Friday, 21 February 2014

Supporting children with special needs in museums – effective provision and training

It was a treat to work at ss Great Britain yesterday. I gave a course on supporting children and young people with learning difficulties. The discussions about the needs of SEN children and the barriers to participation and learning they face were fascinating.  We identified lots of practical ways to help overcome them, and make provision for schools and families inclusive. There were some very exciting plans in pace by the end of the day.

Multi-sensory approaches make learning accessible to SEN children, things to see of course – artefacts, photos and films – but also things to touch, hear, taste and smell. I’m sure the cabin that smells of vomit on ss Great Britain is very effective! Handling collections are a big aid to understanding.

Museum of CuriosityThis photo is of Strathnaver Museum’s fantastic Portable Museum of Curiosity, the work of artist Joanne B Kaar, currently touring local schools. With the help of an outreach worker, pupils will use it as a springboard for creating a play on the history and heritage of the area, to be staged as part of Museums Galleries Scotland Festival of Museums in May.

Drama is wonderful for SEN children. Dressing up and role play bring learning alive. These are excellent ideas for everyone, not just SEN children, as the Strathnaver example illustrates. Story-telling is great too. Important to remember that while differentiation can be by activity or task, it can also be by outcome or by level of support.

Queues, crowds and lots of noise make visits during normal opening times very frightening for some children. I am very impressed by the autism-friendly events and opening times now in place on lots of museums. This series of blog posts by Tincture of Museum is very useful on autism-friendly practice.

With welcoming staff and provision geared to their needs, museums can be truly magical places for SEN children.