I hope you’re well and enjoying this very sunny summer. I just got back from Europe two nights ago and I am still suffering from intense jet lag. My mornings have been starting at 4:30, which makes no one happy, except my puppy, Teddy.
My Euro-trip was everything I could have asked for and more. In fact, I was having so much fun in Berlin at the end that I extended my trip several days! I’ve also decided that I’d like to work on my German skills in Berlin for a couple months next spring.
But first things first: the museums!! I went to many on my 3.5 week adventure, and I’ll start with a rather unique one: the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Located in Haworth, about an hour and a half drive from Chester, the Brontë Parsonage Museum is housed where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote their most famous works. It was very exciting for me to see where Charlotte Brontë wrote Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights.
I usually write about art exhibits, but I thought I’d make an exception and talk about a history museum because this particular exhibition excelled in something rather difficult- appealing to children. I believe that all museums, regardless of their focus, should be strategizing ways to involve young people with their collections.
* * *
The first interactive aspect of the exhibition is a fill-in-the-blank poem. The words to an Emily Brontë poem have been written in large font, with several words omitted. Next to the poem are potential words, written on small rectangles, that can be mixed and matched at will. Take a look:
I love how this project exposes children to the writing of Emily Brontë while still allowing them to think both creatively and logically. They have the opportunity to decide how they want their sentence to look. The final poem could be silly, or it could make sense. A participatory activity holds children’s attention better than a passive one. Furthermore, the words used in Emily’s poems are a bit advanced. Participating in this activity introduces children to new vocabulary.
* * *
Another activity that looks quite fun for young visitors features a series of circular panels with questions on them. These questions ask children what they think life was like in the 19th century. Lifting the panel reveals pictorial answers to these questions. Take a look:
This activity is useful because the participatory nature of panel lifting involves children actively in their own learning. The guess-and-reveal nature of the panels is also enticing to curious young learners. And lastly, the combination of words and pictures allows young readers to make connections between images and the words used to represent them.
* * *
Lastly, I was very happy to see a large dress-up drawer in the exhibition as well. As someone who still owns a dress-up drawer, I am a very strong advocate for the importance clothing plays in learning about history. At the tender age of ten I received a bonnet and apron in colonial Williamsburg. I believe that this outfit motivated me to confront a very shocked John Adams impersonator about his political platform.
And so, a dress-up drawer filled with imitation clothing from the 19th century is a wonderful way to engage young visitors. It teaches them about gender roles and 19th century morals/values. (“Why weren’t women allowed to wear pants? How can you run in a long dress?!?!”) Different fabrics inform young visitors about the types of textiles available at a certain time. (“Why is the dress so stiff and scratchy?”)
I also believe that stepping into the shoes (literally) of another person increases one’s understanding of the past and one’s empathy towards others. Experiencing the constricting attire of a 19th century woman is different from hearing about it. Trying (and failing) to run about in a long skirt leaves a lasting impression on a young child. They not only learn about the change in society’s expectations of women; they experience what it’s like to feel restricted. They recognize that their own experience is not the only experience that matters, and that the course of history has impacted the way real people, like themselves, live.
* * *
It would serve other museums well to make themselves as accessible to children as The Brontë Parsonage Museum does. As I’ve written in many other posts, and for the Tufts Daily, art has the potential to foster empathy. Interactive activities allow children to make connections between art and the real world that they may or may not instinctively make. It is the role of curators and museum educators to facilitate the fostering of empathy in young viewers through the consumption of art and history. The Brontë Parsonage Museum excels at this.
If you find yourself in Northern England I urge you to take a drive to Haworth to see this brilliant museum. It is located in the The Brontë Village, which is filled with little shops and eateries. The original apothecary and pub still stand, if you find yourself in need of some whimsical soaps or a pint. Bramwell Brontë actually drank himself to death at the Blackbull Pub- use that bit of trivia to brighten everyone’s mood over some shepherd’s pie. And if you’re feeling like a hike in the moors, Wuthering Heights is only an hour’s stroll from the village!
Until next time!
xoxo, Chloe <3