Science North – The Child Edition

I’m definitely more of a history buff than a science person, but as you might have guessed by the numerous times I’ve written about it I think Science North is a pretty awesome place.  It’s rarely crazy busy, encourages hands on learning, and is a perfect size to cover in an afternoon.  This past weekend my partner and I teamed up with some relatives and visited Science North with our daughter for the first time.

This was our daughter’s first foray into any time of museum, gallery, or science centre.  Our visit went pretty well – she’s only 1.5 years so her favourite parts were walking up the ramp, a sketch of a dog, the glass elevator, balls, and the water table.  She also liked the toddler specific areas that had toys geared to her size.  I imagine in a short time she will be loving Science North for completely different reasons.  Some of the highlights for me this time around were the Bufferfly Gallery and a couple of the hands on learn about the physical body exhibits on the third floor.

I was also really impressed with Imaginate, the special exhibit that is currently in the lobby of Science North.  Developed by the Ontario Science Centre Imaginate is all about innovation, seeing ideas come to life, and hands on learning.  It was great to see all the creative ideas that children and other visitors had created and were now part of the exhibit itself.  I loved the sound panel area where visitors could create a personal soundscape using touch panels. There was also a really interesting piece of interactive art at the entrance to Imaginate that invited users to hold onto sensor bars and the visuals in the sculpture then adapted to their heartbeat.

Overall this was another great visit to a place I love.  I’m looking forward to future visits as my daughter grows and watching the ways in which she interacts with museums, galleries, and science centres changes over the years.

Making History Child Friendly

The August/September issue of Canada’s History recently landed in my mailbox.  A short article, “Genealogy Can be Child’s Play” by Paul Jones inspired me to spend some time considering children and public history.  Jones’ article talks about interesting children in family history through the use of age appropriate activities that are engaging, active, and ultimately easy to undertake for the whole family.

I agree with Jones that inspiring a sense of family history and understanding of ones roots can be a very valuable part of any upbringing.  I also think it is important for children of all ages to be exposed to local and national historical narratives. Looking back at my childhood makes me extremely grateful for my parents attempts to make history and learning fun, even during the summertime. 

One of my earliest memories of experiencing history as a child involves my parents taking me and my siblings to the Dufferin County Museum which was ten minutes from our home.  I don’t remember many details about the trip, but I do remember being fascinated by an exhibit on old toys and how different those toys were from the ones I played with at home. 

Fast forward a few years and my Brownie troop made a trip to the same museum.  This time in addition to being able to look at the collection on display the group was given a ‘behind the scenes’ tour that included being able to see the archival and artifact storage areas.   Seeing something that was normally off limits definitely tickled my childhood interest.  These early positive experiences at the Dufferin County Museum are one of the many reasons why later volunteered at the Museum and eventually became involved in public history.

Not all public history spaces are immediately conducive to children.  Living museums and historic sites with interpreters tend to have more hands on activities that appeal to the tactile nature of many kids.  More traditional archives and museums need to work at making their spaces kid friendly.  Text panels and things secured in display cases can be interesting, but getting an eight year old to stand and look at them is almost impossible at times. 

Running children specific programming and workshops can be a huge step towards making history accessible to children.  However, not all museums and archives have the staff or resources to make this possible.  Even offering small dress-up or colouring stations amongst other exhibits can help make a trip to the museum enjoyable for children.  Similarly, including outdoor space or outdoor activities as part of the standard tour can help make a museum visit child friendly.

Developing a teaching collection of duplicate or replica artifacts can allow children to actually touch and hold things.  For example, setting up a bunch of old typewriters (duplicate or not historically significant ones) for children to type on can be a great way for children to see an old form of technology in use. Teaching collections can work in museums or as part of an archives program.

Archives do not immediately scream children play space.  But it is possible to run programming out of archives that is geared to children.  Many archives have school instruction programs, behind the scenes tours, or introduction to local history programs that expose children to history in a fun way.  Many of these
programs do require staff time, but the partnerships and future patrons that can develop out of these outreach activities are well worth the effort.

What are some of your most memorable childhood history moments?