What’s Hiding in Collections? Ancient Egyptian Artifacts!

Contratto_blog imageIt’s been quite an exciting beginning to my internship at the Museum. The first month has gone by in the blink of an eye! I never guessed how extensive and diverse Boston Children’s Museum’s collections were. Lately, I’ve been drawn to the Museum’s ancient artifacts from Egypt, Israel, Greece, Iran and Italy, just to name a few. Ceramics, jewelry, stone carvings, lamps, wooden figures, and even mummy linen are some of the artifacts that are in the collection.

Recently, I just finished cataloging 213 Ancient Egyptian artifacts. Each artifact is unique and beautiful, but some of their stories are lost to time. The majority of the artifacts were gifted to the Museum between the 1920s and 1950s by Bostonians who traveled to Egypt. Other artifacts came from archaeological excavations that occurred in Egyptian cities such as Deir el-Bahari and Faiyum.

I’ve picked out a few of my favorite Ancient Egyptian artifacts to share with you.

mr5 79

Mummy Mask – MR5 79 – Egypt

To begin, above is a beautiful mummy mask. The mask is made of painted plaster on linen; a technique called cartonnage, which forms the shape of the face. The paint features gold leaf and different crushed minerals for the red and blue colors.

Next, we have a juvenile crocodile mummy:

mr5 25

Junvenile Crocodile Mummy – MR5 25 – Thebes, Egypt

This object is particularly interesting because it’s unwrapped. You can still see the details and coloring of its scales. Even its tiny teeth and toes are still there! The collection contains several other animal mummies including an ibis, a hawk, and a pigeon. Ancient Egyptians frequently mummified animals including cats, dogs, snakes and even entire bulls. Certain animals were considered sacred to different gods and goddesses in ancient Egyptian culture.

The last artifact is an ushabti, which is also called a shabti or a shawabti (typically, each of these different names refers to a certain time period in Ancient Egypt):

Ushabti  – MR5 403b – Egypt

Ushabti  – MR5 403b – Egypt

These figures were placed in tombs and believed to serve the dead in the afterlife. Many like this one include hieroglyphics of a spell to bring it to life. Ushabtiu (yep, that’s its plural form) were one of the most common grave goods.

Currently, I am planning an Ancient Egyptian window exhibit and program to take place at the end of November. More artifacts will be exhibited and presented in the program with the opportunity to touch (of course with gloves on) ancient artifacts and participate in a fun learning experience. Keep watching the Museum’s calendar for an upcoming date and I hope to see you there!

Getting To Know You

Image 1Many of you are probably familiar with our Visitor Experience Associates (VEAs, for short) here at Boston Children’s Museum.  These are the green-shirted floor staff you encounter at admissions, the information desk, and in many exhibits throughout the Museum. They are, without a doubt, the face of the Museum.  Many of them are students so there is a natural ebb and flow to their time at Boston Children’s Museum—many only work for the school year or just for the summer. As a result, we have certain times of the year that we are busy hiring and training new staff.

I have been the Science Educator here for 14 years and in that time I have trained many, many floor staff (who, over my time here have been called Program Assistants, Program Interpreters, Exhibit Interpreters and Visitor Experience Associates). I have my training spiel down to…well….a science, after all this time.  But that does not mean it is boring for me. Not at all.  Because even though I present the same information each time, the diversity of our staff means it is always a different experience for me. Continue reading

Happy Healthy Halloween!

halloweenAs Halloween season approaches you see fun, festive decorations, images of children dressing up, and a host of scary movies and ads. A lot of children, especially those who are older than preschool-age, spend time choosing their costumes and looking forward to all the yummy candies and other treats they will get. Halloween is fun, and it’s also a good opportunity for us to appreciate children’s development and overall health. Bring your healthy snack to Tasty Tuesday and share your plans for Halloween!

  1. Can Halloween be too scary for kids?

Many children love Halloween right from the start. But some children, especially younger children, can develop fears around Halloween. Children who are preschool age or younger may have a hard time differentiating fantasy from reality. Seeing spooky posters, TV ads, and older kids/adults telling stories can fuel a young child’s imagination and may escalate already existing fears, such as monsters lurking under the bed. This doesn’t mean that you should not participate in Halloween, nor that you should try to block all Halloween-related scary things, which would not be very realistic or even healthy. Instead, you can actually use Halloween to teach your child what’s pretend, what’s real and how to manage fear. Even if your child is fine with Halloween, you still can use this opportunity to talk about any other anxieties.  During Halloween children might discover that sometimes things that are a little bit scary can also be fun; and that those spooky creatures they see are actually “real people” who are dressed up. In order to communicate this message, try to avoid wearing masks or anything to cover faces; and act normally, instead of pretending to be a scary monster. Show pictures of children smiling and enjoying Halloween, and share your own fun Halloween memories. Children can pick their own costumes – or they can even make one – so that they are part of this “pretend” dress up fun. Follow your child’s lead and don’t over-push what’s typically done for Halloween. Children enjoy Halloween in different ways at each developmental stage.

  1. Trick-or-treat! Time to practice social boundaries.  

Going trick-or-treating is a good way to practice positive social behaviors and manners. For quiet and shy children, dressing up in a costume may give them the courage to talk to a new person because their costume allows them to be someone else. For children who can be overly social and not see a lot of boundaries, this is also a good time to practice how to properly visit other people’s houses without being too invasive and how to nicely ask for things (even if what they are saying is “trick-or-treat!” instead of “please”) while having fun and being friendly.

  1. What to do with all the candy?

I wouldn’t say that candy is particularly healthful, but I also wouldn’t suggest that you take all the candy away from your kids. Yes, health is important, but candy is part of the fun of Halloween! So instead of banning candy, use this opportunity to teach children about eating in moderation. Keep about 10 candies that your child really likes, and if your child is old enough, this is a good time to have a conversation about how much candy is reasonable to keep based on dental health and nutrition.

Halloween is also a good time to learn about giving back. There are many dentists who participate in Buyback Programs for leftover Halloween candies.  Those candies will most likely be donated to US military members in hostile regions through organizations like Operation Gratitude. If you can’t find suitable candy exchange places near you, you can do it at home by trading books or small toys for candies.

You can find places to donate candy through:

Halloween Candy Buy Back Program: http://www.halloweencandybuyback.com/index.html

Kool Smile Operation Troop Treats Program: http://www.mykoolsmiles.com/trooptreats

On October 31st, we will be celebrating Halloween all day long at Boston Children’s Museum, and we are open until 9 pm on that night (Target $1 Friday Night after 5 pm).  Come join us, and have a wonderful Halloween!

The Art of Letting Go

Boy ChairI have a confession.  I posted an article in March, 2013 called “The Resiliency Gap”, in which I wrote about our observed increase in the number of children shying away from difficult challenges – particularly from trying and failing, then working through that failure and trying again.  This skill of resiliency, or “stick-to-itiveness”, is imperative for a child’s development, their self-esteem and their ability to solve problems.  But here is my confession…as a dad, I’m terrible at teaching this skill to my child.  I talk a good game, but if my 3 year-old son is struggling with a puzzle, or with figuring out how to dress himself, I find that I am quick to step in and assist.  Too quick, actually.  I hate seeing him frustrated, and I have an innate urge to make his life easy.  This extends to real risk-taking too – if I see him climbing something, I am quick to ask him to climb down, or rush over to assist him for fear that he might fall.  If he is in any situation where there is a remote opportunity for injury, I tend to hover.  And worry.  And hover some more.  But my son continually expresses his desire to “do it myself”, or to test his limits and the physics that govern his movements in ways that, frankly, scare me. Continue reading

Keeping Up with the Cool Kids

IMG_2335“We love the museum, but even though Maeve is still having fun, Katie is starting to grow out of it.” This is a sentiment I am hearing more and more during my time in the Museum’s exhibits. Grownups will bring their child here for years and have the time of their life. Then their kid gets younger siblings, and they continue to come to the Museum with the new additions, and have the time of their life. But then their oldest child turns 7 or 8. He or she starts worrying that the Museum is too “babyish” and doesn’t feel like coming just to play with the younger sibling and parents.

Our visitors are always going to be growing up. That’s a given. We could choose to simply let them go, or we can try to capture the attention of these creative, thoughtful kids until the very last second! Continue reading

Yoga for Children and Grownups

yogaSeptember is National Yoga Month. Yoga offers various health benefits: it helps you relax, stretch your muscles, and strengthen your body. Yoga also helps you to practice relaxation and concentration. But yoga is not just for adults – it is also recommended for young kids.  Along with the above benefits, yoga can also encourage positive child-family development. Share your experiences with yoga at September’s Tasty Tuesdays and also join Family Yoga in the Museum at 11 am on Mondays and Fridays! Continue reading

Fold and Fly: Paper Airplane Engineering

Paper AirplaneHave you ever made a paper airplane? Then believe it or not, you’ve done some engineering! Paper airplanes may be simple, but they’re also a great way to learn some basic engineering techniques. If you’ve tried to fly one, you know they don’t always fly straight. Sometimes, they don’t fly at all. But through engineering, we can improve our designs and make airplanes that soar.  Here is a simple airplane you can build at home with your child. All you’ll need is one 8.5 x 11” piece of paper. Continue reading

Stay Cool and Hydrated with Popsicles!

popsicleAs we enter the peak of summer, you may be spending more days outside running around and getting sweaty, or you could be sweating just from being in a non-air conditioned room. Although hydration is always important, we are more likely to get dehydrated during the hot summer.

One great way to easily get some water into your body is to eat popsicles! Although many sweet treats can be overloaded with sugar, if you make your own popsicles you can not only control the amount of sugar that goes into them; you can also be sure that they are made from healthful ingredients. You will even save money!  And of course both kids and adults love popsicles, not just because they taste good, but because they help cool you down on a hot day. Continue reading

Ahoy There! It Be Boats Afloat on Yonder Water!

Boats 1Wake ahead and winds a-flurry! What does it take to stay on course and above water when hit by these elements on the kiddie pool? This past Sunday, families got to put on their engineering sailor hats and test out how well their designs held up against fans and a wave maker.  During our hands-on Boats, Rafts and Ships workshop, cardboard and paper were transformed into sails; skewers became tall masts and harpoons; and Popsicle sticks were made into oars to complete kids’ aluminum-lined vessels.

What is the maximum load your boat can hold? Continue reading

Creative Confidence – Expand your life experiences

A Distant Episode 2Having creative confidence is trusting and valuing each and every one of your ideas and taking creative risks.

In the Art Studio this is goal #1 – to instill creative confidence in every visitor that walks through the door – no matter what the project is, what medium we are exploring, or what collaborative project we are constructing.

We regularly post new ideas about how to instill creative confidence in children at home and in the classroom.

For those of you out there that do not know, Boston Children’s Museum has an awesome gallery space where we have been showcasing the work of local artists since our renovation in 2007. One of the unique things about our gallery space is our family audience, which can top 2,000 any given day. That is an amazing turn-out for any art space! The thing about our audience is that they most likely are not coming to the Museum to see art. (I am trying to change that!). What this means it that they aren’t anticipating walking into an art space or preparing themselves for the conversation they will have with their children about what they are seeing, or what the art is, or what it means. They just happen upon it. I love watching the discovery, seeing what kids are drawn to, how they decide to interact with the work, what they say, what they don’t say….being a witness to the truly hands-on aspect of the Museum and what this means in an art space. Continue reading