University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Stories, Statues and Stillness

Exploring movement and mindfulness with preschoolers at the Museum of Classical Archaeology

This year, the Cambridge Festival of Ideas was based around the theme of ‘movement’.  This was very exciting for those of us working with very young children who, from an adult point of view, move around a lot! Often at great speed and in unpredictable directions. In fact Jerry Seinfeld summed it up by saying that, ‘having a two year old is like having a blender with no lid!’ So here was our challenge: how to capitalise on young children’s natural desire and need to move in a way that would help them to engage with the museum objects and environment productively and respectfully, with an awareness of the needs of other visitors too.

The Museum of Classical Archaeology is a wonderfully soothing space, in which thoughts can settle and new ideas and inspirations can rise to the fore, and it was here that we began to explore the concept of a story-based mindfulness workshop for young children.

The children were guided through key objects in the gallery through a simple story that began with the introduction of a fearsome beast-Medusa from the Pediment of the Temple of Artemis in Corfu. Having had a good look at this creature, the children were encouraged to have a go at a simplified version of the yoga pose simhasana, or lion pose, in which we stuck out our tongues, made a scary lion’s roar with our breath, letting out all our anger as a way of ‘releasing the beast’ before continuing with the story.

We then met Artie, the Cape Artemision God, who was convinced he could defeat the terrifying beast.  Along with Artie and other figures in the museum, the children got into training: stretching, balancing, twisting and throwing (inspired by the Diskobolos, but using coloured silk scarves rather than a discus!)

However, the story took an unexpected twist when we discovered that fighting the monster would not work. We learned that her power came from fear, and so the only way of defeating her would be for us to leave all our worries behind. We sat together in a quiet area of the gallery where everything is still, and made ourselves still too, one body part after another until finally we were totally still and could just breathe all of our fears and worries away.

We found the monster transformed now that we were no longer afraid of her – she would use her power to protect us, not to cause harm, and safe in this knowledge all the children lay down on the floor to rest. Each one was given a small cuddly toy, which they could rock to sleep using just the up and down movements of their breathing.  The atmosphere was one of absolutely focused calm –the image of the out-of-control blender could not have been further from our minds!

We finished the session with some peaceful art activities – gently breathing on feathers to see where they would land to produce a serendipitous collage to take home as a memory of the day.

Staying mindful, dealing positively with emotions, and using our bodies well are crucial skills for our hectic modern lives, and museums can provide wonderfully rich and inspiring environments in which to do this.  We look forward to exploring this in more depth in future projects.

Brilliant storytelling, accommodating organisers and restoratively calming event! Thanks. 1st trip to a museum.
Mum of 3 year old

This event was produced as part of Cambridge Festival of Ideas and the Get Creative Family Arts Festival.

If you would like to know more about this, or other museum activities for very young children, please contact Nicola Wallis at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Nicola Wallis and Jennie Thornber, Museum Educators – Fitzwilliam Museum and Museum of Classical Archaeology

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