A question that often pops up in consultation projects is why some schools visit a heritage venue and some don’t. In any consultation the most honest answers tend to come from children. My reports for venues generally contain the words: ‘Must be child friendly’, But what does this mean?
When I talk to children what strikes me most is the way they talk about visits to museums. Successful visits have clearly created memories for life. The children enjoy the formal learning sessions but often the most important learning comes from the excitement of going into a building they may have seen but have never visited before and the surprises and treasures the buildings hold. They also love to see their teachers and classmates differently, to meet new people, to hear stories, to travel back in time. But they also tell me they don’t want to be told off, they want to know where they can go and what they can and can’t touch.
So, why not have another look at your venue? Try the perspective of a seven year old, an eye line of between 100 cm and 120cm. Perhaps take photos of your venue from this height.
What is the first thing ‘you’ see when you come through the door? How welcome do you feel? How do you know where to go? How do you know what you can touch? How do you know what you can’t touch? What exhibits are in your eye line? Can your virtual seven-year old see your collection? Can they read the labels or interpretation boards? Would they want to? If they can read them, can they understand them? What will engage their imagination? And crucially do all the staff working on site welcome children?
So how do you make your venue more child-friendly?
Make it clear to all staff and volunteers at interview that children are welcome.
If they are not happy with this, perhaps they should consider if the role is for them.
A visit to a heritage venue is so exciting to a child for many reasons. It is not school and although schools like trips to complement the school curriculum, the teachers are the experts in delivering the curriculum so museums and heritage venues don’t have to be. Your education offer can be much more creative and fun. Heritage venues and museums are free to offer activities that are different, challenging and exciting. Children remember things that challenge what they think they know – so challenge them.
Simple ideas can make all the difference. On a recent visit to RAMM, I was very impressed with the galleries. There is a strong message throughout the museum that children are welcome. This is indicated from the child-size step ladders that allow children to see displays designed to be at a comfortable height for adults, to the bean bags and books, surrounded by display cabinets. Exhibits that will particularly appeal to children are close to the ground. It’s very simple, effective and makes perfect senses.