Object handling activities

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Object handling is an activity for all ages, the is the excitement of touching the ‘real thing’ cuts across the age groups. It is a good activity for events where you will have a mix of people there.  It’s also good for group activities as it’s a great way to introduce the stories and history of your sport and those who played it. Handling an object engages all the senses, and you don’t always have to use an object you know all about! Introducing a mystery object adds a different level of engagement with the object.

Setting up an object handling activity

To ensure that you object handling activity is successful we recommend following these top tips:

  • Always supervise your object handling activities even if the items are of low historical value or are replicas. This enables you to show that all the objects linked to your organisation have a value.
  • Be clear about what can be handled by members of the public and what can only be handled by you. If you are using a table for your activity you can always layout the items which can be freely handled at the front of the table and then keep the items which are to only be handled by you to one side or in a separate box.
  • Consider having some simple handling guidelines on display. These do not need to be onerous or off putting and could be as simple as:
  1. Only pick up and hold one item at a time
  2. Always hold an item using both hands
  3. Always hold the item over the table
  4. Do not pass the item to someone else
  5. Please wear gloves (if you items are fragile, porous or would tarnish easily)
  • Do a bit of research on your objects in advance. It is always good to have a few stories or factual information about your objects which you can share with your visitors
  • Choose objects that are interesting to handle and investigate such as a objects with a range of textures, weights, colours, uses etc 
  • It is more manageable to run object handling activities in small groups

Engaging visitors with objects

Object handling is an effective activity for all ages.  To fully understand an object one needs to use all your senses so you can be creative in your approach object handling.  If you would like some conversation starters for engaging people with objects you could try some of the questions from the list below:

Suggested questions:

  • What does it feel like?
  • What does it smell like?
  • What is it made of?
  • Who used it?
  • What was it used for?
  • What is it?
  • Could it still be used?
  • How heavy is it?
  • Is it worn? If so, where and how?
  • Have its colours faded?
  • Is it complete?
  • Has it been mended or altered?
  • Is it hand or machine made?
  • Is it made of more than one piece?
  • How are the pieces joined together?
  • How many different materials is it made from?
  • Why were these materials chosen?
  • Do you like the way it looks?
  • Where and when would this object have been used?
  • What sort have person would have used it? (rich/poor, man/woman/child)
  • What is it worth to the people who made it?
  • What is it worth to the people who used it?
  • What is it worth to you?
  • What is it worth to a museum?

These questions are based on the approach described by John Hennigar Shuh in his article Teaching yourself to teach with objects. He showed that you can make even the most everyday item interesting depending on the questions you ask. He further demonstrated this in his 50 ways to look at a Big Mac box exercise.

Wonderful Things: learning from museum objects provides an overview of the power of learning from objects and examples of how to use objects in learning activities.

GEM’s Building a learning legacy gives ideas on how to use objects to inspire wonder and awe.

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