Families in museums and galleries: ten venues that inspire us!

There are so many museums and galleries doing really exciting work with families. Here are ten examples (in no particular order) of imaginative and interesting opportunities for families to get involved:

1.Magic Carpet at The National Gallery: 2-5 year olds can fly away on the magic carpet, which comes to land in front of a different painting each Sunday, to share stories and music inspired by the artwork. Similarly, National Museums Scotland has a magic carpet to introduce babies and children to museum collections, with sessions specifically tailored to first-time parents (Babies First) and 0-2 year olds (Magic Carpet Minis).

2. Liminal at Tate Modern is a participatory sculpture that allows families to experiment with shape, form and composition, inspired by the art and architecture of Tate Modern. I’m currently doing the Exploring Play distance learning course with Sheffield University, in which I’ve been learning about the creative value of loose parts – something Liminal is a great example of. Another exciting family offer at Tate Modern is the Time (Travel) Line activity, which is a trail children can follow to meet artworks that are the same age as them – what a personalised and child-focused yet simple way of introducing contemporary art to young audiences!

Liminal at Tate Modern - photo: Olivia Hemmingway

Liminal at Tate Modern – photo: Olivia Hemmingway

3. Museum Baby at York Art Gallery: It’s still quite unusual to find sessions specifically for babies, which is why Museum Baby caught my eye. These sessions take a different material as their theme each week, such as fur, feathers, clay or paper. Sessions are linked to exhibitions, including storytelling, songs and sensory activities with a mixture of free flow and adult-led activities which all relate to the Early Years curriculum. When babies outgrow these sessions there’s Early Year Explorers for 2-5 year olds; sessions are based on familiar preschool play areas, which are enhanced to help children learn about the museums’ collections and exhibitions through play.

Museum Baby at York Art Gallery

Museum Baby at York Art Gallery

4. Museum of the Year The Whitworth has so much going on for young families that it’s hard to choose just one to talk about here! Engagement with the gallery can begin before the baby’s even born, with the Parents-to-be group. Art Baby-Music Baby is a series of sensory workshops combining sounds, art and music – check out this delightful video of an Art Baby session. Children then move on to Toddlertastic which combines art, drama, music and dance. There’s also a great offer for families dropping into the gallery, in the Early Years Atelier – based on the early years philosophy of Reggio Emilia, this is an informal and inviting place for child-led artistic exploration; a laboratory for trying out ideas and playing with materials. And the Whitworth’s fantastic setting in a public park is well utilised by their outdoor Welly Walks. I had a really inspiring visit to The Whitworth to see their Early Years work in action, which you can read about here; and I’ve blogged about their ‘Toddlers’ Choice’ project here.

Early Years Atelier - The Whitworth

Early Years Atelier – The Whitworth

5. Manchester Art Gallery’s Baby Art Club and Mini Art Club offer relaxing and sociable ways to explore the exhibitions, combined with lively and open ended creative play. My visit to Mini Art Club was hugely influential in helping me develop Creative Baby! – you can read about it here. The imaginative spaces and focus on a creative experience rather than making something to take home were particularly inspiring.

Clore Art Studio, Manchester Art Gallery

Clore Art Studio, Manchester Art Gallery

6. Glasgow Museums has developed Wee Creatives – a new programme specifically for under 2 year olds. In these weekly sessions specifically tailored to under 2s, children discover real museum objects, artworks and displays, brought to life through exploratory play and sensory activities.

Wee Creatives - Glasgow Museums

Wee Creatives – Glasgow Museums

7. Musical Sculptures at The Hepworth Wakefield invites families to try out a number of instruments and sound producers before creating a group composition inspired by the artworks: a novel way to experience colour, shape and form.

8. National Museum Cardiff offers Toddler Boxes which contain toys, games and books, and are hidden in different galleries every Friday. They’ve have been put together to help parents and children aged 1 – 4 to explore the museum through play. This has been developed in partnership with Cardiff Language and Play – a Welsh Government Flying Start initiative which provides parents with practical tips and ideas to develop children’s language and development.

9. Nottingham Contemporary has a good range of family offers, and there are some great photos of their largescale workshops in action on the Families at Nottingham Contemporary Facebook page. Watching this video of the free holiday workshops I’m really struck by the scale of their family offer – families add to a whole-room installation over the course of a week, creating a collaborative artwork that’s large in scale and ambition.

10. The V&A Museum of Childhood offers some interesting backpacks to help families explore the museum. The concept of such resources for families to use on a visit is now fairly established in museums and galleries, but the Museum of Childhood offers two unusual takes on this: Making SENse Family Packs have been developed in association with families of children on the Autistic Spectrum, and include maps, toys to touch, activity suggestions, ear defenders and communication and familiarisation aids; and the Montessori Family Packs are tailored to different exhibitions and age ranges, from six months to five years. This is further supported by a Montessori parenting course at the museum.

No doubt there are loads of other examples of best practice out there – what’s caught your eye?

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