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"By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge
the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." ~Proverbs 24:3-4

Make Your Own Museum

Living with skulls, dead bugs, and snake skins might not be your cup of tea, but if your kids, like mine, have a habit of accumulating piles of found objects, you may have no choice in the matter.

My childrenís pockets have to be checked thoroughly before clothes are put in the wash. The kidsí bathroom sink is often surrounded by freshly-rinsed specimens sitting out to dry. Heaps of rocks, seed pods, and sticks fill our porches and windowsills.

Iím tempted to throw away some of the loot, hoping no one will notice anything missing. It probably wonít work, though. One time I was in a hurry to clean up our deck before company arrived, so I quickly tossed a bunch of stuff out into the desert. By the end of the next day it was all back again!

These found objects are childrenís precious treasures, even if they are not appealing to you. What is a parent to do? At a time when feng shui and clutter-free home organization are in style, you may not want your house decorated like an archaeological dig.

Nevertheless, if you canít beat Ďem, you might as well join Ďem. Start your own home museum! A home museum can be simple or elaborate, large or small. Begin by getting a display case for the kids to keep their collections in. This will help confine everything to one place, rather than having things strewn all around the house.

You donít have to purchase a beautiful glassed-in cabinet. An inexpensive bookcase would suffice. Place it in a corner of the family room, in the kidsí bedroom, or at the end of a hallway. Or put a metal storage unit in the garage or out on the back patio. If you canít set aside an entire bookcase for this sort of project, try to fit a small display on a single shelf. A portable mini museum might be kept in a cardboard box or plastic crate.

Once everything is located in one place, your children will be more likely to weed out their assortment themselves, keeping the best-looking specimens and tossing out the duplicates. If display space is limited, consider making it a 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. Objects may attract more interest in a collection that changes periodically.

A changeable arrangement of various unique treasures is maintained by two New River homeschoolers. Heather and Amy Charles, ages 9 and 7, put all of the whatnots they gather on an old table in their backyard. The girlsí mother, Helene Charles, explains what they have decided to do with these objects. ďThere is this idea about letting kids find leaves, rocks, etc. and place them on a table to see, write and talk about. This would be kept seasonal. For example, find something in the winter, place it on the table, enjoy it. Then take it down for the next season and explore for that season. Itís a good motivator for writing, science, and art.Ē

A home museum of any kind is an ongoing educational project that provides a focus for curious kids. Itís the ultimate hands-on learning center, enabling children to absorb knowledge without even realizing it. Subjects such as science, geography, writing, and more will be delved into as they study their finds. Taking care of a museum will help children to cultivate their interests, set goals, refine their creative talents, improve their organizational abilities, develop concentration and thinking skills. Plus, itís something they will be enthusiastic about spending their spare time on.

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.

After the labels and/or descriptive cards are made, your kids can work on organizing and displaying their found objects just like in a museum exhibit. 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, etc.

Children may even want to make their own interactive exhibits. For example, if they have a sample of real gold and foolís gold (pyrite), they could mount them side by side and challenge guests to identify which is which. Or they could ask visitors to guess, by touch, the identities of objects hidden in a big old sock.

There are plenty of museum jobs in addition to the main task of research and identification. Try to get the whole family involved. Assign jobs based on individual interests and abilities. For example, an artistic child might be given the position of museum calligrapher and thus practice using a new skill for making fancy labels and signs. He or she may also be needed to help make scenic backdrops or dioramas.

Consider the following museum duties and how they can be utilized in a home museum: 1. The museum director or curator is in charge of one or more of a museumís collections. He may buy objects, trade with other museums, or take donations of gifts from people. 2. Scouts search for treasures to add to the museumís collections. 3. Conservators protect objects by treating and storing them so they wonít decay. 4. Restorers clean objects and repair them if necessary. 5. Guides give tours of exhibits to visitors, and may provide brochures and/or tape recordings. 6. Security guards keep valuable treasures safe. 7. Janitors clean glass cabinets and dust off displays.

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.

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 donít have to be natural objects, either. My oldest son has a display of Lego models and 3-D jigsaw puzzles on shelves in his room. A model car enthusiast may set up an exhibit of die-cast cars. Some people like to display dolls, vintage clothing, or old photographs. Buttons, stamps, and fabric samples are museum-quality collectibles that donít take up much space.

It seems that anything and everything has been collected by someone at one time or other, and any type of collection could be made into a museum. From art masterpieces to coffee mugs, all of these objects become symbols representing our lives. Who knows, your collection might even become famous someday. After all, many public museums once started out as private collections.

For more ideas on how to collect and examine objects and record your observations, including a chapter on "pocket museums," read The Private Eye: A Guide to Developing the Interdisciplinary Mind, by Kerry Ruef, 1992, or visit the Private Eye website at www.the-private-eye.com. For ideas on how to set up exhibits, go on a field trip to a museum.

Did You KnowÖ?

May 18 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.

More About Museums

Museums have something for everyone - history, art, science, religion, anthropology, and more. There are many different kinds of museums. They may be indoors or outdoors. All are storehouses of interesting things. 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 do-it-yourself 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.

Nowadays there are virtual museums that feature online exhibits. Some of these allow you to view objects from famous museums all over the world, while others showcase private collections. The Exploratarium - a museum of science, art, and human perception - offers interactive online exhibits at www.exploratorium.edu. The War Eagles Air Museum (www.war-eagles-air-museum.com/exhibits.html) has excellent online exhibits of aircraft, automobiles, and military equipment from World War II. You can even hear and see the planes in action! When you're done looking at the exhibits, go to "Fun Stuff" to take an engine sounds quiz and cockpit identification quiz.

Another example, The Virtual Pac-Man Museum, can be found at www.zutco.com/pacman.htm. Search Yahoo for "Virtual Museum" and you will find hundreds more. Yes, people will collect anything-even America Online CD's! (See the AOL Virtual Museum at www.brainblips.com/aol.) If you have a computer and a digital camera or scanner, perhaps you might like to try putting your own collection online!

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