How we created Museum Minis

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Our new ‘Museum Minis’ sessions for children aged 5 and under have been developed after an exciting period of consultation and information gathering.

Not only did we consult with local families through focus groups but we also spent time observing how other museums run sessions for this age group and chatted with other museum educators about how their early years sessions were developed.

Their advice has proved invaluable as we have begun to develop our own offer for young families.

It was a privilege to observe and hear about some fantastic experiences for young children and their grown ups at six museums across the country.

What really stood out in all these visits was the value of providing genuinely bespoke and unique experiences that families couldn’t have elsewhere. This is the great opportunity we have in museums as we have the resource of wonderful objects and collections.  It was obvious that the best sessions were those that really linked to the museum collection, particularly when part of the session took place on the museum galleries, as these truly provide a unique experience.

This can be a challenge for smaller museums, like North Lincs Museum, where large gallery spaces are not readily available. However is it still possible.  We have already begun to try this out in ‘Museum Minis’ by spending a short section of the session exploring our geology gallery for fossils and searching for an old bath tub to have a sit in.

Gallery exploration did not need to involve hands-on experiences. We noticed at The Fitzwilliam Museum, where nothing at all could be touched by visitors, the toddlers at the session delighted in searching for cups and plates and then musical instruments in the glass cases and in using fabric to dress up like characters from paintings.

The best sessions were also those that encouraged grown ups to be fully involved in the activities moving beyond providing entertainment for children to providing engaging shared experiences for families. A great example of this during a session at The Museum of London was dancing to 70s music. Grown ups really enjoyed dancing with their children, laughing and singing along.  It was lovely to observe the positive responses of the children to their grown ups dancing with them.  We also joined in!

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On a more practical level we gathered lots of advice about how to run and structure sessions. The museums visited all did things differently but there were common strands such as providing a mixture of structured or facilitator led activities and free flow activities where families could choose what to do and how long to spend from a variety of activities.  This model was used in developing ‘Museum Minis’.  Many also used a welcome song or activity that families become familiar with.  We have written our own ‘Museum Minis Welcome Song’ that is proving popular!

The individual activities that made up the sessions ranged from art and craft activities, exploring galleries, music and movement activities to interactive storytelling and messy play. In our new sessions we aim to provide families with opportunities to play in different ways.

We are thoroughly enjoying putting all this research and consultation into action and look forward to developing this work even further in the future.

With thanks to The Manchester Museum, The Castle Museum, York, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, The Museum of London, The V&A Museum of Childhood and The Geffrye Museum.

Rosalind Brian, Learning Officer Under 5s

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