This winter children can get a glimpse into the ancient past while surrounded by real artefacts at NGV’s new children’s exhibition, Ancient Egypt for Kids.

This interactive exhibit for young people coincides with the NGV’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces show, Pharaoh. It explores the legacy of engineering, writing and art from Ancient Egypt.

“We believe kids are naturally very creative and curious, finding new ways of making things. We certainly encourage that,” says Kate Ryan, the NGV’s curator of children’s programs.

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The exhibition appeals to young minds with a “learn-by-doing” approach, encouraging toddlers and young ones to make their own mark on history. The gallery space has been transformed with projections of wall-to-ceiling hieroglyphs, large-scale monuments that can be played with, multimedia games and calming soundscapes.

There’s a massive cardboard pyramid structure that can be built and taken apart. The activity is inspired by the mystery surrounding how the pyramids were built thousands of years ago. Diagrams show how the architect conceptualised the original pyramids with stacked, sloping limestone blocks, though visitors can build it their own way. “Since we opened [the exhibit], we’ve seen a group of girls worked together to create an impressive step pyramid whilea couple of boys chose a different approach and built a throne that would impress any pharaoh,” says Ryan.

Another feature of the exhibit is the opportunity to spell your own name in hieroglyphs. Or, for younger children, to create a visual scene along the Nile River with plants and animals from ancient times. Both activities use the art technique frottage: creating a drawing or design by rubbing a pencil or crayon onto paper that’s been placed on top of a textured surface.

“When children have fun, they learn better. So each activity gives kids power over their learning by encouraging hands-on play,” says Ryan. While older children may use the cartouche (an oval outline indicating the symbols inside belonged to royalty) to imagine themselves as young pharaohs while drawing their name, younger kids can use colours and shapes to create nature scenes. “We created the art-making activity templates so that even if the kids only have time to frottage one little creature, it still makes for a lovely take-home piece of art.”

Kids who love technology and animation can put on headphones and take an on-screen multimedia quiz. The interactive game helps them learn fun facts about ancient Egypt, guided by illustrated characters like a talking cat and a papyrus scroll.

The exhibition also includes displays of ancient Egyptian objects from the NGV’s own collection, such as a 2500-year-old decorated coffin lid and a head covering from the first or second century.

“The exhibit reveals a bit of a meeting across time,” says Ryan. “Although we live in the 21st century, most of the objects in the exhibition survived from – or were inspired by historical events from many centuries ago. We frame these objects in a contemporary setting through minimal design and instruction to highlight the art works and hold kids’ attention throughout the exhibit.”

While the exhibit is primarily aimed at kids aged three to 12, families, guardians and carers are encouraged to attend and participate alongside the kids. Ryan hopes Ancient Egypt for Kids can engage both young and adult minds, and especially for children begin building their knowledge of other cultures, countries and time periods.

“We can’t possibly cover three thousand years of history in a single exhibit, but we hope it’s a place where children can come to learn, start interesting discussions, and make artwork inspired by history that they can take home with them,” she says.

Ancient Egypt for Kids is open every day until October 6. Entry is free. See the full program on NGV’s website.

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