Teaching with Artifacts Allows for a Uniquely Abbe Experience!

Raney Bench, Curator of Education

It’s summer, you’re hot, dirty, and sweat drips from your brow into a pit filled with dirt and shell. You look up to see the shining waters of Frenchman Bay and feel the refreshing breeze cool your skin. As your attention returns to the pit, you feel a wave of excitement as you see a bit of gray rock protruding from the soil. Carefully, you scrape the dirt away to reveal an arrowhead with a broken tip. You give a little shout of joy as you share your excitement with others over holding an item made, used, and discarded hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago!

As an educator, it’s my job to try and find creative ways to bring that same sense of wonder and excitement to children when they visit the Abbe Museum, or when we go to their classrooms. Many museums offer an exhibit tour or separate activity for school groups that visit the museum, but the Abbe Museum combines these two formats, to create school programs that allow children to interact with real and reproduction artifacts.

The Abbe offers seven school programs that teach children about the ways Wabanaki people have been living in Maine for the past 12,000 years. All of these programs include an extensive teaching collection of real and reproduction artifacts that children can touch and explore. These artifacts range from ancient stone tools, to contemporary baskets and carvings. Exhibits at the Abbe have educational components built in by design, allowing museum educators to bring school groups into that space so children can use all of their senses to learn more about the Wabanaki.

Students thrill at the opportunity to touch real artifacts, and our work leaves a lasting impression with children and teachers. Here are just a few comments from students we worked with last week:

  • “It was interesting to me, especially the flute made out of bird bone, that was one of the coolest days ever!”
  • “I liked the deer bone and I liked the part when we got to touch everything on the animal fur.”
  • “Thank you for sharing your artifacts. My favorite thing you showed us was the beaver tooth and the flute made out of bird bone. And the beads made out of snail shells. I liked that part because now I know they had fancy clothing."

Image 1: Arrowhead from the Ewing-Bragdon Site, 2010 Field School in Archaeology
Image 2: Shell Beads in the Abbe Museum education collection.