For the past year, the Humber Museums Partnership under 5s team have been collaborating with Abi Hackett and Lisa Proctor on a project to discover how young children experience museum space. For an introduction to this project check out Part 1.
By analysing the common themes from our observations we identified four key areas for enhancing the experience of families with young children in museums:
- Touch (Part 2)
- Immersion vs activity in exhibition spaces
In the next blog posts I am outlining some of the observations we have made around each of these themes and how these have informed our practice and programming.
Museums and heritage settings can offer children new and different spaces to explore. Observations showed that child led visits can involve running around large spaces, climbing up and down stairs, and repeated movements, getting a feel for a new environment.
In one museum we observed a toddler leading her dad up and down a set of stairs several times, until dad intervened and moved her on to look at new things. One child walked around and around a large elephant skeleton display, over and over. Another child enjoyed looking down from a third floor mezzanine, through the railings to the lower floors. In other spaces we observed children lying on the floor, playing hide and seek, and crawling on the floor.
Observations suggest that this behaviour is important for families with young children to feel comfortable and confident in museum spaces and shouldn’t be discouraged. We have recently run training for our front of house staff on how to help make our museums under-5s friendly. This included an activity on how young children grow and develop, explaining the importance of movement and exploration. Staff have since reported feeling more confident in welcoming families and encouraging them to explore, move around and make noise.
At North Lincolnshire Museum we have also recently opened a buggy park in our courtyard. This allows families to lock their buggies up and explore the museum with greater freedom. An unexpected result of this has been seeing many more child-led visits. Where before, families would often push their younger children through the museum in their buggies, now they are out and about, dictating the direction and pace of the visit. This also allows greater interaction and discussion about displays. Our new under 5s space has also offered families a safe space where they can confidently let their children move more freely.
Dr Rebecca Kummerfeld, Learning Manager