Making museums fun for kids

Making museums fun for kids
Create your own puppets in Singapore artist Jeremy Hiah's Queen Of The Forest installation, or play a game of giant Flag Attack! (above), based on the childhood game using country erasers. These are among the 10 engaging installations in this exhibition, recommended for children aged three to seven.

The job of an art curator can mystify most adults - but what about children?

Come year-end, children visiting the National Gallery Singapore will get a chance to play curator and select artworks for an exhibition, write wall text for the display and conduct tours for their peers.

It is one of the activities on offer at the Children's Museum, part of the new 1,000 sq m Keppel Centre for Art Education, a dedicated space for children in the gallery. The space will recreate an actual artist's studio, complete with his artworks, tools and journals.

Interactions such as these that go beyond the usual child-oriented activities such as colouring seem to be the next wave in how local museums are engaging the young.

"We want children to understand the subtleties behind what they see and what goes on behind an exhibition," says Ms Suenne Megan Tan, director of education and programmes at the National Gallery Singapore, which occupies the refurbished City Hall and former Supreme Court buildings. The gallery will open at the end of this year.

The National Museum of Singapore has a children's playroom, PLAY @ National Museum of Singapore, which has welcomed more than 100,000 visitors since it opened in May last year.

It is the 128-year-old museum's first dedicated area for children and is designed to be fun while teaching kids about Singapore history and culture.

For example, a popular part of the 700 sq m wing is an area for the children to play "masak-masak" or cook local dishes with larger-than-life ingredients moulded out of plastic.

Interactive wall displays allow children to figure out what goes into the making of dishes such as nasi lemak.

Ms Christie Chua, the museum's senior assistant director of audience development and partnerships, says: "It is not just a play space, that's not what we want. We want parents and kids to be together and for adults to guide children through the space."

Engaging the next generation of museumgoers has become high on the priority list of museums in the world's cultural capitals, and museum educators in Singapore say they go on research trips to museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in the United Kingdom and Boston Children's Museum in the United States.

The art- and design-focused Victoria and Albert Museum sees 160,000 people attending its programmes for those aged 24 and below yearly, which revolve around the collection and exhibitions.

For example, a recent storytelling session of Little Red Riding Hood was themed Wild Fashion, reflecting the London museum's ongoing Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition featuring the late designer's outfits.

Ms Sarah Campbell, head of schools, families and young people at Victoria and Albert Museum, tells Life! in an e-mail interview: "We are interested in not just targeting children, but also encouraging children and their parents and carers to discuss what they are looking at and make creative responses together, creating positive shared memories."

The overall trend is for child-targeted spaces in museums to move away from classroom-like settings and towards hands-on learning. Ms Tan says: "We're moving away from exhibits stuck in cabinets. It's a shift that we see happening worldwide."

Parents can now expect a full suite of facilities and programmes for children at museums here. These range from interactive exhibits, workshops and performances - produced by professionals with occasional input from older students and members of the community - to activity sheets downloadable from the museums' websites, all of which are designed to have specific learning objectives and are planned up to a year in advance.

For example, at the National Museum's current Masak Masak exhibition, the installation Hello, Hello? encourages children to match the correct strings in order to communicate with their parents through tin-can telephones.

The artwork was created by students of the School of the Arts. Nur Sabrina Mohamad Suhaimi, 14, one of the creators, says: "We decided to go with this idea as communication is indeed an important building block in a child's growing-up years."

At the Asian Civilisations Museum, an ongoing exhibition titled Once Upon A Time In Asia: The Animal Race revolves around the animals in the Chinese zodiac and is supplemented by five real-life specimens and replicas from the Singapore Science Centre, such as a specimen of a golden monkey and a skeleton of a reticulated python. This collaboration with the Science Centre is a first for the museum.

Ms Lim Chye Hong, the museum's deputy director for audience development, says: "We wanted to inject learning through play."

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