Coventry Culture’s Family-Friendly Conference – My Take-Homes

Yesterday I swapped my desk for a day trip to Coventry Transport Museum, the venue for Culture Coventry’s very first Family Friendly Conference. Colleagues from across the sector generously shared their experiences in presentations and workshops, so I thought I would do likewise and share my principal take-homes from the event:

 Keynote, Dea Birkitt, Kids in Museums

  • There’s no such thing as ‘hard to reach’ families. Turn the phrase on its head and concentrate on what you can do to ensure you offer an ‘easy to reach’ museum to all families.
  • Be more Butlins! Learn from other organisations which are brilliant with families, such as Butlins which is committed to “helping hard-working families rediscover their zest and sparkle.”
  • Reflect the families outside your museum, not just the few on the inside.
  • Remember that families come in all shapes and sizes – and you need to make provision accordingly. For example, don’t assume that the floor is always the best place for family activities – think about those participants (children, parents, grandparents) in wheelchairs and with other mobility problems and ensure they can participate too.
  • Museums help us to shape and build our futures by telling stories of the past. They help us understand where we come from and who we are. We need to facilitate families sharing their own stories.

Approaching STEM, with Anja Keitel-Campsall, Coventry Transport Museum

  • Introduce ‘art’ to expand STEM activities to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Maths) to attract more audiences and add an extra dimension of creativity to your activities. E.g. learn about gravity by spinning paint
  •  Make use of your staff and volunteers when putting together STEAM activities. The knowledge and interests that people have is amazing and can help shape your programme. This wider museum team can also be a helpful resource when collecting raw materials, from yoghurt pots to old computer keyboards.
  •  If you are already putting on family arts activities, then give things a twist by adding ‘the science bit’ e.g. an arts activity based on a neon light installation could go up a gear and explore the speed of light, colour refraction, shadow or nocturnal animals.

Creating an award-winning family-friendly museum, with Gaby Lees, York Art Gallery

  • Ensure ‘learning’ is part of the process from the very outset. When thinking about an exhibition the focus should always be on creating for somebody rather than about something.
  • Think about the museum as a place where ideas are shared and visitors have a sense of ownership. York Art Gallery has lots of fab examples including the ‘Hands On!’ signage which invites visitors to feel different objects, such as bronze sculptures. York also commissioned new seating which includes a special pocket for visitor sketch books and pencils, encouraging people to draw, look more closely at the displays and reflect them in their own way. York also has a free membership scheme for local visitors, ensuring the message is clear that the museum is very much for them.
  • Similarly, York has also added lots of sensory objects to attract children, such as a felt version of a painting which children can play on; a cardboard sculpture representing waves which changes shape and texture the more it is touched; a big comfy story chair which is covered in a fabric featuring children’s drawings; and an area where children can play with ceramics (on a large soft rug to minimize breakages!).
  • Think about the role of touchscreens – they need to enhance the exhibition experience not suck all the attention!

The conference gave me lots of inspiration and hopefully there’s some ideas for you here too. For more comments and thoughts from the conference, search for #CovFamCon on Twitter.