If you get them interested when they’re young, you have them for life. That’s how the saying goes and it’s a well worn phrase in museums. It is particularly repeated in museum education circles, as it’s usually the education and learning teams that offer children and young people their first taste of the wonders museums have to offer. The stats support this, and they are widely available if you care to look them up.

But how young should we start to get the little ones in, interested and engaged in museums? When they have started school perhaps? When they’re old enough to start to understand what’s going on? If you wait this late, a museum visit might be relegated to a school-trip activity rather than something that can be much more meaningful.

There’s no reason why museums, galleries, heritage sites or however you class yourself should start right away: at birth. If you have ever come across Kids in Museums and their Family Friendly Museum Manifesto, you’ll see that it’s point four on their 20 point list. They say “It’s never too early to visit a museum; they’re social, sensory and stimulating places – perfect for babies.”

If you’re thinking “Well, yes, that’s all very good in theory, but can babies get anything out of a museum visit?” I shall direct you to Esme Ward’s wonderful work with the under twos in Manchester’s museums in which she asks the fundamental question “Can babies enjoy museums?”

The answer is a resounding “YES THEY CAN.” In fact, the University of Sussex Baby Lab’s research lab has done some research and goes so far to suggest that not only can babies enjoy museums, but that they are the ideal visitors because “they can sense and perceive, respond to beauty, recognise things, reason about objects and learn and remember”. Adults can do all these things too, but bear in mind that babies are learning at an incredible rate and anything that we can do to foster this development can yield nothing but good.

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In fact, the University of Sussex Baby Lab’s research lab has carried out research and goes so far to suggest that not only can babies enjoy museums, but that they are the ideal visitors because “they can sense and perceive, respond to beauty, recognise things, reason about objects and learn and remember.” Adults can do all these things too, but bear in mind that babies are learning at an incredible rate and anything that we can do to foster this development can yield nothing but good.

Now, we know that babies are able to get quite a bit out of their visits, let’s get talking about Early Years in museums. Since I started working at Towner not too long ago, we have been working to improve what we offer 0-5s and their various grown-ups; mums, dads, grandparents, and so on and so forth. Every week we have a session for our littlest visitors, with the pleasingly alliterative title of Tiny Towner, where we encourage them to explore the artwork on display, be inspired and to get as creative as they want to. And if they just want to play, run around, or make some noise, that’s OK too. The important thing is that the little ones and their families feel welcome and comfortable in our space and want to come back.
If you’re looking for some advice on where to get started, I would suggest having a look at the Manchester Museums Babies in Museums: Top Tips.

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