Now that I am a grandfather, and have taken my grandson to a couple of Museums I am, suddenly, an expert on the subject. My preliminary conclusions:
- Museum toddler playgrounds could be a lot more imaginative. London Transport Museum basically has buses with buttons to push and steering wheels to turn. Its ok, but then not much better than you get in countless parks around London.. Surely, there should be more story telling and even a bit of wit to amuse the carers?
- What is much better, in my grandson’s opinion, is designing the museum itself to cater for the toddlers. My one loved the British Museum, which has absolutely no provision for toddlers as far as I can see. But he loved it! Why?
- He loved the space; the length of the rooms to run along; the height of the ceiling; the variety of cases and spaces, and key holes and handles and grids and lighting; the echoes and percussive effects he could produce by his hands or feet.
- The floors he loved because the BM in some rooms has ventilation grills that run along a track along the length of the Room. He loved running along them. And was most engaged by the metal grills his feet found every couple of meters. They made a different sound as he ran along them. He ran along them, turned round and ran back and repeated the effort. I should point out he is only 16 months old so not running at a pace that annoys or endangers. In the Classical Galleries, the hard floor changed to carpet. He immediately lay down on it and enjoyed the texture enough to roll around on it, until he found the only visible bit of fluff on the well dyson’d carpet. He took the fluff to the next room, dropped it on the floor, and carefully picked it up. I think we got that bit of fluff from the Cyprus Gallery to the Portland Vase in the Roman and Greek Gallery. A testament to the BM’s cleaning staff.
- Crucial to his enjoyment were cases that stretched down to the floor, or about a foot above the floor. He could look in and see the objects, and was often fascinated. In comparison the London Transport Museum’s cases were higher and he could not see in . He also loved any fitting he could touch or move on the cases. Even key holes interested him. The BM also has cases which have low ledges for labels beside cases. He loved to climb on these – although I had to stop him. But a museum could easily build in little cubby holes for kids to climb into and onto. And add little knobs, buttons, bells, declivities and raised areas at low level for kids to turn, press, poke, stroke and twist.
- Touch was very important, and he liked to touch the glass of the cases, and there was a stone pillar, he was touching. I thought it was behind glass so did not stop him but when I got closer realised it was the surface of the stone he was repeatedly stroking. Of course I stopped him immediately, but it was a good reminder of the interest at this age in texture.
- Sound was really interesting to him. And I know it would be horrifying to visits to have children all halloing the echoes but he did love it! Wooden infrastructure which was hollow offers lots of potential.
So, in conclusion. Make the Museum itself the playground. Use the playgrounds as part of the displays. Insist on floor length glass cases with knobs, bells, holes and textures integral to the design. Vary the floors, put markings on the floor for children to follow. Create little spaces every so often they can get into, climb on, explore.