I discovered over the holidays that the word 'museum' = 'fun' for a young child. Which is great! Well done museums, good first impressions.
I know where this link came from. Our other visits to museums have been full of interactive games like KSpace at the National Museum of Australia, touch screens with cute characters or a little dog to follow like at M.A.D.E, children's rooms like at Te Papa or the intriguing stuffed animals at Melbourne Museum.
But this museum was a little bit more traditional. Shelves and shelves full of objects, curiosities really but not the kind of curiosities a child is going to appreciate. Bottles, toothpaste tubs, Aeroplane Jelly packets. Great for nostalgia...if you remember it.
It was no suprise really that she came out a little bit disappointed. Not quite what she had been expecting.
For a child, rows upon rows of objects and collections by themselves have no meaning. I would argue they also have no meaning for an adult too really apart from curiosity or nostalgia. I don't think they even rate as curiosities for a child. A stuffed kanagroo is infinitely more fascinating that glass bottles for children.
At the other end, I also think that computers and touch screens don't really mean anything much to them either today. They get very little meaning out of it. Sure they are fun, but kids can use far more sophiscated apps pretty much anywhere today, from the school's set of ipads or on Mum and Dad's smartphone.
So what do museums have then?
Museums have to give a child a compelling reason to visit, and then to engage in that visit. Most children are naturally curious, they have a huge appetite to understand the world around them, and to find out about the past. Kids are forever intrigued by the idea that things may have been different when Mum or Nana grew up.
And what's the best way to feed that hungry curiosity?
Children absolutely love a story, and being transported somewhere else through the power of narrative, imagery and feelings that a good story can create.
To me, museums are story telling spaces. What they do better than everyone else is tell a good story: from the objects they choose, and those they don't, to the narrative tools which creates that immersive experience that only a good story can evoke.
The photo at the top? Cabinet of Curiosities at Te Papa.