“What are you looking at?” docent Joanne Ogata asked a clutch of fifth graders from Queen Ka‘ahumanu Elementary School two weeks ago (pictured above). They sat on the floor of the American Art Gallery, gazing up at Thomas Moran’s glowing landscape of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. “What’s happening with the sky?” inquired Ogata further.
The children were on the museum’s Art and Life in Early America guided school tour, to coincide with their current Colonial America curriculum in the classroom.
At the same time, three other groups of Queen Ka‘ahumanu students were engaging in different components of the tour. One group played Colonial-era games, another was in the exhibition Karen Hampton: The Journey North, and another was in the Early American gallery learning how colonists grew and wove flax to clothe themselves.
The tour is designed to develop visual thinking strategies in children, says outreach manager Emma Hussey. In the American Art Gallery, “Children are observing what they see then backing it up with evidence, by writing down details in the paintings,” she explains.
Other disciplines are woven into the tour. For example, docent Ellen Owens asks kids to calculate how much weaving a colonial housewife would need to do to clothe her family of four.
The tour isn’t a static thing. It evolves to take advantage of new and temporary things at the museum. For example, Karen Hampton: The Journey North is a great opportunity to highlight the African American experience.
Docent Joy Schucart guides her charges to Hampton’s textile work Harriet Tubman, describing the former slave’s heroic work as an Underground Railroad “conductor.” Schucart held up a $20 bill and said, “Her face will be on this in 2020. That’s how important she is to American history. Isn’t that something?”