Charmagne Thompson, education assistant at MU’s Museum of Anthropology, handed out a sealed plastic bag containing a string of stone beads, used hundreds of years ago, probably by the Mayans who lived in Mexico.
As they passed around the bag in the museum’s display room, the 15 children sitting on the floor expressed surprise at how heavy it was.
The children, all first- through fourth-graders, were participating in “Experience Cultures of the World,” a program that meets twice a month through May.
The first class of the winter series met Thursday.
“Each class will be a little different depending on what the topic is,” Thompson said. “But basically, the children will all meet in the museum to see artifacts (and) photos and discuss the designated culture. Then, we will move into the classroom to watch a short video clip, do a craft project, read a story and maybe play a game from that culture.”
Thompson and Mary French, associate curator of the museum, had a test run of the cultures programs in the summer of 2003. Thompson was then an MU undergraduate student who worked part time at the museum. Although the
program was successful that summer, French and Thompson were unable to consistently plan for the program until Thompson was hired full time in September 2004.
“The program is patterned after an outreach program I was involved with at the University Museum at the University of Arkansas,” French said. “Sadly, that museum is now
closed due to budget cuts, but when
I was there in the early 1990s pursuing my master’s in anthropology and museum studies, they had a very active and popular outreach program called the Discovery Program.”
Having an anthropology background and extensive experience working with children, Thompson runs the main portion of the classes with the assistance of Audrey Gayou, an MU sophomore majoring in anthropology and history.
“The idea of bringing kids into the museum is just wonderful,” Gayou said. “It’s great for them to experience different cultures and to learn about different things that they may not be able to get from school or wherever they are learning.”
Using colored paper, the children made imitations of the mosaic shields used by Mesoamerican warriors.
Like most of the children who participated in the class, Brianna Thompson, 9, and Eric Thompson, 5, enjoyed this part the most.
“It’s fun and cool,” Brianna said. “You get to make different stuff every time — and it’s really cool.”
Kacee Dixon, 8, and Kiera Dixon, 6, both took part in the fall program last year and have already signed up for all four classes offered this semester.
“The classes are so good, just wonderful,” said their mother, Caren Dixon.
“We home-school, so this is a great opportunity adding to whatever other lessons we’re doing.”