University of Cambridge Museums

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The Grand Total: A Museum Session for Preschoolers & their Grandparents

Grand-Total-1‘Never have children; only grandchildren,’ Gore Vidal reportedly recommended, and it is true that in many families the grandchild/grandparent relationship is something very special.  As part of our involvement with the Cambridge Festival of Ideas’ theme of ‘Power & Resistance’, we in the Fitzwilliam Museum Learning Department wanted to find a way to celebrate the power of this partnership.

Previously in our work we have noticed that visitors of vastly differing ages can in fact have very similar interests in the museum environment.  Objects in our collection are fascinating to all kinds of people, regardless of age or experience.  The museum is different to other shared spaces in this respect: grandparents and children may be seen together in a playground, for example, but this is really a space for children in which adults are necessary; a restaurant may be place visited together, but often this is more like an adult space in which children are tolerated (and sometimes offered different food to their older companions).  The museum on the other hand offers a chance for a genuinely shared experience, where we may explore and discover things together.

The two sessions we offered were aimed at grandparents with grandchildren aged between two and five years.  To involve everyone at the start, and to allow participants to orientate themselves in the gallery we worked together to make a simple mouse finger puppet to guide around the gallery.  Looking at the museum objects through the eyes of a tiny mouse brings many unexpected discoveries!

I liked all the interaction’ – family with 2 year old and 1 year old child

We used the puppets in a retelling of Julia Donaldson’s story of ‘The Gruffalo’, in which features a fox, an owl, and a snake – all of which we were able to find in our ceramics collection.

I liked everything – especially story telling’ – family with 3 year old

Thinking about things that go together: grandparents and their grandchildren, story characters and so on, we moved into a matching activity – finding the missing item from a pair.  This provided a welcome change of pace from sitting and listening to the story as a whole group to working more independently as a family.

Beautifully done – stories, links with objects, place…Thanks so much!’ – Grandmother with 2 year old Grandaughter

We came back together for some songs and had a go at paired drawing with the children making an abstract shape for the grandparents to transform into something new.  This required creativity and some ingenuity from both parties, but was accessible even for those with a fear of drawing.

A number of other ceramic figures helped us to share the story of the Gingerbread Man together, and to finish the session each family was given a gingerbread cutter and a recipe to have a go at baking together.

It was lovely to see the children and adults enjoying the museum together – of course grandparents are welcome at all our family events, but it was interesting to have a session with them specifically in mind, and we are continuing to collect feedback on this.

If you would like more information about these sessions or our other work with children under 5, please contact Nicola Wallis on

Nicola Wallis, Gallery Educator, The Fitzwilliam Museum

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