Hands-on history

They weren’t just visiting — the youth in the Lyon County Museum’s Junior Curator class were learning how to design their own exhibits about local history

Photo by Deb Gau Students in the Junior Curator class held at the Lyon County Museum this week took a closer look at museum exhibits, to learn more about how to research and design their own displays.


They ducked into the log cabin, and they jotted down notes on a display about immigrants in southwest Minnesota. They guessed which items in a mock general store were real, and which were props.

But the group of area youth weren’t at the Lyon County Museum testing their knowledge for a history exam. They were learning how to make their own museum displays.

After the group looked through displays on farming and early Lyon County settlers, museum director Jennifer Andries asked them what they liked best, and what else they would have liked to see.

“I liked that it had a little bit about the Civil War, and it had a little bit about immigrants,” Ben Hindbjorgen said.

“What do you think is missing?” Andries said.

“A wardrobe. Like, what they would wear,” suggested Willow Hoff.

Conversations like that were the first part of a Junior Curator class held at the museum this week. A group of six students, all in fourth through eighth grade, came to discover how museums work and to do their own research on Lyon County History. The class’ displays on local history will be at the museum for the next three months.

While Andries said the class definitely promoted the educational side of the museum, instructors also talked about how museums connected with different career paths and skills.

“My job, a part of it is putting museum displays together and doing research,” Andries told the students. But museums aren’t just about history, instructors said. It takes art and building skills to create exhibits, and there are different kinds of museums. “Zoos are considered a kind of museum, too,” Andries said.

The group took a tour of the museum on Monday, learning about how each exhibit was built, and where the artifacts on display came from. The kids in the class said they got interested for a variety of reasons.

“It was something to do,” said Chase Greeley. Some students, like Greta Meulebroeck, said they liked reading and history.

“It’s something I’d be interested in,” Hoff said.

“I just kinda want to learn about the museum and Lyon County,” Hindbjorgen said.

The class’ first day included a tour of the museum, where the kids learned about how museum displays worked, and how people look at or interact with them. When the group checked out the log cabin on the museum’s lower level, it turned into a lesson on planning an exhibit to fit the space you have.

“Sometimes when have a big piece in your collection, you design around it,” Andries said of the cabin.

“How did you get it down here?” a student asked. The answer: piece by piece, with help from lots of volunteers.

The class also learned learned about different ways to make displays come alive for museum visitors. Andries said the checkerboard in the museum’s general store exhibit was there to get people to sit and play a game. The hands-on experience was a hit with students.

Meulebroeck said her favorite part of the tour was “The general store, because I got to play checkers.”

Over the rest of the week, the group would do research on local history, Andries said. Their topics: the history of Schwan’s Co., and the ghost towns of Lyon County. There are two towns in Lyon County’s history — Burchard and Dudley — that have been abandoned over the years, the class learned.

Andries said the students would even be learning how to write artifact labels, and design their own displays. The class ended with an opening reception on Friday, but visitors can still come to see the kids’ work on display at the museum.