Dead in the Museum?

I like to think that I can keep up with the curiosity of my preschoolers and have enough general knowledge to answer most of their questions to their satisfaction. However, a couple of weekends ago, when we were visiting the Field Museum in Chicago, I was caught by surprise by the fixation with death and dying evoked by the dinosaur skeleton and the stuffed elephants in the main lobby.

I guess it is only normal to wonder how those gigantic creatures got there and why people like to look at them. But in the minds of my 5 and 3 year olds, the questions geared more towards, does that happen to all of the animals? And why do we like keeping their bones and their skin.

To aggravate things, our first stop was a 3D movie about the Ice Age and, you guessed right! more dead animals and more “bones”. The movie was of course educational even for us adults, but what my children learned about it is that animals died and we like to study their remains.

When we excited the movie, we found ourselves in the exhibit about the different hominids, the neanderthals and homo sapiens, as well as the animals that coexisted and presided every group. My kids kept asking me the reason for the human remains being on display and asked me if they were going to be like that when then died. My 5 year old started asking theological questions about going to heaven, my 3 year old was just content to learn that when he died, he wouldn’t be in the museum.

The truth is that though, their questioning was natural and innocent, I had not prepared myself to answer those questions. In all honesty, I have tried to avoid talking about death much. My husband didn’t have better answers than mine, but he’s strategy was to leave all the talking to me (thanks for that).

The exhibit ends at a part where you learn about current species who are going extinct, mainly because of human behavior and mismanagement of natural resources. I could tell my 5 year old was both disappointed and scared.

We continued our visit in the area of Ancient Egypt. The kids had wanted to see it because they were curious to get into a pyramid after learning about Egypt in a monthly subscription that we get at home. All the mommies and sarcophagus only made the theme of the day (death and dying), sink in a little deeper. We did enjoy seeing all the figurines in the burials and walking through the “market” area, where we learned that both dogs and baboons were used as police aids.

When I planed taking the children to the museum to learn about nature and dinosaurs, I should have anticipated the ethical questions that this activity would arise in the children. But I guess you can’t plan for all the tough questions your kids are going to ask. I certainly don’t want to miss out on the great educational opportunity that visiting museums from a young age presents. Even if it means to expose them to the harsh reality of the cycle of life. After all, I rather be the one hearing this questions first.


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