Living close enough to London to drive there means that we spend quite a lot of the weekends enjoying its delights. For us as a family that means making the most of the museums and galleries and making sure we see some of the brilliant temporary exhibitions they stage. The past few weeks have been really hectic. We’ve been to the Royal Academy to see Sensing Spaces, The Museum of London and the British Museum to see El Dorado and The Vikings.
Without a shadow of a doubt the best exhibition was Sensing Spaces which worked equally as well for children as it did for adults and was neither too cluttered nor too confusing. It allowed the children to think about how to use space, how design changes spaces and your interpretation of things and was a joy to visit.
On the other hand, although a different sort of thing both exhibitions at the British Museum were unfortunately lacking in child friendliness. I must admit that it didn’t help that the exhibitions were far too busy, I know the museum needs to make money but they aren’t cheap to get into. The ability to stand in front of a display case and see something, especially when you are 6 is an essential part of going to the exhibition and the BM seems hell bent on making sure objects are displayed high up in cases and not considering visitor flow which means its virtually impossible for a child to get near enough to see anything at all.
I have to admit, both the El Dorado exhibition and The Vikings exhibition are displaying some of the most remarkable treasures I’ve seen in museums and for this they are both awesome. However, the general lack of thought about visitor flow ruined them for me as the atmosphere felt more like the January sales in Selfridges than a museum.
As ever, The Museum of London lived up to its brilliant reputation. Somehow the museum just manages to absorb people and it never feels all that busy despite there clearly being lots of visitors. There is a brilliant mixture of both modern and archaeological objects and the interpretation uses varied media which works really well. The museum has some really iconic pieces of London’s history including the Lord Mayor’s Coach so its well worth a visit. We could visit every weekend and still come away feeling enthused and excited about museums. It was lovely to hear a group of Beaver Scouts feeling empowered to shout out their songs in the gallery space. I think it was intended as a museum for the people of London and I think it has achieved those aims and more.
When visiting an exhibition with children I think there are a few essential things to consider.
- Make sure you’re all a comfortable temperature. Use the cloakroom if you can, there is nothing worse than dragging around hot children (or coats!)
- Try to research what you are seeing beforehand. Then you can provide the children with your own facts and interpretation.
- Take your own pencils, papers and notepads to take your own notes. I’ve noticed that activity sheets provided by museums are getting increasingly complex and demanding and often they detract from actually looking at the exhibtion itself.
- Think about the times you go to visit. If you can mid-week is better than a weekend, but often the last timed slot in the day is better than in the middle of the day as its less busy.
- Let the children guide your visit, follow them to the things they want to see. You can always come back later (preferably alone, to enjoy it!)
- Try to enthuse the children before you go. Watch a relevant film, look at some books on the topic and make them feel like its a worthwhile thing to do. There really is nothing worse than trying your hardest to make them enjoy it and want to be there once you are in the gallery!