Researching Children Under 5 in Museums – Part 5: Immersion vs Activity in Exhibition Spaces

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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:

I have also outlined some of the observations we have made around each of these themes and how these have informed our practice and programming.

Immersion vs activity in exhibition spaces

As part of the under 5s project, we are all looking at developing our spaces to better cater for families with young children. Using the APSE resource allowed further explore children’s agency in how we structure activities.

We identified rituals and habits as being important for many young visitors, particularly those who visit sites regularly. At one museum a dad told us that his toddler ‘always makes me come in here to see the polar bear when we’re in town. He won’t let us leave until we’ve done it.’ We discovered that identifying collections that appeal to under 5s and building marketing and activities around these can be more meaningful than trying to tackle the whole museum or develop a structured activity.

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This summer we launched the ‘Humber 5 Things’ campaign. Through this, we offered families simple prompts to engage with our collections and spaces. Many of our ‘5 things’ were gathered through observations and consultation, identifying objects or actions that children already loved, and sharing them with all family visitors. This has been really effective way of providing for families with young children. It was low cost, and did not involve any alterations to our spaces. The open ended activities allow families to spend as much time as they like completing them, and a page at the back leave space for drawing and recording the visit. You can read more about ‘Humber 5 Things’ here.

We are now continuing our work with Abi and Lisa to undertake a project exploring the way families with under 5s experience our own museum spaces. We are eager to identify the strengths in our buildings and collections, and develop a series of guidelines for museum practitioners make their spaces more accessible for under 5s. Keep an eye out for updates!

Dr Rebecca Kummerfeld, Learning Manager

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