Yesterday, for the first time in 10 months, I heard school children’s voices. Not my own kids – I hear them all the time – but an actual group in a classroom!
Normally, Eton College Collections runs a primary programme of ten different sessions across its three museums. Topics include the Victorians, animals and the Stone Age, among others. During the 2019-2020 school year the programme had over 1,500 visitors despite having to close in March. Now in January 2021 our museums are still physically closed, so we have been developing alternative ways to provide access.
Last year this particular school brought all four of their year 3 classes to have our Ancient Egyptian session. This year, their two classes of key worker children were the very first to try out Eton College Collections’ new live video sessions (children not in the class will be sent a link to a recording that they can watch when convenient to them, as many are sharing devices with other family members).
We talked about the same topics (Ancient Egyptian beliefs about death and the afterlife, hieroglyphs, gods), investigated the same objects and worked on the same activities that we do in the session at the Museum of Antiquities. We looked at mummified heads and discussed the process of mummification – how it developed, why each step is necessary, and what the reason behind it was. Students tried their hands at deciphering hieroglyphs to solve a puzzle and we discussed the multifaceted roles of the Ancient Egyptian gods through looking at some of the many small figurines in the collection.
One of the unexpected benefits of the video format was that I was able to show images of the artefacts not behind glass, but close up and from different angles, something not possible to do with a class of students in the museum itself. There was chatter and laughter and questions, and at the end when I said goodbye and thank you, I felt a bit emotional about the whole experience.
The Eton Collections Primary Education Programme has always focussed our efforts on local schools. We want to get these children in and close to the actual objects, which is one of the unique facets of museum learning. These schools are still our priority – so while the children cannot come in, this version of the programme is the next best thing. In the future, when visits are once again possible, we will be able to continue to make use of the work put into and skills gained for live video teaching. These sessions will allow us to reach students that are further away or cannot visit due to timetables, lack of staffing, or the exorbitant cost of transport. Although borne out of necessity to reach our school audiences in lockdown, it is an exciting development that will have a lasting impact.
“the children were all talking about Egyptians during breakfast club”
Was it the same experience as a normal museum session? No. Was it as good as a normal museum session? Obviously not – there is a special something about being out of the home or classroom, being in a different space, seeing the real thing in person. Having discussions was more difficult, but still possible. Despite these restrictions and difficulties, both teachers said afterwards that they found the session very helpful in bringing these fascinating objects to their students. They also reported back that their students enjoyed the workshop, “were able to take away information relevant to their learning at school”, and that they “were all talking about Egyptians during breakfast club”.
It was good, it was fun, it was educational, and hopefully it helped the teachers provide for their students at this difficult time.
By Saskia Nesja, Education Officer
In addition to the primary programme for schools, Collections Learning provide free digital learning resources for use in the classroom and for home schooling.