Places to go & things to do: embarking on our Family Adventures!

At the second Exhibition Explorers session we were delighted to find so many of the group had been on a Family Adventure to a museum or gallery, and returned with their completed scrapbook page to share their discoveries. Exhibition Explorers is an exciting six month journey for a cohort of sixteen 1 and 2 year olds and their grown ups, focused on discovering new ways of enjoying galleries and museums together. Between each session we encourage everyone to embark on a Family Adventure, and to come back and share what they discovered about engaging this age group in museums and galleries.

Here are some of the places the Exhibition Explorers families chose to visit this month:

  • Seven Stories: the National Centre for Children’s Books: We heard about the roleplay, dressing up, and play opportunities. The free story times were a big hit with Exhibition Explorer Alex; mum tells us he was ‘spellbound for the full 30 minutes – no mean feat when you’re 2!’ Seven Stories has lots of events and activities such as Sensory Stories, and its Rhyme Around the World exhibition – about nursery rhymes from around the world – is fantastic for the very young. ‘The adult and toddler pass is good value and means that we often go for an hour or so, have lunch, then see the animals at Ouseburn Farm next door’ Alex’s mum told us: if you’ve not yet explored the Ouseburn Valley it’s worth a visit.
  • Polar Explorers at Great North Museum: Hancock proved a great day out for Exhibition Explorer Molly. This exhibition has been specially designed for under 5s, helping them to discover life in the Arctic through sensory and accessible stimulation. There are lots of animal footprints to discover, which Molly was particularly intrigued by. It’s worth combining a visit with Saturday Storytime or a Museum Mice play session.
  • The National Trust’s Cragside was scored 9 out of 10 by one Exhibition Explorer family. We heard how Annie really enjoyed exploring the house, especially the bathroom, kitchen and toilets! Lots of different colours, textures and light and dark spaces to explore made it an exciting space for this age group, and the adventure playground provided a great chance for a run around outdoors. There are lots of activities at Cragside, especially during school holidays – but this visit shows that just visiting the house without going to any special activities can be fascinating for young children.
  • Laing Art Gallery also offered a range of textures for little fingers to explore, with hands on exhibits alongside the artworks. Perhaps the most exciting thing was the button alongside the John Martin paintings, which provided thunder sound effects to bring these dramatic landscapes to life, and colour changing lighting cast on the paintings. There were also interesting things to spot in the glass cases – Exhibition Explorer Fred was very interested in the elephants and bats on one of the decorative objects, and the height of the display case allowed him to have a good look at it. The under 5s play area had some fun ‘peek-a-boo!’ spaces to enjoy. It’s worth combining a visit with Little Artists every Tuesday during termtime.
  • Bamburgh Castle and Museum offered lots of interesting indoor attractions when one family visited on a particularly cold day. Exhibition Explorer Zoe loved the giant cow’s head mounted on the castle wall. Small handheld mirrors were great for helping children to look at the ceiling, and provided an interesting way for little ones to explore the space. The family loved exploring the ‘swords and knights and fancy rooms’, but mum did note that there were lots of breakable things which made it a bit nerve wracking to visit with small children. A run around on the nearby beach would have been welcome, but unfortunately it was too cold.
  • Discovery Museum prompted lots of drawings of happy people and boats on one family’s scrapbook page – which sums up the fun they had! There’s lots there for under 5s: Play Tyne is a water play area themed around the River Tyne, where children can get hands-on with the different ways water is used (a change of clothes is always useful!) And don’t miss Teddy Bear Tuesday on 5 April!
  • Little Town offers a variety of roleplaying areas, scaled down for children to enjoy. Zac had a busy day, building a wall on the building site, cleaning, shopping, posting letters, cooking and hairdressing. Little Town has been designed with Early Years practitioners to encourage interaction which helps develop language and communication skills. Zac’s family scored it 9 out of 10.
  • Life Science Centre came recommended by one family’s Health Visitor, for its stimulating Young Explorers Zone. Sophie enjoyed the exhibition ‘Robot‘ which includes robots, cyborgs and androids from TV and film and offered hands on activities for little ones. The special Pre-school Days are worth a visit, and take place once a month.

We added the families’ scrapbook pages to our special Exhibition Explorers Encyclopedia – a record of cultural venues to visit, which will grow alongside the children. Thanks to all the families who contributed tips and feedback on their Family Adventures – watch this space for where they visit next, and ideas of places to go with under 5s!


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