a perfect museum

LaSpecolaBirdsMuseums are one of the greatest inventions of all time.  For a homeschooling family they are high-quality on-demand interactive curriculum providers.  Think of all you could learn if you just went to museums five days a week!

11. Stay off the beaten path.

Italy is packed with museums of every size and description.  In Rome we lived across the piazza from the Italian National Pasta Museum; down the street was an underground museum showcasing ancient ruins uncovered by workmen repairing the foundation of the theater above.  There’s an enormous system of museums devoted to just about anything Roman that you could wonder about.  And of course there’s the Vatican Museum with one of the greatest collections of art and antiquities in the world.

Most parents know from sad experience that museums can be tricky.  After our first disastrous trip to the Vatican Museum we learned that such an enormous collection was just too overwhelming for our kid.  Thereafter, we broke our visits into smaller chunks spread out over a few weeks or looked for smaller museums off the main tourist path.

We also learned that museums were more fun for all of us if their collections appealed to our son’s interests; like most eight-year-old boys that meant anything creepy, crawly or weird.

After a bit of research, we hit the museum jackpot in Florence at Museo La Specola: the oldest scientific museum in Europe with collections dating back to the seventeenth century.  It’s a manageable size for an afternoon visit with a somewhat dusty yet charming assembly of taxidermied creatures – including a hippopotamus that was formerly a Medici family pet!  But La Specola’s most famous and spectacular displays are life-sized anatomical wax figures modeled from dissections of real cadavers by eighteenth century Florentine sculptors.  They were created for the purpose of medical study with glass eyes and human hair wigs.  Naked, realistic and gruesomely beautiful, they lie on tattered silk cushions staring out from their glass cases.  Art students sit and draw them for hours.IMG_8089

When you know what sparks your kid’s curiosity then somewhere you’ll find a museum dedicated to it; take time to look online and get off the tourist trail.  Museo La Specola is not for everyone but for us it was a perfect museum.

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books are a key…

zeusD’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths was the key that opened up reading for my son – a children’s classic with spectacular artwork.

The first few weeks in Italy were difficult.  We all had a lot of adjusting to do.  Angus deeply missed his friends and pined for his school.  He was disturbed that the only television available was in Italian and convinced I was unqualified to be his teacher (he was right about that).  I was shocked and disappointed that we’d traveled to this magnificent place only to hear him complain that he was bored!  How ungrateful!   And what about me?  Was I going to be a prisoner of curriculum prep and those home school workbooks every spare minute and never see Italy?  How unfair!

A battle of the wills ensued.  Angus was sullen and uncooperative for two solid weeks.  He nearly had me convinced we should give up and go home when I noticed he was sneaking peeks at the D’Aulaires’ book.  He was not a strong reader yet so I think the strange and wonderful illustrations mesmerized him (just like me when I was his age).  A few days later he found The Odyssey by Dorling-Kindersley among keybooksthe books I’d brought along.

He kept it with him wherever he went, reading and reading and reading…

Suddenly the crisis was over. We had stumbled on the solution to our troubles.  Angus had cured his boredom with books and I had the inspiration to move our lessons out into the city; the myths he was so curious about were everywhere – decorating the buildings and fountains, in the museums and street names of Rome.  Bellissima!

PS: to this day Angus is never without a book, sometimes he brings two or three along on the subway to visit a friend.