University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

0-5 in 3 billion years

How do you engage a group of under-fives in a museum?  Especially a museum whose objects are millions, if not billions, of years old, and kept behind glass with a scattering of ‘Don’t touch’ signs?

Chesterton Children’s Centre was up for the challenge, and on the 17 March a group of 12 families with children ranging from 5 months to 2 years visited the Sedgwick Museum. Just getting into the museum up the stone staircase looks off-putting if you have a buggy, but we do have a (soon to be upgraded) lift. After this adventure into the museum and meeting Iggy our 5m high Iguanodon skeleton we settled down to a story.

Stories are a brilliant way to introduce the themes of a museum and a way to introduce objects that are appropriate for handling. When I was planning the session I realised that most of my handling collection, although great for older kids because it is fairly indestructible (being mostly made of rock), is not ideal for very small people, who might throw or drop things onto small feet. However stories like ‘Boy’ by James Mayhew have plenty of potential for introducing touchy feely objects and simple themes like hot and cold.

Boy with fabricsBoy’s cave is cold and he wants to warm up. His adventure takes him into a forest where he meets a sabre-toothed tiger and long grass where he meets a woolly mammoth. Both are great links to our ‘Ice Age’ fossils and a wonderful opportunity to get wrapped up in fury tiger stripped and hairy woolly mammoth fabric. I had lots of different textured fabrics and cuddly toys for each page in the book. As I read I encouraged the children and carers to walk, roll, hug and get involved with everything, allowing them to determine the tempo of the session. Exploring new textures under foot, hand or knee is important for balance and learning to walk.

After the story we talked about how Boy could keep warm and dressed the Boy doll in some warm clothes – simple things that it is easy to identify with like a hat and gloves. We then went on our own adventure through the museum, stopping in Jurassic Pond to investigate some sea themed objects like shells, sand shakers and blue fabric.

We then moved forward in time to the last Ice Age to see if we could spot any mammoth tusks like those belonging to Boy’s mammoth.

The session was only an hour long but it was a great opportunity to introduce young families to the museum and what we have to offer them, such as the book trolley and jigsaw puzzles. It was fun, using a little bit of lateral thinking and a good story for inspiration, to find objects like fabric and shells that are great handing objects for small people and provide a link to our collection. Most of the fabrics and toys I used were taken from one of our two early years loan boxes or from the Early Years resources at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the families and feedback from the session was really positive too. I am looking forward to repeating the session with a new story and new objects.

“Loved the fabric brought out with the story”

“It’s tough with a toddler but my daughter had a lovely time doing something new!”

“I liked that they had books and cuddly dinosaurs”

More information about our early years loan boxes and how to hire one is available on the Sedgwick  Museum website.

Nicola Skipper, Education Coordinator, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Science

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