The Kids in Museums Manifesto 2012 is compiled entirely from visitors’ comments. It’s a practical and powerful tool to encourage and support museums and galleries around the country to make children, young people and family visits more enjoyable. Already over 300 museums have signed up in its support, pledging to work towards putting the 20 points into practice.
1. Tell tales together with children and families. Share each other’s stories. Listen. Families and museums each have their own expertise.
2. Be welcoming and greet each visitor. Tell visitors what they can do at the door, don’t pin up a list of things they can’t. Curators, volunteers, front of house and those who work in the café should all be involved.
3. Play the generation game. Grandparents are increasingly important, and many families are more than two generations. Conversations between generations should be at the heart of what you do.
‘Mums dressed as frogs and grandads dressed up as Daddy Bear while their grandaughters stole their porridge!’
4. Invite teenagers into your gang. Provide a place for them to hang out. Set up youth panels. Ask them how they want to be involved. Museums can lead the way in letting people know the contribution teenagers make.
5. Be flexible in your activities, events and family tickets. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Design your pricing and programmes with all sorts of families in mind.
6. Reach beyond your four walls. Ask families how you can help make a visit possible. Take responsibility for the hurdles outside, even if they’re not put up by you.
7. Create a safe place for children and families. Museums can be havens and provide an opportunity for families to talk.
‘One of the pieces displayed said how a girl felt alone and my stepson opened up about all the bullying he had been through.’
8. Be the core of your community, with spaces where families can meet.
‘It’s one of my son’s favourite places to go, partly because he likes to run round finding all the rats, partly because that’s where we learnt how to make bread and butter, and partly because that’s where we made lots of friends that we see all over town.’
9. Don’t say ssshhhush! If kids are being noisy, ask yourself ‘Why?’ is it because they’re excited? Great! Then capture this excitement. Is it because they’re bored? then give them something meaningful to do.
10. Say ‘Please touch!’ as often as you can. Everyone finds real objects awesome. Direct kids to things that can be handled. Teach respect by explaining why others can’t.
‘It was really fun wearing the white gloves so we could pick things up.’
11. Give a hand to grown-ups as well as children. Sometimes it isn’t the kids who are shy – parents need your support too. Produce guides, trails and activities for families to enjoy together.
12. Be height and language aware. Display things low enough for a small child to see. Use your imagination with signs, symbols and words understood by all ages.
13. Make the most of your different spaces, outside as well as inside. Cafés, gardens, stairways and reception areas are valuable parts of the museum too.
‘Even the lift was fun.’
14. Consider different families’ needs, with automatic doors, decent sized lifts, wheelchair-user friendly activities and Braille descriptions. Design your activities and events for everyone.
15. Keep an eye on visitors’ comfort. Make sure the toilets are always pleasant, with room for pushchairs and baby changing facilities. It’s the one place every family will visit. Provide somewhere to leave coats, bags, pushchairs, scooters and skateboards.
16. Provide healthy, good-value food, high chairs and unlimited tap water. Your café should work to the same family friendly values as the rest of the museum.
17. Sell items in the shop that aren’t too expensive and not just junk, but things kids will treasure and will remind them of their visit.
18. Look after your website – keep it up to date. Be honest. Let families know what’s available (and what isn’t) so they can prepare for their visit.
19. Use social media to chat to families. Don’t just post messages about what you’re doing – have a conversation.
20. Make the visit live on. Build relationships with your family visitors and let them know you want to keep in touch. involve them in long-term decision making at the museum, not just on the day. invite them back.