As we welcome in the summer holidays once again, museums across the country use this time to focus in on their program of events aimed at getting children engaged with art collections. In this Blog post, our Head of Education, Anne Fay looks at why museum education is important to art institutions, and some of the methods the Wallace Collection employs both during, and out of school term-time, to encourage children to engage with art.
Museums are social and sensory places and it’s never too early to start visiting them. Young babies love the colourful contrasting rooms of the Wallace Collection, while older children and young adults get great satisfaction from engaging directly with our artworks, unlocking their secrets through observation, discussion and play. On average, around 23,000 children visit the Wallace Collection a year. Around half of this number visits with their school, the rest come independently with family and friends.
One of the roles of the Museum’s Education Department is to stimulate the inquisitiveness and creativity of children and young people by using our collections as a springboard to start exploring all sorts of different ideas and themes. This might include looking at luxury objects from the late eighteenth-century to help examine the causes of the French Revolution, learning about perspective or using paintings or objects as a starting point to develop a piece of creative writing. Sessions developed for primary and secondary school groups both enhance and complement the National Curriculum and are completely free of charge. They can be based entirely in the museum galleries or might also include time in our art studio exploring techniques such as casting or screen printing, and can last anything from one to five hours.
For family visitors we run a regular programme of events both in and out of the school holidays. ‘The Little Draw’ is our monthly drop-in drawing workshop for all ages and abilities, but is particularly aimed at a family audience. The workshops are free and everyone is welcome to attend on a drop-in basis, staying for as little or as long as they wish. Every six months a different artist runs the workshops, each bringing different interpretations to both drawing and of the Collection itself. The aim of ‘The Little Draw’ is to both learn new drawing skills, and to encourage the public to get to know and understand the works of art in the Wallace Collection by drawing them.
During school holidays we put on a range of planned activities and events ranging from drop-in art workshops aimed at families learning and creating together, to more in-depth courses for children and young people where they work with creative professionals to build up skills or develop new ones. Children who visit the Museum on days when there is no organised activity taking place can pick up free activity trails located near the reception desk or try on our selection of replica armour located in our Conservation Gallery. Those who have access to a smart phone or tablet might want to download our first digital game ‘The Magic Horn’ which can be downloaded for free from the Apple App or Google Play store. One of the great hidden benefits of providing these types of activities for children is that they often need parental support, so if the parents aren’t too careful, they end up discovering things as well, enhancing their own understanding and learning of the Collection.
While it is true that the Wallace Collection believes that all children are entitled to a cultural education, one of the other aims of having dedicated programmes for children is, of course, to build the adult visitors of the future. The strategies that we use to do this, including using play, drama and practical art alongside direct observation and discussion, are therefore sensitive to and geared towards the needs of children. By having these positive and memorable museum experiences as children, we hope to foster a life-long passion for museums in our visitors.
- Anne Fay, Head of Education, the Wallace Collection