A child-friendly museum
I’m lucky to work the length and breadth of the UK and I get to visit some great galleries and heritage organisations. I’m particularly interested in how these organisations engage children and young people, both on school visits and with their families and friends.
In all of my consultations with young people, in various different ways, I have been told the same thing. Young people do not want to be told off, and they particularly don’t want to be told off by museum staff. They want to know where they can go and what they can touch.
When I visit any heritage venue I tend to take photos to use for reference. The most child-friendly museums I visit embed their ‘welcome’ throughout the organisation, with child-friendly staff and child-friendly features around the galleries. This approach doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. York Art Gallery does this particularly well by making clear which objects can be touched, providing a sketch book and crayons, or providing a play area that reflects a display, such as a fuzzy felt seascape in an art gallery.
Families also want places where they can just ‘be’. The Centre for Childhood and Youth at Sheffield University has been carrying out some excellent research with under fives and their main findings are around:
- Being clear about what children can touch
- Proving places to dwell
- Accommodating the fact that children like to move around.
I’ve created a Pinterest page which looks at good practice in museums relating to these three themes.
Perhaps one of the most important considerations is making sure children can see the collection. Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum provides child steps so the children can easily step up to see exhibits. They also use floor to ceiling displays placing items that will appeal to very small children near floor level.
The National Museum of Scotland is spectacular with displays clearly designed to engage children and young people but it also has more subtle ways of making teachers feel welcome by providing seating areas next to shelves of resources and ‘whats on’ material.
York Art Gallery uses some great graphics which say Eyes only or Please touch. They also provide child-friendly materials to support a family visit.
In terms of providing places to dwell, this can be anything from a beanbag or seating areas through to a play area with toys themed to collections. Dens, tents and caves can be fun ways to provide spaces for families and children to explore and enjoy.
We’ve created story sacks for our clients. Story sacks are great. We fill ours with story books, reference books, games, toys, activities and items that might belong to a character such as a highwayman’s mask and items he may have stolen.
I’ve seen a few museums recently where they provide a sofa or a soft seating area just so families can sit down, look at books, read stories and re group. This is incredibly simple but does so much to tell families and young people that they are welcome. Visiting a museum can be quite a physical experience so having a space to sit is very welcome.
Have a look at the Pinterest page and feel free to add any of your great ideas.