Mindfulness in the Museum
Would today’s millennial child like to visit a museum on a holiday or even on a school day? We can all try our luck! In all probability, they’ll make excuse, most of the time. Which child would want to trade places of trudging along winding staircases and long corridors looking at old dusty stuff of a bygone age? It might indeed be boring, tiring and uninteresting for the young minds who would probably prefer playing their favourite video games. A part of you wonders if the kids are actually right. Are museums just dusty old places? No matter how genuinely fascinating the artefacts and exhibits are, they don’t generate a connection with the young minds. Big, beautiful, impressive museums housed in grandiose buildings with manicured lawns and gardens just don’t attract children any more.
I once asked my class why they hated going to museums. The reasons they put forth , quite honestly and in confidence was an eye opener- “We go there because we are told to do so, we’d be happier doing something else, the atmosphere is funereal , dark and dingy , the displays are useless and not in order, we’ve no idea what we’re looking at, it’s all on the Internet anyway , the teacher would mark us absent if we didn’t participate in the educational excursion...... the reasons were varied and come to think of it, quite true.”
A museum is a temple of the Muses. Yes indeed! But, they need to come out from being mere storehouses for collections, preservation and display. They have to be more than just cultural centres for the community. A child of today whose many an hour is spent on and filled with the reality of a virtual world, how can we make our museums ‘kid friendly’? Since the early twentieth century there has been an increasing acknowledgement on the importance of the educational function of museums.
Way back in 1952, UNESCO staged a seminar in Brooklyn, USA on its role and effectiveness. A beginning was made way back to harness its educational potential.
We all agree that museum visits can provide
memorable, immersive learning experiences that ignite imagination. They offer
dynamic opportunities to expose children to experiences and explore new
cultures, customs, heritage, people, historical periods in a rich educational
environment. Children can take ownership of their own learning and spark their
Art gives a truly wholesome experience, a chance to connect the present with the past, and the future. Museums can provide that space for reflection, experimentation, inspiration, interpretation, creativity and enjoyment. It can also give a broader understanding of time and space. Hence, it becomes imperative to bring in museums into our school curriculum in a way that is enjoyable and meaningful to our students. They need to be powerhouses and powerful instruments of education rather than merely being houses of display of valuable objects. Children should relate to them with joy and eagerness, rather than awe and wonder. They should have the same spring in their step and twinkle in their eye as they do when visiting Disneyland or a Zoo or even the circus. Visits to museums with the family or classmates should be looked forward to as exciting trips. Even if the exhibits don’t attract them, they could be allowed to play around in the premises. They can soak in the ambience and partake in the contextual mapping inadvertently. Such a visit represents a collection of experiences. Any information obtained is likely to include social related, attitudes related, cognitive related and sensory related associations which are embedded in memory. Any recollection of any facet of such a visit can facilitate the recall of the entire experience.
The Local Flavour
In India, we can conceptualise small local museums which are easily accessible. Tedious long distance travel can be avoided. Such museums can highlight local history, folklore, art and crafts, flora and fauna, mythology-- concepts that children identify and are familiar with. Many years ago, I was fascinated seeing one such unique museum in Slovenia dedicated to the craft of handmade laces. It came across as unusual, because it recognises a 300 year old tradition of bobbin lace-making, indigenous to the small mercury mining town of Idrija . For decades, people have been taking pride in their local skill --intricately woven delicate laces that were a part of royal European households for centuries. Every year, in June, workshops, demos, competitions are held to promote the town’s lace making tradition and legacy.
We can have such a museum in Kashmir that is dedicated to the colourful kashida and Pashmina embroidery - the delicate thread work that also reflects the life, customs, flora and fauna of the local landscape. Or, we can also have a mini museum housed in tribal huts, Dhokra non- ferrous metal, lost wax figurines .The primitive simplicity and enchanting folk motifs using eco-friendly materials like beeswax, sand and husk would connect children to the tribal craftsmen of Central India who have kept alive a 4000 year old indigenous casting technique.
Our country has a rich tradition of art and artisans, craft and craftsmen, folklores and heritage in every corner. Children learn best through personal exploration and hands on experiences, so curated museum visits by schools will foster partnerships and life-long learning expeditions.
They can ask questions, make observations,
reflect on experiences and draw their own conclusions. Senior children and
teachers can also work as part time guides during weekends. This will give them
a sense of belonging to their local heritage, history and culture.
Museum learning brings a true understanding of subjects rather than asking them to memorise facts.
Kids can be challenged to recreate paintings, sculptures and artefacts through creative role plays and make believe imitations using their bodies and simple props. They’ll have fun contorting themselves, clicking each other’s pictures and posting it on an e- album. Another fun activity could be giving each child 3-4 photos or pictures post cards before the museum entry and letting them hunt for the displays on their own . Let them take charge of their own learning, almost like a treasure hunt. Even textbooks can have in small boxes with names and locations and e- links of museums pertaining to a certain theme or topic. Children can visit them when they go to the place during vacation or they can even take a virtual tour. For example, while studying Einstein’s theories in Physics, a link to a virtual tour of a museum in Bern, Switzerland can be added. This museum not only offers an account of his genius and ground breaking discoveries, but illustrates the history of the time, the horrors of the Holocaust and an e- tour of the exhibition space which houses 550 original objects and replicas, films, photographs and animations -- a tribute indeed to the man behind the genius.
This mode of experiential learning will also pave the way for a multidisciplinary approach to concepts. The activities thus conceptualised can effectively complement formal education. Being flexible, it satisfies the needs of both individuals and collectivities and takes into account local variations of culture, economy and society. Thus, learning in and learning through museums can strengthen the pedagogic role of non- formal education spaces.