproductions, and on clothing by the actual draping of costumes on the students. Such a demonstration has proved popular even among skeptical high school boys.

A large group of adults crowded around a display in the Egypt gallery
PLATE V. Students from a teachers’ college, including some war veterans, visit the Egyptian galleries

GENERAL INVITATIONS have been issued to all the schools from time to time when there has been an opportunity for a special program, such as an Indian in native costume talking about the life of his people, or an Eskimo family arriving at the Museum by dog-sled. Although these events are spectacular and arouse great enthusiasm it is felt that more benefit is derived from the informal gatherings of small groups.

A small group of professionals gathered around an Egyptian statue
PLATE VI. Students from a teachers’ college, including some war veterans, visit the Egyptian galleries

DISPLAY BOARDS in the lobby of the Educational Department have been devoted to exhibits of follow-up work produced in the schools after museum visits. One elementary class took a year’s project on Africa and at the end of its entertainment and exhibition sent the Department a very interesting collection of material. A private school lent some scenery and accessories designed for a school pageant while another actually repeated for the museum children a Chinese play, written after the class had been given a talk on Chinese life. These rotating exhibits inspired by museum material enliven the entrance walls and cause interest and comments from daily visitors.

SPECIALIZED GROUPS, such as nurses in training, see the Museum through ancient and primitive man’s superstitions and medical achievements, religious organizations follow discoveries in Bible lands, while craftsmen are given information and help along their special lines of interest. Whatever the lead may be it is the Educational Department’s job to assist in finding answers or supplying information concerning the objects and their backgrounds.

A group of seated school children watching a Hopi danced performance
PLATE VII. A 3rd grade boy dances in Hopi costume while his classmates supply music

SPECIAL PROGRAMS are arranged in the Museum auditorium for the public on Sunday afternoons. Motion pictures, many in technicolor, bring the countries of the world and their peoples closer to the average man. Concerts and programs of foreign music and dancing help interpret phases of art which have almost universal appeal, acting therefore as emissaries of good will.

A man showing stone age tools to a table of school children
PLATE VIII. Stone Age tools are demonstrated
Image Number: 29786

A SERIES of educational pictures for children is shown on Saturday mornings, attracting far greater crowds than the auditorium can accommodate at one time. For many this acts as an introduction to the Museum’s collections and is followed by participation in other activities.

THE INDIVIDUAL children who come daily to see the mummies, and then wander aimlessly about or hunt for mischief, caused so much concern that special activities have been planned for them. All children under fifteen years of age are now admitted only through the school entrance where they are registered, given red admission tags to wear, and told of a variety of things they can do after they have tired looking around. This direct personal contact has increased friendly relations with neighborhood children and has gone far toward nipping mischief in the bud.

A group of children holding and inspecting objects
PLATE IX. Children handle selected Chinese objects

A SMALL LIBRARY of children’s books is maintained in one of the classrooms which becomes a clubroom on Saturdays. Blackboards and chalk, paper and crayons, and just tables and chairs issue invitations to footweary youngsters. A filmslide machine tells a new picture story each week, and is always being run by some young operator for the satisfaction of his friends.

A JUNIOR STUDIO of activities varies from year to year in its offerings. Such diversions as costume classes, mask making, wood carving, model construction, jewelry designing, painting and pottery have all had their day. These hobby groups are taught by students as well as teachers from the Philadelphia schools of art, and have met with success and enthusiasm.

A group of children surrounding two T'ang horse sculptures
PLATE X. A class sees the T’ang horses as part of a lesson on China

EDUCATIONAL GAMES, which attract hundreds of children between the ages of eight and fourteen years, are by far the most popular of all the activities offered at the present time. The games are in the form of treasure hunts in the Museum to find answers to questions of how people lived in ancient days, with what materials primitive man decorated himself, and many other equally fascinating subjects. The experiment has met with such overwhelming enthusiasm that it has been found necessary to have a staff of ten people on hand on Saturdays to direct the crowd with any ease and organization. The Department has been grateful for the services of University and Drexel students and boy and girl scouts during rush hours.

A group of blind children seated around a table, holding objects
PLATE XI. Blind children appreciate African art
Image Number: 49425

HONOR STUDENTS who have gained a real knowledge of the collections are being given special responsibilities, such as selecting material, writing labels, and arranging exhibits in their own section. They are gradually being formed into an organization of junior guides which is already making a mighty army of goodwill that includes some formerly troublesome children who might otherwise have joined the ranks of the delinquent.

A group of students viewing a group of people dressed in ancient Greek and Roman garb
PLATE XII. Greek and Roman styles are shown
Image Number: 29760

PERHAPS THE SPICE of the Educational Department’s services comes in trying to ferret out answers to the most amazingly miscellaneous lot of questions written, telephoned or presented in person by individuals who want information they cannot find. The following are a few that have been successfully tracked down or regretfully abandoned. A navy lieutenant looking into the history of chemical warfare was helped in carrying it back to Greek and Roman days. An army captain wished information on sanitation as practiced by the Babylonians and Egyptians 5000 years ago. A woman planned to give a Roman banquet and wanted to know what food to serve. A technical adviser for one of the large motion picture producers inquired about the use of binoculars in the time of the Emperor Tiberius. A man desiring to dress his child like King “Tut” of Egypt in a baby parade asked what he should wear. Several individuals wished to know whether it were true that the remains of Noah’s ark had been sighted from a plane over the Caucasian Mountains. An advertising house, working on cash registers, needed details on Roman business methods. A father located his son who was overseas during the war by finding that the mosque of Omar was situated in Jerusalem. And so on, indefinitely! Perhaps the most disappointing, however, was the case of a crossword puzzle runner-up in a national contest who offered to split his $1000 prize with the person who could get him the four-letter name of a Persian coffer by midnight. Even overtime work on the part of several failed to reveal the word.

A group of school children seated on the floor around a mosaic floor display
PLATE XIII. A class enjoys 15th century Arabic art

REPEATED REQUESTS for brief, accurate information on many subjects brought about the publication of patterns, pamphlets, picture sets, models and How-To-Make-It projects which are available at the Educational Department sales desk. Visual aid sheets list these in convenient form for those who are looking for concise information or for projects on special subjects. A pamphlet on a Babylonian clay tablet gives not only the procedure in reproducing one but also a description of the type of stylus used in making the impressions and an actual short letter written in cuneiform script with its translation. How-To-Make a Javanese Puppet gives patterns for making little “actors” that may be used in reproducing such a show. Chinese chopsticks include a recipe for a favorite Chinese dish. Casts, photographs, and lantern slides of objects in the Museum are also available at low cost.

A group of school children listening to a Native American couple
PLATE XIV. An Indian Chief and his wife entertain a group of children
Image Number: 29724

Literature from other museums, such as “Mummies” published by the Chicago Natural History Museum, “Egyptian Home Life” printed by the Metropolitan, “Ancient Greek Dress” by the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, and others, are sold for the convenience of those desiring this type of information. Since most people want some souvenir of a visit, as great a variety of material as possible is assembled, ranging in price from one cent to several dollars.

Some children on a sled pulled by dogs
PLATE XV. True to life the Eskimos arrive in a snowstorm

Cite This Article

Moore, Eleanor M.. "Educational Services Within the Museum." Museum Bulletin XII, no. 1-2 (September, 1946): 8-36. Accessed July 23, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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