LEARNING ABOUT MUSEUMS FROM YOUR OWN HOME
We love museums! We have our old favourites and then we also love to discover new ones. Museums these days are often interactive, welcoming, child-friendly places where we can all learn something new. But it’s not always possible to get to them. Maybe you just don’t have many nearby or perhaps transport is difficult. Often money is a concern because while many museums are free, not all are and then there is the cost of getting there, gift-shops, cafes, etc. the latter of which are not essential to a museum trip but can sometimes be hard to avoid. So, I offer you our guide to enjoying museums at home!
- On-line collections. Many museums now have excellent websites which have a lot of their collection available to view online. Many also have a whole host of other information, kids’ pages, games, craft and art ideas, experiments to do, and so on. Check out the education pages at The National Archives, Kew, for example; it has games, a ‘build your own Magna Carta’ project, information on different time periods, a document of the month, and more.
- Museum publications. The larger museums often have a selection of children’s books and project-sets. The V&A in London, for example, have a great selection, as does The National Gallery which has just published its first ever children’s guide to the gallery, Picture This! We love the V&A’s Welcome to the Museum, an amazing set with a fold-out museum and a book full of stickers and press-out exhibits so you can create your own tiny museum on the dining-room table. There is also the huge book Historium (Welcome to the Museum) by Jo Nelson and Richard Wilkinson which is set out like a museum catalogue full of ancient artefacts. There are other books in the series which focus on different museum types, such as dinosaurs and natural history.
- Make your own museum. You can use something like Welcome to the Museum but you don’t actually need a fancy kit to make your own museum at home. It’s a great rainy day or winter activity. Children can turn their bedroom, playroom, or Wendy house into a museum or, if you are short on space, a tray or table can become a display-area. Your own museums can reflect whatever passions your children have: dinosaurs, rocks, dolls, shells, stamps, coins, old things, family souvenirs, postcards, thimbles, badges, even fun erasers or Shopkins. How far they develop the activity is up to them. Maybe they just like to arrange the exhibits but perhaps they would like to make display labels and/or some information about each item. They might even want to make a museum guide or brochure with photos or drawing and extra information. Nina Chakrabarti’s My Collection of Collections might be a good source of inspiration if your child is a little unsure of where to start.
- Start your own family archives. Start a family history folder or box. This could go as far back as you are able or it could just focus on your own family, including birth certificates (see if you can give them a copy rather than the real thing), birth announcements, photos and mementos of significant family events and so on. You might have items from further back in your family’s past even if this is just a coin or stamps from when you were little – to children that’s still quite a long time ago!
- Museum fiction. There are quite a few books that take museums as their focus. One of the most well-known is E. L. Konigsburg’s modern classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler about two children who run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. I used to love how the children get to sleep in an antique four-poster bed! Robin Stevens has just published The Guggenheim Mystery, a follow-up to Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery. Siobhan Dowd passed away before she could develop the sequel to the first book so Stevens used the title as the inspiration for a story about a missing masterpiece. My younger daughter loves the ‘Violet’ books by Harriet Whitethorn and has already read the latest one several times. Violet and the Mummy Mystery revolves around some sneaky thefts from the Egyptology Department of the British Museum. When a mummy thought to hold the key to locating the lost tomb of Nefertiti is stolen, Violet and her friends are determined to get it back. In a similar vein are Mike Nicholson’s Museum Mystery Squad books in which a team of kids solve mysterious puzzles that crop up in museums. There are The Case of the Hidden Hieroglyphics; The Case of the Moving Mammoth; and The Case of the Curious Coins. For younger children The Museum of Me by Emma Lewis is a picture book exploring a child’s journey of discovering museums. David Lucas’ book Lost in the Toy Museum follows Bunting the Cat as he searches for his hiding friends amidst the treasures of the museum. The Museum by Susan Verde is a picture book about a little girl going to an art gallery and responding in the pictures she sees there. In The Queen and Mr Brown: A Day for Dinosaurs by James Francis Wilkins the Queen and her corgi visit the Natural History Museum and meet some dinosaurs…
- Puzzles and activities. Maths Quest: the Museum of Mysteries by David Glover is a book that uses maths puzzles to help the reader unfold the mystery. My elder daughter spent her birthday money on Museum of Me: Curate your life with your own drawings, doodles and writing by Charlotte Farmer. It’s a fantastic book that allows you to fill a museum with your favourite things, stuff about your family, friends and hobbies and so on. It would be a great Christmas present. A similar book is Me Museum by M. H. Clark.