Children often arrive at an historic house museum with little idea of what to expect. Time doesn’t mean a great deal to them, therefore the age of the house has little impact. It is not until we discuss the differences between then and now, as they walk from room to room, that age becomes more understandable and interesting.
A technique that helps bring history to life is to have students consider the past using senses other than sight. It makes the historical picture more complete and more fully engages their attention. Together, we consider how things might have sounded, smelled, and felt in earlier times.
What today is city used to be more like country. What sounds might you hear in the country ? What sounds would have been heard on the nearby rivers and bayous of our area? Would kitchen sounds have been different than they are today? What smells could they imagine coming from that kitchen? What would it feel like to sleep on a rope bed with a moss filled mattress?
I ask students to pretend it is the nineteenth century, and that they are staying in our old house as guests. What did they do for entertainment? What did they eat for Sunday dinner? How well did they sleep?
Discovering history through all our sense makes the picture more complete, and is a really effective method of getting participation from the group! The sweetest words to my ears are when a child says, “This was really fun … I hope we can come back again.”
Myrna B. Bergeron, docent Pilot House Museum Louisiana Landmarks Society.
Bergeron, Myrna B. “It Works for Me…Docents share techniques they find successful.,”The Docent Educator 1.4 (Summer 1992): 11.