Researching the experience of children under 5 in museums – Part 1


For the past year, the Humber Museums Partnership under 5s team have been collaborating with Abigail Hackett and Lisa Proctor from Sheffield University on a project to discover how young children experience museum space.

We were about to embark on a project to improve our provision for under 5s and wanted a framework for undertaking observations of children in museums that was informed by theory and best practice. Our learning officers would be undertaking visits to museums across the country to assess different spaces with the intension of gathering an understanding of best practice. What would they aim to look for? How would they organise and make sense of what they saw? We also wanted to produce a resource that could be used by other museum professionals to further understandings of how children use museums.

Abi and Lisa worked with us to develop the APSE framework, a practical resource to assist our Learning Officers on their visits. On her blog Abi wrote: “The APSE resource draws on interdisciplinary theories of space / place as being experienced both in the abstract and embodied, in the physical and the social. These categories of experiencing space act as a heuristic to help us think about different ways in which museum spaces aimed at under-fives could be understood or analysed.” You can read Abi’s blog post here.

The resource draws on two different constructs of space / place common in the literature; space as either physical or social, and space as either abstract or embodied. The resources is divided into four different ways of thinking about space:

  1. Abstract physical
  2. Embodied physical
  3. Abstract social
  4. Embodied social

You can download a copy of the APSE resource here.

Learning Officers: Esther Hallberg (Hull), Christine Rostron (East Riding) and Rosalind Macaulay (North Lincolnshire) took the resource on visits to over 20 different museums across the north of England. They found it useful for interrogating different aspects of the museum experience for children. It was often most useful to focus on one section of the resource, as this allowed for deeper thinking and closer observation. Visiting in pairs meant that the different sections of the resource could be divided between the Learning Officers, then shared after the visit.

The resource often prompted LOs to consider questions they might otherwise have forgotten. For example, in the section on ‘Abstract Physical’ there is a question about noise levels and whether sound is used purposefully. Noise levels seemed particularly significant in observations of country houses, and were not something that might otherwise have been considered. In one country house that was very quiet, children were ‘shushed’ by their parents, as there seemed to be a pressure to maintain a sense of quiet for other visitors. In other spaces where there was a purposeful use of noise, children appeared to have more freedom to make sounds as they liked.

One limitation in using the resource on our visits was that sometimes there were very few families with young children to observe. Without orchestrating families to observe, we relied on choosing times to visit places when we thought we might encounter families with young children. On some occasions, with no families to observe, we had to look at the spaces alone and consider the abstract physical and abstract social factors only.

After collecting notes from their visits, Learning Officers met with Abi and Lisa to analyse and draw out key themes in their observations. To find out more about how we undertook this analysis you can read Abi and Lisa’s blog post: Findings from the APSE toolkit.

Dr Rebecca Kummerfeld, Learning Manager



North Lincolnshire, East Riding and Hull Museums are working together to celebrate our amazing artefacts and spaces.

We have come up with a list of open-ended inclusive activities for families to do together. We wanted to share some of our favourite and most popular activities, helping families to find fun and engaging ways to explore our collections. We also wanted to give children the option of inventing their own activity. Families can complete 5 suggested challenges or come up with 5 of their own to be awarded a ‘5 things’ sticker.

Can you climb on our climbing tree at Normanby Hall and Country Park?


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Cook up a feast in the Ironstone Cottage!


Esther Hallberg, under 5s Learning Officer for Hull Heritage Learning devised a creative and interactive way for families to record their ‘5 things’, by drawing, writing or attaching photographs to our flyer. You can download our flyer here: NL_5Things


Dr Rebecca Kummerfeld, Learning Manager

Dudley’s Den: our new under 5’s space!

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Lots has been happening for our family and under 5 audience at North Lincs Museum!

Dudley’s Den is a new space at North Lincs Museum designed for children aged 5 and under.

Inspired by the wide ranging collection at the museum, the room features a range of resources and activities for children to explore, play and discover.

Babies and their grown ups will enjoy our cosy ‘under the sea’ corner with sensory resources to explore.

Toddlers and preschool children can dress up as explorers and uncover hidden objects in our mini archaeological dig. They can also explore our ‘mini museum wall’ which offers children a chance to look, touch, move and play with real museum objects from our handling collection.

Dudley’s Den provides a space for families to spend time together in our unique museum setting.

It is also the venue for our new ‘Museum Minis’ weekly sessions for children aged 5 and under. ‘Museum Minis’ are free sessions led by our learning team.  They include fun, stimulating activities designed for children and parents to play and learn together.

Each week we explore a theme from the museum through creative play, stories, singing and sensory exploring. These sessions have been running for a month and so far we have hunted for fossils, enjoyed popping bubbles at bathtime, made a lot of noise with pots and pans and created our own boats from junk materials.  All of this with lots and lots of singing!

We are thoroughly enjoying getting to know the families that visit us and look forward to lots more fun for under 5s at the museum in the future.

Roz Macaulay, Learning Officer Under 5s

Normanby Hall WW1 Secondary School History project

Students perform a scene for their short film

We have just completed another successful history workshop working with local secondary schools.

The three-day workshop is based at Normanby Hall and focuses on its role in WW1 as a recuperation hospital for injured troops.

During the workshop the students are taught how to use on-line resources to research the personal and military records of soldiers who were patients at the Hall.

Each school is allocated a soldier to research and creates a presentation summerising what they have discovered. They then use their research along with real and replica objects to create a short film.

Their research is helping the Museum Service to build a more detailed picture of the different soldiers who stayed at the Hall. It is giving the students the opportunity to develop important skills for their future studies.

Bev Oliver, Learning Officer

Harold Gosney: My life as an artist


Our temporary exhibition ‘My life as an artist’ by Harold Gosney came to the end this week. This exhibition has displayed a huge collection of sculpture and artwork much of which was inspired by animals, in particular horses.

As always we were keen to complement the exhibition with some play activities for families to help them explore and engage with the items on display.

The animal themes in the exhibition are wonderfully universal in appealing to even very young children who enjoyed spotting different animals and making animal noises or actions.

We chose a ‘how to draw a horse’ activity, inspired by Harold Gosney’s beautiful sketches, puppets and books on horses, instruments to make the noise of horses and some natural wooden building blocks to create a stable for little horses to live in.

All of these activities have been widely used and enjoyed by families throughout last few months. It has been particularly lovely to walk through the gallery each day and see the creations children have made with the blocks and left for others to see.

We are now busy preparing some activities for our next temporary exhibition ‘Fashion in colour’.

Rosalind Macaulay, Under 5s Learning Officer

Eureka: Power to the playful!

PTTP-webcoverOn May 16th the under 5s team from the Humber Museums Partnership attended a conference at Eureka, the National Children’s Museum. The conference focused on the importance of play in museums. There were a range of interesting speakers who discussed many different aspects of play.

Alexandra Long & Mike Wragg from Leeds Beckett University highlighted the politicisation of children and play. They warned against the problem of thinking ‘children are our future’ is that we tend to forget the present, ignoring their everyday lived experience.

Rebecca Caswell, Strategic Lead, Play and Early Years at Eureka lead us in a story-telling activity, encouraging conference delegates to engage in play themselves.

Juliette Yardley from Laughology introduced us to the psychology of play in her engaging and entertaining presentation. She presented evidence that suggests that play helps us develop develop neotenous traits, which helps us with creativity and problem solving.

Ruth Churchill Dower from Early Arts discussed the power of play in developing the whole child. She introduced us to key concepts in childhood development and educational psychology. She says “Play is not an option, it’s a right”.

Dr Elizabeth Wood and Dr Liz Chesworth from the University of Sheffield showcased some of their fascinating research on children’s imaginative play. Liz Chesworth’s research has involved making video recordings of children at play, and interviewing them about their experiences while watching back the footage. She shared a number of observations, including one about a little girl who went to the dressing up area to put on shiny shoes to ‘go out and walk the dog’. When watching back this footage with her mother, her mother commented that the little girl often wants to go out and do mucky tasks in inappropriate foot ware. Just the other day the little girl had been caught half-way out the door to feed the pigs wearing her party shoes. She had been told to go back and change into wellies. In her imaginative play, she could wear whatever shoes she liked. In play, the impossible becomes possible.

At North Lincs, we already know how important play is and work hard to ensure it is encorporated into all our programming. The conference gave us the tools to continue advocating for the importance of play, as well as many new ideas for how to make our museum even more playful. #powertotheplayful !

Dr Rebecca Kummerfeld, Learning Manager


Piloting Dudley’s Explorers


February 2016 saw the launch of our new family activity programme for weekends and school holidays. Through our new programme, we seek to highlight our collection through fun and engaging activities.

During the Easter break, we ran an activity called ‘Who is Dudley’s friend?’. We filled our learning space with suitcases, each open to display a range of objects from our handling collection. Each case was developed to represent an imagined owner, showcasing their belongings to our visitors.

Families were encouraged to explore the objects and imagine who each suitcase might have be belonged to. Everyone enjoyed trying on the clothing they would have worn and guessing what some of the objects might have been used for. The very young enjoyed emptying the suitcases and trunks and refilling them.

After exploring the suitcases, families followed a trail through the museum that lead them to other objects in the exhibition displays that might also have been in the suitcase they explored. Children looked carefully into cases and around displays to imagine the people who might have used these objects. This activity allowed families to interact with local history and get hands-on with imaginative play.

Bev Oliver, Learning Officer

Museums at Night


On Friday, 13 May we took part in the National Museums at Night event. Our evening was themed around superheroes. All the staff dressed up in costumes to help make the event a success. We had help from The Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club who also got into the spirit of the event with some fabulous costumes.

We had over 1000 visitors during the three hour event and it was great to see them all dressed as their favourite superheroes too.  As well as an exciting trail to find the different superheroes hiding around the museum, the children enjoyed making their own personalised mask and wrist bands to make their outfits complete.

Bev Oliver, Learning Officer


New Learning Garden at Normanby


We have been working to build a new garden for all our learning activities at Normanby. After many months of hard work, it is ready just in time for this beautiful weather!

The new space is designed for groups to learn about gardening through hands on activities, conducting scientific experiments and making observations.

We have developed a new garden workshop  called “Science in the Garden”. It is suitable for KS1 and 2 children. This workshop encourages children to explore the gardens and discover the Normanby Park potting shed. Then conduct scientific experiments to learn about soil, growing conditions and plants. Record observations and use the evidence to present findings to the group. Children will use gardening tools in this hands-on practical workshop.

We will also offer bespoke sessions for groups of older children or adults.  There is lots of evidence that suggests gardening is beneficial to our wellbeing. See our ‘about’ page for contact details to book.

The plants are ready to go in, the new garden is ready now. There is a potting shed, raised beds, poly tunnels and a greenhouse to work in. Your group will also get to do some gardening inside the walled garden and tropical greenhouse.

Rachel Holmes, Learning Officer

Creative Families Award


During April we invited three families to help us pilot a new programme for families with children aged 1-4 years called the Creative Families Award.

We worked in partnership with Cape UK and Dr Abigail Hackett, with the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth to develop the award. They also supported us in piloting it at North Lincolnshire Museum and across the Humber Museum Partnership.

Creative Families is a precursor to the Arts Award programmes for older children and young people and is a wonderful first step for young children to engage with the arts and express their creativity.

There are four strands that run through the award:

Discover arts all around

Making and creating

Experience artists work

Share what they have experienced with someone else

At North Lincolnshire Museum we explored the museum on an art scavenger hunt looking for big, shiny, beautiful and noisy things.

We explored our current exhibition featuring the work of artist Harold Gosney, looking for animal sculptures, making animal noises, pretending to be animals and exploring materials like feathers and horse hair.

We experimented with air drying clay to make our own sculptures and also enjoyed making junk models of the children’s choices of two ducks and a T-Rex!

Our families worked hard to complete their own log books documenting their experiences during the sessions with notes, photos and children’s artwork.

We thoroughly enjoyed running these sessions and are excited about how we can develop this programme in the future.

Rosalind Macaulay, Learning Officer Under 5s