SALT LAKE CITY — Little Ben Buck, 6, presses his nose to the glass of a museum exhibit.
“What is it, Daddy?” he asks, eying a 6,420-year-old mummy from Peru.
His father kneels to his height, pointing to the face. “This person used to be alive a long, long time ago. Can you pronounce the name?”
His sisters, ages 8 and 10, giggle as he tries, before one says it right.
The Leonardo opened its doors Saturday to what organizers said is the largest exhibition of mummies and related artifacts ever assembled. Beyond personal appeal, The “Mummies of the World” exhibit fosters a powerful teaching opportunity for parents.
“We love seeing it firsthand,” says their father, Carter Buck. “It ignites their imagination in a way that it wouldn’t otherwise. They’ve seen pictures and read books on mummies, but actually seeing mummies is a completely different learning experience.”
For Buck, the museum offers a surfeit of unexpected teaching opportunities. “I ask them to try to pronounce the difficult words on the placards. It’s good for them to learn hard words and big words.”
Sandy resident Jennifer George, brings her 9-year-old son, Aidan, to expand his world view and allow him to connect to the mysteries of the past.
"We have so much now and to see the toys children used to have, compared to what they have now, helps him put his life in context."
George reads the placards and explains each item to her son. “He asks questions about how old the mummy is or something about their life or their family, and we try to incorporate how things were with his life, compared to ours.”
Greg and Nancy Morrill, parents of 10-year-old twins from Highland, see the exhibit as a way to supplement their children’s education.
“They need exposure,” Nancy said. “You can talk about as many things as you want to, but if they don’t see it, it won’t cement in their minds. This definitely will.”
“Mummies are cool cool cool!” scream 7-year-old twin girls, Juliette and Danielle.
Their mother, Dialma Jensen, can attest to her children’s love of discovery: “They are obsessed with mummies. They enjoy seeing the mummies before them, and understanding how they came to be like that. It’s a learning experience for all of us.”
Andrea Ryser came because her 5-year-old wanted to see it.
“He couldn’t stop talking about it,” Ryser said. “His little mind was so excited to see real mummies. He just rushed back back to me, shouting ‘I love mummies!’”
For Ryser, the museum scene itself helps foster learning.
“We live in an age where we spend a lot of time on the computer and watching TV and it’s good for them to come and see things like this,” Ryser said. “Life is so busy, so if there is any opportunity to teach them something that would correlate to their own life or change their way of thinking, I seize that.”
The museum offers parents a guide to teaching children through the museum, as well as placards along the way, which describe each element of the exhibit.
“The exhibit offers so many opportunities for parents to be the active teachers with their children, even if they know nothing about mummies” said Lisa Davis, spokesperson for the Leonardo.
“You see the wonder and the curiosity that children come at the world with and sometimes when you get older, you forget,” Davis said. “And sometimes I think parents learn just as much from their kids, as far as looking at the world with curiosity, so it becomes a multi-generational experience.”
“Having that experience even above and beyond the actual content that they learn is so wonderful as a family,” Davis said. “You understand how much we have in common with people who lived thousands of years before us. You see how important family is by the way they handle their departed relatives and you see how important community is and you realize that these are things that make us human."
The exhibition recommends that parents discuss the contents of the exhibition with their children before they visit, explaining what a mummy is, how they came to be and where they came from.
“Remind your child that the mummies are no longer living,” the American Exhibition wrote in an online parent guide. “They were once real people, but they don’t look like everyday people now because the mummification process alters the way they look in many ways.”
"Sometimes we forget how magical it is for people who come to this exhibit," said Alexandra Hesse, president and CEO of the Leonardo Museum. "I remember as a kid, when my dad took me out for the day, those moments when it was just him and I were among my favorite of memories."
Both adults and children are welcome to attend, though the museum suggests that adults become familiar with the exhibit before deciding to bring children. Parents can peruse mummiesoftheworld.com for additional information.
The exhibit, made possible by a collaboration of 21 museums and organizations across Europe, originated from the re-discovery of 20 mummies in a museum storage area at the Reiss-Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim, Germany, in 2004.
The museum is open Sundays to Wednesdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Thursdays to Saturdays from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. The exhibit runs from Feb. 16 to May 27. Tickets are $18 for children, $22.50 for adults and $19.50 for seniors, youths, students and military. Audio tours are available for an additional $5.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company