Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is home to the city’s first ‘mini museum’ – a space devoted to early years children and their families, filled with story books, cushions, hands-on activities and even a lynx (but don’t be alarmed: it is stuffed). Andrew Fowles, Learning and Access Manager for Birmingham Museums Trust, tells us more.
“Our Mini Museum launched in autumn 2015, dedicated to the needs of very young children. We wanted to create a space in the museum where parents and toddlers could go for a bit of ‘dwell time’ – a relaxed area, still very much part of the museum, but away from the busier gallery spaces. Early years children can struggle in museums and we wanted to make it easier for them and their families, creating an area a one- or two-year old would be keen to explore.
“Usually, galleries and museums work with early years specialists to design child-friendly spaces, and whilst we did do that, we also worked closely with three local nurseries so that the children could give their own views. We led art-handling sessions with the toddlers, giving them all kinds of objects to look at, from items in our natural history collections through to pieces from the Second World War. We played at dressing up; we even looked at how they responded to the configuration of cushions! Through these sessions we discovered that children responded best to animals, that they enjoyed bright colours and wanted seats located close together for story time. We have used all this learning – the Mini Museum has a stuffed baby lynx on display, a book bench, an interactive mummy-jigsaw and brightly coloured stained glass windows. We also thought about some of the most loved pieces from our collection, for example the famous painting of penguins called Dominicans in Feathers by Henry Stacey Marks and The Master’s Gawler by Joshua Reynolds – and we are looking at making them more accessible so they can be seen at children’s eye-level.
“We are also very conscious of the older siblings of these children – what do they do whilst their baby brother or sister is playing? So we’re working with the LearnPlay Foundation, a group of apprentices aged 16-19, who have made a computer game especially for us in which the player gets to explore and find things from our real-life museum within the game. It’s a way of drawing in older children and of course we are platforming the skills of Birmingham’s gaming industry.
“Arts Connect supported the research and development of the Mini Museum, helping us to identify best practice in early years provision and encouraging us to engage in more meaningful dialogue with the early years sector as a whole. Our early feedback is that the children are genuinely interacting and feeling comfortable in the Mini Museum; the time they spend in a regular gallery might only be a few seconds, but here they can dwell for several minutes. It adds a new dimension to Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.”
Andrew Fowles, Learning and Access Manager
Birmingham Museums Trust
“The Mini Museum is an example of the high quality of work that can be achieved when we develop ideas alongside participants and audiences. The Mini Museum is a special space for young people within Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and we are very excited to see the realisation of this exciting initiative.”