Kids think mice are nice, but Mootie's a beauty

8th October 2010 at 01:00
A cartoon mouse is getting pre-school children fired up about history at a Shetland museum

A cartoon mouse wearing a Fair Isle jumper is the star of a new education programme at Shetland Museum and Archives, aimed at introducing pre-school children to the collections.

The "Mootie Moose" character (Shetland dialect for tiny mouse) was dreamed up by the museum's learning assistant, Yvonne Reynolds, who says the mascot was created to highlight the fun aspect of the hour-long programme, which combines storytelling, music and craft activities.

"We know that young ones coming to the museum like the stuffed animals in our natural history collection, so a wee mouse seemed like a good idea," says Mrs Reynolds. "His Fair Isle jumper matches the uniform ones that our visitor services assistants already wear."

The Mootie Moose programme was piloted in January and was so successful that the museum, based in Shetland's capital, Lerwick, decided to offer it on a permanent basis from last month.

Available to children aged two-and-a-half to five, the programme runs twice a day on Thursdays and Fridays from September to May. It offers nine themed sessions on a three-monthly rotation. September, for instance, was Victorian Wash Day, this month it is Creepy Castles and in November, it is Lovely Lighthouses.

"Each session starts with a cheese trail, when the children look for objects in the collection connected to the topic, marked with a little cheese logo," says Mrs Reynolds.

"When they've found all the objects, they coax our Mootie Moose glove puppet out from his hiding place in the museum by singing the Mootie Moose song to him very softly, because he is such a shy creature."

Objects connected to the current Victorian Wash Day sessions include a mangle, wash boards and photographs from the archives. These are used to stimulate a short discussion about how laundry was done in the old days, before washing machines were invented.

"Many children of two-and-a-half are quite capable of contributing to these discussions," says Mrs Reynolds, "so that's why we decided to widen the age range from the usual three-to-five years."

The second half of the Mootie Moose sessions are given over to a craft activity related to the topic. In the case of Victorian Wash Day, children get to decorate, and take away, pre-cut paper clothes and pin them to a mini washing line with tiny clothes pegs.

Shetland's dialect, culture and history run though all the Mootie Moose sessions with the theme of the January sessions, for instance, being the traditional Shetland fire festival of Up-Helly-A, which takes place that month throughout the islands.

Mrs Reynolds wrote the words to the Mootie Moose song, which is in Shetland dialect and was an instant hit with children who attended the pilot sessions in January.

"Mootie Moose has become a Shetland superstar and features on stickers for bairns who attend the sessions and the children's menu in the museum cafe," says Mrs Reynolds.

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