MU Museum of Anthropology program shares world culture with children

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 | 7:26 p.m. CST; updated 7:35 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 20, 2009

COLUMBIA — Among other things, 6-year-old Isaac Van Doren knows that Northwest American Indians used seal intestines to create waterproof clothing, that the four character types in a traditional Thai puppet drama are joker, princess, hermit and demon, and that Mesoamerican peoples used an elaborate calendar system to name children after the day on which they're born.

Isaac learned all this at the MU Museum of Anthropology's Cultures of the World class, where Jessica Boldt and the rest of the museum's staff strive to expose children to a simple but powerful idea: "Not everybody lives the way we do here."

Upcoming Children's Classes

Where: For the Spring of 2008, Cultures of the World will meet in MU's Swallow Hall. There are parking spaces available at the front of the museum for parents to pick up and drop off their children.

When: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

What: China: Feb. 3 and Feb. 10

Northwest Coast: March 3 and March 10

Peru: April 7 and April 14

Tibet: May 5 and May 12

Pre-registration is required. Call Jessica Boldt at 882-3573 or e-mail to register for one or more classes. For more information, contact Boldt or visit

As education coordinator and assistant curator, Boldt and museum employee Samantha Hunter use the museum's artifacts, crafts, stories and activities to show first- through fifth-graders how folks live in places as diverse as Tibet and the Caribbean.

Boldt said the program aims to broaden horizons and open young minds to the larger world through hands-on activities such as Thai shadow puppets and vivid Puerto Rican vejigante masks. In addition to providing a perspective often absent in local public schools, Boldt said, the museum staff "want to be a little selfish and promote anthropology: the study of people."

The students, many of whom regularly attend the monthly two-hour classes, seem to relish the experience.

"A lot of the kids are enthralled by what we say and are really into it," Hunter said. "You can tell they really want to learn."

Isaac, a home-schooled first-grader in Columbia, agreed. "I like learning about what (artifacts) are," Isaac said. "It just takes a little bit of time to learn a lot."

A veteran of three classes and creator of weaving projects, headdresses and shadow puppets, Isaac offered prospective students his sage advice: "If you like making crafts that are pretty detailed, I would say it would be a good thing (to attend)."

His mother, Kelli Van Doren, 44, heard about the program from a fellow parent. "It's like something you'd see in a big city museum," she said. "So it's nice that it's here in Columbia."

Van Doren echoed her son's fondness for the museum's artifacts, saying that the combination of authentic artifacts and activities, small class sizes — each class is capped at 15 students — and knowledgeable and enthusiastic instructors help bring the past to life.

"It's hard to do something of that detail at home," Van Doren said. "It's like going to a history museum and art class all at once."

For his part, Isaac said he enjoys the classes but hasn't committed himself to a career in anthropology quite yet.

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