Program enriches history lessons through art

Homeschoolers tour Walters to learn more about ancient cultures

April 30, 2003|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Louise White gathered a group of children around her to study a mosaic map of the ancient world. She swept her hand over the green tiles to show the size of the Roman Empire. White, a volunteer docent at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, was about to take the youths on a historical tour of that empire, as seen through its art.

Last week was the final visit in an art education series that the museum organized with the Columbia Homeschool Community (CHC), a Howard County-based group.

"We want to help parents enrich their academic studies by providing them activities and opportunities that they would have a hard time doing as single people," such as organizing a museum tour, said Lisa Dean, a founder of the group and one of its facilitators.

The youngsters, who range from kindergarten through high school, were split into two groups based on age. The younger children visited ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, vases and other artifacts with White.

White began the tour with a small fertility figurine. She asked the children to fold their arms against their chests and press their legs together to mimic the statue's pose. In this way, she hoped to show the youths "how art through the ages gets loosened up and sculptors are able to do remarkable things with stone and make their sculptures come alive. ... You can have students feel how tight things were and gradually how the sculpture seems to open up and then seems to twist and turn."

When the children looked at Satyr Pouring Wine, a Roman copy of a Praxiteles statue dating from 370-360 B.C., White said, "This is what Greek sculpture is all about." She said it is not just because the body is in motion, but also because the ancient Greeks "wanted to make everyone so beautiful."

Columbia resident Jennie Steinhauser homeschools her son Joseph. "One of the things I really like is that they [the tours] correspond with what Joseph is doing in history," Steinhauser said. "It really enriches the experience for him."

Customizing the content of the tours with what group members are studying is one of the benefits of homeschooling. The group has visited the Walters once a month since January, with each session focused on an aspect of the ancient world. At home, the children have been learning about Egypt, mythology, Greece and Rome.

"The thing that was so wonderful about this group was their level of perception. They knew about togas. ... They were astonishingly well-prepared for going through the museum with me," White said.

Jackie Copeland, director of education and public programs for the museum, said docents like White enjoy working with homeschoolers.

When the Walters' education office began receiving a high number of calls from homeschooling groups, Copeland and her staff realized they could help parents who teach their children at home. "They are a community that we feel has been underserved by the museum and other museums," she said.

This school year, the museum has held two "Homeschool Days," with all tours reserved for homeschooled youths and their parents.

For some tours, the museum organized art projects in its studio. After visiting galleries filled with ancient Egyptian statues and objects, CHC students tried their hand at writing hieroglyphics on papyrus.

Catonsville resident Nisa Popper said her children saw and felt that papyrus has a much different texture than today's paper. "To actually handle the papyrus and to write the way the Egyptians wrote, it was really exciting," Popper said.

Her 8-year-old daughter, Kellen, was surprised at "how much longer it took to write her name." Popper said the art project emphasized a historical point: Egyptians used highly trained scribes to do their writing.

"I thought that it was fun drawing on the papyrus and seeing the mummies," Kellen said, in particular a mummified bird and cat on display in the Egyptian gallery.

"It's really part of our study of the whole word," Dean said.

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