Researching Children Under 5 in Museums – Part 2: Touch

For the past year, the Humber Museums Partnership under 5s team have been collaborating with Abi Hackett and Lisa Proctor from Sheffield University 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
  • Movement
  • Dwelling
  • Immersion vs activity in exhibition spaces

In the next 4 blog posts I will outline some of the observations we have made around each of these themes and how these have informed our practice and programming.


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The importance of touch emerged as a theme in almost every observation. Sometimes touch can be problematic in museums, as some things can be touched, and others cannot. In many visits, Learning Officers asked: How do we convey what can and can’t be touched?

In one museum we visited everything you can reach, you can touch.  Anything that shouldn’t be touched was either behind glass, far behind barriers or up high out of reach. Things that could be touched were laid out, within reach. This is a model we are working towards now at North Lincolnshire Museum. Objects that should not be touched are in cases behind glass, or behind barriers.  In our Iron Stone Cottage, we have replica and period objects from our handling collection, arranged as they might have been when the cottage was used in the nineteenth century. They are out and can be touched. We find families still need a little encouragement to handle these objects. Signs with prompting questions: ‘can you pour a cup of tea?’ and marketing images of children playing in the cottage have helped families feel confident exploring and touching this part of the museum. Since putting in these signs we have observed many more families playing in this part of the museum.

One country house we visited used a teddy-bear symbol to show that certain objects could be touched. Once families were initiated into understanding this code, it was a clear way to delineate what could be touched. This worked well in the context of a country house, where objects that both can and can’t be touched may be set within reach. For example, in a period room, some items may be replica objects that can be explored, and others may be collections than cannot. A graphic symbol was an effective tool to invite families to explore where appropriate. It is a system that has now been brought in at Sewerby Hall.

The teddy symbols pointed families to ‘cabinets of curiosity’ with drawers of handling objects, books and resources to help children explore and experience the rooms. These also contained a basket at floor level with resources and objects for under 5s. As simple as it sounds, making sure under 5s can reach the things you are providing for them is key.

On some visits, we noticed that the idea of touch was more complicated than putting hands on objects, prompting us to consider: How do we think in a more in depth way about the nature and experience of touch?

In one museum we observed children touching the glass cases in which objects are housed and saying ‘Touched it! Touched it!’. Another child was lifted up to a higher case with a porcupine inside. She tentatively touched her finger towards it, looked closely, then touched the glass with her finger and excitedly proclaimed ‘a spikey one… I touch it!’. Sometimes visual access is enough.

In applying knowledge gathered through these observations, we have developed explorer packs that allow children to explore this expanded notion of touch. Resources offer ways of engaging without touch, but encourage further exploration of objects and spaces. Props such as magnifying glasses have been a useful tool for bridging the gap between touch and sight. A teddy has cards that prompt children to ‘find teddy a place to wash; a place to sleep; a place to eat’, offering an invitation to add or chance the way they see displays.


Another way we have explored the idea of touch in our own museums is through a small world play area at the Treasure House in Beverley. A felt mat was made to look like the seashore and placed beside an exhibition about the seaside, with large seaside scenes. Baskets with seaside small world play encourage children to explore the idea of playing at the seaside, and gain a tangible experience of the images that make up the exhibition.

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

Takeover week at North Lincolnshire Museum

My name is Lois Albans-Heseltine and I am a Learning Assistant at North Lincolnshire Museum. This year I ran the Takeover Project. I trained four girls and two boys from Priory Lane Community School to be tour guides. All the children were in year six and aged 10 or 11.

On the Monday the children were all given tour guide badges and I explained what a tour did. I then asked them to think about and discuss what makes a good tour guide. The children then prepared some questions and interviewed a Museum Assistant who delivers tours. The children interviewed Shannon and all asked good questions.

I then took the children on a tour of the museum and asked them to make a note of any stories or objects they found particularly interesting.

On the Tuesday I gave the children a simple script of the tour and we went through it together walking around the museum. Here they had the opportunity to add in any bits they found especially interesting and wanted to share with the group coming for the tour. At the end of the day I asked the children which part of the museum tour they would like to deliver. All of them had a favourite part and were enthusiastic to learn what they had to deliver.

On Thursday the children practised the tour and thought about the timings of the part they were delivering. The children were all really good at keeping an eye on the time and organised themselves well. At the end of the day they all said they felt happy with what they were doing and ready to deliver the tour to the class visiting the following day.

On the Friday the six children arrived at 9:30am to prepare for the tour. They all said they were excited but also a little bit nervous. I assured them that they would be fine as they had all worked really hard all week and knew the tour well. When the Year four school group arrived the children greeted the group and began the tour.

All six children delivered the tour incredibly well. They worked well as a team keeping the school group together and their timings were good. They spoke clearly and confidently keeping good eye contact with the school group and didn’t need to use their scripts much at all. The children ran the tour well with little intervention required from myself or the class teacher. They worked well as a team and praised each other at the end of each section of the tour. Throughout the tour the tour guides gave the school group the opportunity to ask questions and responded to them appropriately.

At the end of the tour the one of the tour guides gathered the school group together and asked who enjoyed the tour. There was a great response from the year four group with comments such as ‘It made me learn more things’ and ‘Very good, it’s very exciting’.

There is always room for improvement when delivering a tour but what the children have achieved is wonderful. I was very proud of them as was the teacher who commented ‘Really impressed. The children are asking good questions and the guides are open to the answers’.

I asked the children to fill in an evaluation sheet and the comments received were really positive. One girl said ‘I enjoyed the Go Wild area. I am definitely coming here again.’ Another said, ‘I enjoyed it all and it built my confidence.’ One boy was keen to do it again and commented, ‘I really enjoyed Takeover and I hope I can do it again.’

I really enjoyed working with the children. They were enthusiastic, hard working and I would happily run the project next year.


The Mystery of Prehistory


We have been busy over the lovely summer creating our new prehistory workshop for KS2 primary schools. When the new history curriculum 2014 was announced last year, many have been terrified by the inclusion of prehistory. It is a completely new subject for many teachers and can be quite complex to teach to lower KS2.

The workshop we have created is an introduction to the three areas of Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. To ensure the information in the workshop is right, we have been working closely with our Collections Manager Rose Nicholson, who is a trained archaeologist and lecturer at the University of Hull. It has taken quite a few months to get the workshop right, but we are really pleased with the end result. Our resources have now started to arrive including archaeologist clothing and replica artefacts.

The workshop is very multi-sensory and skills based. It gives the children the opportunity to learn for themselves how the people of North Lincolnshire developed through the three periods of prehistory. The children will examine local artefacts from North Lincolnshire which enables the workshop to be included as a local history study. There is also plenty of opportunity for every child to handle real and replica objects and investigate the finds for themselves.


To book this workshop or for more information please We have a full programme of workshops on offer from September which can be found at

‘We’ll Take You There…’ 100 years of Hornsby buses


We are pleased to announce that the next temporary exhibition at North Lincolnshire Museum is:

We’ll Take You There…’ 100 years of Hornsby buses

21 January to 15 June 2014

2014 marks 100 years since father and son, Arthur and Joseph Hornsby, set up their bus company in Ashby. This exhibition celebrates Hornsby Travel’s centenary by exploring the social history of bus travel and the impact this family business has had on the local area.

The exhibition is ideal for schools groups and includes role play activities, maths based games and oral history accounts. Objects on display include bus memorabilia, seaside souvenirs and cinema tickets. We also have a timeline showing Hornsby history against local and national history.

A teacher’s pack accompanies the exhibition, with key stage one and two trail sheets and pre and post suggestion activities. You will receive this once you book your visit. Each pupil will also receive a free Hornsby pencil to complete their trail.

Hornsby Travel are kindly providing discounted coach travel for North Lincolnshire schools to visit the exhibition. The cost will be £20 return from anywhere in North Lincolnshire for up to 53 passenger seats.

This offer can be used in conjunction with any school workshop at North Lincolnshire Museum. Why not make a full day visit?

To enquire about booking your visit contact us at