February started with a spree of young 6th-graders joining the ICCL workshop series hosted by The Heritage Lab at the Govt. Museum & Art Gallery in Chandigarh. The last time around, I used storytelling as a technique to familiarise students with the Gandhara collection and the life of Gautam Buddha. This time, I also wanted to encourage students to question, and be as creative as possible.
For adults, entering a museum space is often “boring” – so how could it translate into an interesting off-site activity for children? How could students have fun on an “educational trip”? The Gandhara section at the museum has many sculptures and panels depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life. There are of course, some labels which help us identify the scenes. But have you ever wondered, why a sculpture is made a certain way? What do the materials tell us about that time? What must have been the artistic process of creation? Sadly, museums still need to help us join the dots, and fall in love with history.
Creative and Critical Learning encourages students to investigate, research, observe, listen, write and draw in relation to the collection at the Museum. While the collection corresponds to their History curriculum, these skills, merged with grammar and English allow students to engage better with museums.
A lot of nights were spent on creating the Gandhara Reference Book, and brainstorming on activities, and finally zeroing down on the 2-hour workshop flow. Invites were designed and sent to schools, and registrations included 22 schools signing up. However, given that February is a short month (yes, even with an extra day), we could only manage to work with 12 schools and 900+ students.
For the first time, students went back from the Museum, asking if they could come back with parents / siblings.
Their activity sheets too, reflected a day of enjoyment and teamwork. In school, copying from another, or sharing answers is usually considered “not good”, but here at the museum, students were encouraged to work in teams, solve crosswords, write curatorial notes, and play treasure hunt! Individually, they got to compare sculptures on different parameters, and build on their analytical skills as young historians.
As I go over their activity sheets, I read on with delight and pure joy at the interpretative answers. My favourite one is “The sculpture was made out of schist which gleams and shines because the King Kanishka wanted his glory to reach even our generation” and yet another gem, “The sculpture was made using certain tools, then why are the tools not on display? Tools can tell us about men.”
These are 11 year olds, who have never visited the museum, and read history as a subject they ought to “pass” in.
At the Heritage Lab, we’re hoping we can poke young minds, and nurture them into curious, bright minds.