Is Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano Okay for Kids?

Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano runs from June 13, 2015 through January 3, 2016 at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. It is the Canadian premier engagement of the exhibition and features around 200 artifacts discovered in the archaeological dig of the Italian city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius almost 2000 years ago. I checked it out with Will who will be 7 this month to be able to answer whether the Pompeii exhibit is okay for kids.

Pompeii for Kids

As we walked into the exhibit, I sort of questioned whether or not it would be kid friendly. I didn’t just spring it on Will but introduced him to the history of Pompeii earlier this week and then asked him to choose whether or not he wanted to see the exhibit. At nearly 7, he is pretty interested in science and the idea of the volcano was enough to convince him.

The exhibit in reality is not really about the volcano but the city of Pompeii, the history of the archaeological dig and a look into life before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The final segment of the exhibit involves a video re-enactment of the volcano and then the striking casts of human bodies and children found 1000 years after the disaster.

Pompeii for Kids at the ROM: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Before you even get to the human casts, there are a few elements of the exhibit that may be particularly shocking to kids. Here is what you need to know before you go:

  • When you enter the exhibit, there is a large screen with photos of the human formations found in Pompeii. If your child has not seen the images before, they may be quite jarring.
  • Throughout the exhibit, there are things kids can touch and experience. Look for the volcanic rock at the entrance to the exhibit as well as elements throughout like iPads that show Pompeii today as seen on Google Maps street view.
  • The interactive elements of the Pompeii exhibit.Immediately after the volcanic rock, there is a full cast of a dog. It is very recognizable and a little shocking. Will did not seem upset but was confused as to whether the dog itself was inside the cast.
  • A cast of a guard dog at the Pompeii exhibit.It helps to explain that there are no human or animal remains in the exhibit and how the casts were formed. The actual explanation which is found later in the exhibit states that “fine ash adhered to the victim’s skin and clothes and hardened to form a shell around the corpse. Over time the human (or animal) remains decayed leaving a cavity- a highly detailed mould of the deceased”. Will understood that plaster was then poured into the holes to make the casts.
  • Pompeii had an erotic history that before the excavation was unknown. There is an erotica section to the exhibit which is CLEARLY MARKED and slightly hidden from view. I went in first and then easily felt comfortable bringing Will in. The main sculpture is that of a pan goat (half man, half goat with horns) having sex with a female goat. There are also a few other sculptures that clearly depict sex. There was nothing I felt Will needed to be protected from. Will was most shocked by the number of penises that adorned the city for good luck and to ward off evil. Romans believed they would bring fertility and prosperity. Will mostly thought it was hilarious.
  • Once you pass the erotica, you are shown examples of daily life in Pompeii. Make sure to find the jug where people trapped mice and then cooked them as treats. Will was equally grossed out and intrigued.
  • It becomes very clear when you are approaching the casts of human bodies as you walk into a reenactment of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. There is a really interesting timeline on the wall which shows that initially there was time to escape. Will and I talked about modern day technology and warnings that would now be available but weren’t at the time.
  • A video reenactment of the explosion PompeiiThe reenactment is not overly scary and it is only a visual screen. The ground does not shake. The sound is not overwhelming. Kids under 5 may not understand or may be frightened. At 7, Will was fine.
  • The casts of the human bodies are a lot to take in. They are eerily beautiful and equally confusing. We read where the bodies were found and tried to guess if they were trying to run. Some casts were made of people found in a wine cellar. Will joked that that was where they would find me. Funny kid.
  • The only part of the casts that I found threw Will for a loop were the children. There are three children featured and Will very quickly sized them up and mentioned that one looked like Charlie when she was smaller. He didn’t seem sad or confused but just observant.

A cast of a child's body at the Pompeii exhibit.

Should You Bring Kids To Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano?

Unequivocally yes. This exhibit is awesome. Kids will absolutely love it and equally be challenged by it. More than anything the Pompeii exhibit is an excellent introduction for kids into archeology. We go geocaching in Toronto and Will couldn’t believe the concept that there are still places to search and dig up things like these artifacts on Earth. 

The ROM is offering a variety of family friendly events around the exhibition including Pompeii and the Volcano as part of ROM Big Weekends. Taking place June 13 and 14th from 11:00am to 4:00 pm, the event will feature the following activities:

  • Romans in Action: Roman soldiers will demonstrate military drills using realistic weapons and armour. We met these guys today and they were pretty authentic;
  • Exploring the Pompeii exhibit with kids. Do as the Romans: Watch ancient and modern dance performances inspired by Pompeii some of which will be performed by the National Ballet;
  • Five Senses: Check out Italian fashion in a interactive station with authentic clothing and jewelry that was in style in Pompeii. Kids will even learn to tie a toga which in my opinion is a skill that must be learned before university anyways;
  • Storytime Lounge: Stories about Rome and the chance to take part in an art installation;
  • Volcanology: From real volcanic rocks to a simulated volcanic eruption, kids will learn all about volcanoes, why they erupt and what life is like living at the base of one now; and
  • Out of the Vaults: The ROM is opening up its vaults to bring out rarely seen Roman artifacts from the Museum’s prestigious collection.

Whether you are visiting during The ROM Big Weekends or at any time during the exhibit, Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano is definitely worth seeing and bringing kids to. I felt like the exhibit would be better understood by kids over 6 but also felt that Charlie who is 5 would have enjoyed it without being afraid.

Ready to experience Pompeii: In The Shadow of the Volcano? Check out the trailer below.

1 Comments on this post

  1. This looks really cool. My daughters would probably ask where the bodies are, and say “cool!” when they saw the casts. Not a whole lot of hesitation with those three.

    Eli Pacheco / Reply

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