University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Toddler Time – St Neots Museum

At St Neots Museum, in common with lots of small museums, the main focus for learning is primary schools and family visits. Together with our Curator, I felt we should extend our audiences and pre-school was one of the areas I worked on.  An approach to the local Rotary Club, in early summer 2015, resulted in a grant for £1,500 to develop, resource and market ten pre-school sessions themed around the collection. This funding included work to upgrade a toilet with baby changing facilities which was also funded by the museum itself. I planned ten sessions and spent a day with the ESPO catalogue!

I had met Nicola Wallis, the pre-school specialist in the Fitzwilliam Museum education team, when I volunteered there and so sought her help in reviewing my session plans. As a local history collection I themed around topics like Victorian wash day, granny’s handbag and the River Ouse. I consciously included variety to cater for different learning styles and provide choice and pace to the sessions.  Fortunately, the collection gives us a unique selling point locally and lots of scope for unusual and creative sessions. Nicola gave me some very good advice about incorporating more sensory elements, recommended books etc and gave me the confidence to follow my instincts and be more experimental. I also went to the Fitzwilliam and observed ‘It’s Magic’ and ‘Baby Magic’ which was really instructive.

Our most recent ‘Toddler Time’ was based around the ‘Eynesbury Giant’, James Toller. We talked about him with a copy of an original illustration and life size wall hanging, found the biggest and smallest things on display, read books about being big or small, measured ourselves and went on a hunt for big and small object pairs hidden around the museum. We finished off with the children painting life size pictures of themselves. Great fun.

Uptake for the first two units was slow but with plenty of social media marketing and an adjustment to start times we now have a good, established turnout. We are in discussion with the local Family Centre who want us to run sessions and we’ve had enquiries for bespoke sessions too. Without doubt it’s become one of the very best bits of my job. The children are curious, thoughtful and interested and get me thinking in new ways.  It has, for example, made me extend the use of smell and sound for other audiences plus it has influenced our family resources including the creation of soft toy museum mouse characters for young children to share the museum with.

Many thanks for Nicola’s support and advice and do try it yourselves – it’s so much fun you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!

Lesley Sainsbury, Learning and Access Officer, St Neots Museum

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