Let’s play Family Fortunes

“Name one thing you shouldn’t let kids do in a museum”

“Run around aimlessly?”

“Our survey says?!”

“Uh-uuh.” XXX

That’s right. According to Abigail Hackett from the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, at the University of Sheffield, letting pre-schoolers move how they want to through museums and galleries is an important part of their understanding of new spaces and places. This might mean running, walking, jumping or dancing round a museum. The study also found that children often moved backwards and forwards between two areas of the museum repeatedly, or ignored some exhibition spaces altogether. You can read more about the PhD research that underpins this principle here.

This is one of the many theories, ideas and tips I discovered when I travelled to The People’s History Museum, Manchester, for a training day entitled ‘Family Fortunes’. This event was run by Kids in Museums and focussed on creating family-friendly museums and events.

Kids in Museums Logo

Kids in Museums logo by Quentin Blake

Other key facts I learnt were:

  • There has been a trend towards ‘discretionary thrift’ recently. This means that people are keen to find bargains even when they don’t need to save money. People are more likely to talk about how much they have saved than how much they have spent.
  • The traditional horizontal family (composed of lots of siblings and cousins with their parents and grandparents) is being replaced by the modern vertical family (composed of fewer siblings and cousins accompanied not only by parents and grandparents but also by great-grandparents)

This was also an amazing opportunity to hear how other museums, galleries and heritage sites are making their museums more family-friendly. One example of this was Gallery Oldham who have extended their family offer to 0-2 year olds with their programme ‘Go Baby’, a free weekly drop-in session. As well as providing an exciting exploratory and sensory experience for the babies, the gallery have been working with new arrivals groups, health visitors, and other relevant partners to give the parents a chance to connect with the community organisations and gain advice and support.

At the end of the day, each participant had to make a promise to themselves and I pledged to use my performing arts skills and experience with family visitors. I’ll let you know if I keep this promise.

Lily Dean

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