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May 18th is International Museum Day. The word museum comes from the Greek word "mouseion," meaning "Place of the Muses." The first museum in the world was established around 330 B.C. in Alexandria, a Greek city in Egypt. This museum was built to honor the Muses, nine daughters of Zeus who were believed to be protectors of the arts and sciences. The museum included temples, gardens, a zoo, and a library.
There are many different kinds of museums. They may be indoors or outdoors. All are storehouses of interesting things. Museums have something for everyone - history, art, science, religion, anthropology, and more. Art museums feature paintings and sculptures. Natural history museums contain things like dinosaur skeletons and examples of animal and plant life. Museums of science and technology have many hands-on exhibits. Creation science museums explain the origins of all things based on the Biblical account. Historical museums may cover the history of a region, city or town. Children's museums specialize in exhibits created for and sometimes even by children. Libraries are a special type of museum for books and writings.
Make Your Own Museum
A home museum is a do-it-yourself learning center that provides a focus for curious kids of all ages, enabling them to absorb knowledge without even realizing it. It’s a good motivator for writing, science, and art. Subjects such as natural history and geography will be delved into as they study their finds. Taking care of a museum collection will help children to cultivate their interests, set goals, refine their creative talents, improve their organizational abilities, develop concentration and thinking skills. Plus, it’s something they will be enthusiastic about spending their spare time on. As their collection grows, they can keep the best-looking specimens and toss out the duplicates or trade them for other treasures. Many public museums once started out as private collections.
Begin this educational project by setting aside an area to keep a collection of objects in. It’s best to confine everything to one place, rather than having things strewn all around the house. You don’t have to purchase a beautiful glass cabinet. An inexpensive bookcase or metal storage unit would suffice. If you don’t have room for an entire bookcase, try to fit a small display on a single shelf. If space is limited, consider making it a seasonal or rotating exhibit. The rest of the objects can be stored away in boxes, out of sight in a closet, garage, or shed. Even large museums do not always display their whole collections at the same time. A portable mini museum might be kept in a cardboard box, plastic crate, or tackle box.
Identifying finds is like a detective game. Every object is full of clues to be uncovered by examining it with a magnifying glass, describing how it looks and feels, etc. Once the kids have identified a piece, they can be creative in labeling and displaying it. Museum workers keep records of everything in their collection. They number each object, write a detailed description of it, and photograph it. The description tells where, when, and how the object was found, who found it, the age and value of the object, and the historic or scientific importance of the object. Your kids can do the same thing on index cards.
After the descriptive cards are made, kids can work on organizing and displaying their objects. Specimens can be attached to sheets of cardboard, contained in baby food jars, mounted on Styrofoam trays, placed in cigar boxes, shown off in velvet jewelry boxes, put in egg cartons, sealed in Ziploc bags, etc. Children may even want to make their own interactive exhibits. For example, if they have a sample of real gold and fool’s gold (pyrite), they could mount them side by side and challenge guests to identify which is which.
There are plenty of museum jobs in addition to the main task of research and identification. See if you can get the whole family involved. Assign jobs based on individual interests and abilities. For example, an artistic child can make scenic backdrops or dioramas, labels and signs. Consider the following duties and how they might be applied to a home museum:
- The Museum Director or Head Curator works with the entire staff to make sure the museum runs smoothly. He may also buy objects, trade with other museums, or take donations of gifts from people.
- The Curator is a content specialist in charge of researching and documenting a museum’s collection.
- Scouts search for treasures to add to the museum’s collections.
- Conservators/Restorers clean objects and repair them if necessary, and protect objects by treating and storing them so they won’t decay.
- An Exhibit Designer plans the arrangement and display of objects in the space provided for the museum.
- A Graphic Artist creates signs, posters and brochures about the museum, both by hand and on the computer.
- Guides or Docents give tours of exhibits to visitors, and may provide brochures and/or tape recordings.
- Security Guards keep valuable treasures safe.
- Janitors clean glass cabinets and dust off displays.
What job would you like best? Which one would you be good at? If you’re interested in volunteering or working in a real museum, download this document about museum careers from the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery: http://mag.rochester.edu/plugins/acrobat/teachers/MuseumCareers.pdf
What to Collect
Almost anything and everything has been collected by someone at one time or other, and any type of collection can be made into a museum. A home museum may include feathers found in the backyard, pinecones from a walk in the woods, crystals from a geology field trip, vials of sand from beach vacations, etc. Museum pieces don’t have to be natural objects, either - they might consist of artwork, books, LEGO models, or die-cast cars. Some people like to display dolls, vintage clothing, old photographs or postcards. Buttons, stamps, and coins are museum-quality collectibles that don’t take up much space. Who knows, your collection might even become valuable someday.
Once you begin a home museum, you may find that the search for new specimens never ends. While on a family trip, you will always be on the lookout for things to bring back. Perhaps friends, grandparents or other relatives will contribute souvenirs from their travels, or samples from their own collections. You can pick up specimens and display ideas from museum gift shops, nature stores, and science supply catalogs. For ideas on how to set up exhibits, go on a field trip to a museum.
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