Category archives: museums

Thursday, 28 February 2019

The importance of curiosity (with some wonderful quotes)

IMG_0773I was delighted to watch this little boy exploring this lovely Narnia bench. Curiosity in action. A while ago, in preparation for a training day I was giving called Enquiring Minds, I did some research on curiosity. It is becoming more and more apparent that if children are to thrive – mentally, emotionally and academically – they need curiosity.

I love this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.’ Actually curiosity seems to be innate to humans, but it requires nurture and support.

Years of working as a clinical psychologist have led Todd Kashdan to the conclusion that cultivating curiosity is the key to wellbeing. Research demonstrates links between curiosity and self-confidence. It supports resilience, and has been shown to impact positively on empathy, sociability and relationships. It’s linked to creativity too.

The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage sets out the characteristics of effective early years teaching and learning: playing and exploring; active learning; creating and thinking critically. It seems to me that we shouldn’t restrict this outlook to the early years, nor to educational settings. In Einstein’s words: ‘Play is the highest form of research.’

According to psychologist Sophie von Stumm ‘The most reliable predictor of achievement is a hungry mind.’ Ken Robinson has called curiosity the ‘engine of achievement’ (though I’m not sure I totally agree with his view that ‘If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance.’) The historian Sir Richard Southern said ‘we learn by being puzzled and excited.’ Over two millennia ago Plutarch wrote ‘The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited’.

This is Einstein again: ‘The important thing is not to stop questioning.’ In the view of cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham ‘It’s the question that stimulates curiosity. Being told the answer quells curiosity before it can even get going.’ How vital exploration and enquiry are, whether at home, in pre-school or school, in libraries, in museums, in the open air, in fact anywhere and everywhere. Great when initiated by children, and valuable too when prompted by adults.

The more we encourage children’s curiosity and sense of wonder, the more we help them towards a thirst for and a joy in learning and new ways of thinking.

Here is 12 year-old Megan Jo Tetrick: ‘If we didn’t have libraries, many people thirsty for knowledge would dehydrate.’ Important to remember what a crucial role books, libraries and librarians perform in nurturing curiosity. Not just libraries of course. These are the words of a parent, reflecting on the effect of a university outreach programme on her primary-age daughter: ‘It took ages to walk home from school last night because she was wanting to stop and pick up every piece of rock and look at every stone we walked by.’ Lovely to read this parental response following a visit with a young child to Manchester Museum: ‘Cerys is wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the things here that we don’t have at home or anywhere else. It’s helped her notice things more in other places too.’

To end, here’s a snippet from Jan Mark’s wonderful children book Thunder and Lightnings. This is a conversation between Victor, who has a learning disability and finds school work demanding and difficult, and his friend Andrew.
‘I thought you didn’t like learning things,’ said Andrew.
‘That wasn’t learning that was finding out.’

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Supporting children with learning difficulties in museums and libraries – useful websites, blogs, case studies and videos

ss GBI loved giving training on special educational needs at the fabulous ss Great Britain earlier this week. I give lots of courses on supporting children with learning difficulties for people working in museums and other cultural and heritage organisations, and lots for library staff too. It’s one of my favourite (and most frequently requested) training topics. I feel very passionate about inclusive provision.

I have found the following websites, blogs, case studies and videos useful and illuminating, and it occurs to me that others might too.

ABC of Working with Schools: Special Educational Needs
Asperger, Heritage and Archaeodeath
Astro Plane Force
Autism-Friendly Game Masters
Autism-Friendly Libraries
Autism in Museums
Autism in the Museum
Bag Books in Kent
Chatterbooks for Children with Dyslexia
Dimensions Autism Friendly Libraries Training Video for Library Staff
Disability Co-operative Network for Museums
Engaging Children with Special Educational Needs in Creative Experiences and Art 
Five Things I’ve Learnt About Accessibility
Going to a Museum
How Can Your Museum Better Welcome Families and Young People with Autism?
How Heritage Embraces Autism
Inclusive Galleries and Museums for Visitors with Special Needs
Kent Dyslexia Friendly Libraries
KidsHub Library Sessions
Making Museums Autism Friendly
Manchester Art Gallery Open Doors
Museum of Childhood Quiet Days
Museum of Childhood Visiting with an Autistic Child
Orleans House Gallery Octagon Club
Secret Museum: Film Production with Autistic Young People
See Dyslexia Differently
Sensitive Storytimes
Supporting Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs
Tom’s Tall Ship of Stories
Top 5 Autism Tips for Professionals: Autism-Friendly Museums
Working with Special Needs in an Art Gallery

Monday, 27 February 2017

Family learning takes many forms – a photographic overview

A little while ago I blogged about the importance of family learning and gave some links to sources of information. This time, I thought I would share a few of the photos I showed on a recent course on the topic for an inspiring group of community development workers, children’s centre staff and library staff. They give an indication of the many forms good family learning can take.Golders Green rhyme time 2Rhyme times are fabulous in terms of fun, and for developing social and emotional skills and language. This is a great one run by Barnet Libraries.Family Drop-in 003Enjoyable activities like this drop-in event at Orleans House Gallery support family bonding and give ideas for things to do at home.Bedtime reading event - 3There’s nothing to beat story times for building a love of books and reading. Lots of engagement in this Bromley Libraries bedtime story hour.Marlborough session 3 -2Everyone enjoys creative activites, and they support social and artistic skills. I was very lucky to be part of Historic Royal Palaces’ Curious Stories project.DSCN0274I loved contributing to this Barnet Libraries project. Lots of fun, and everyone got a real sense of achievement, an important aspect of family learning.Fitz & Museum of Classical Archaeology 1For family learning to work it must be enjoyable. This is a wonderful collaboration between the Museum of Classical Archaeology and Fitzwilliam Museum.cardiff storyResearch shows that family learning supports well-being. You can see how it happens in these photos from a Cardiff Story event.Liverpool & Enfield 2Family learning is inclusive and intergenerational. Don’t forget grandparents! These photos were taken at events in Liverpool and Enfield libraries.prehistoric animalLots of good family learning is very informal, as in this event at Crealy Adventure Park mounted by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.Oak20Lastly, a reminder that play is an important part of family learning activities. Here is an Enfield Libary Service toddler time.

Family learning is transformative. For anyone interested in finding out more about its benefits and ways to support it effectively, there are still places available on two courses I’m giving later this term: Sheffield on 23 March and Cardiff on 28 March. I also deliver bespoke in-service family learning training for local authorities, schools, museums, and other organisations.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Rhymes and rhyme times and their value

golders-green-rhyme-time-1I have lots of training coming up on supporting reading in the Early Years Foundation Stage, and on working with babies and under fives in museums. Preparing them has got me thinking again about how important rhymes and rhyme times are. Then just today, I had a request for a rhyme time course.

There’s no question that young children love rhyme times, and that parents and carers value them greatly. The photo here of a wonderful session I attended in a Barnet library demonstrates just how special they are. There is also no question about the support they give for children’s well-being, their learning and their overall development. Research and anecdotal evidence show that they benefit:

•    social skills
•    self-esteem and confidence
•    attention and concentration
•    memory
•    imagination
•    physical coordination and motor skills
•    cognitive development
•    understanding of the world
•    numeracy
•    communication skills
•    speaking and listening skills
•    literacy
•    phonological awareness
•    vocabulary
•    comprehension

Quite a list! You might also be interested to read a recent article on the value of music and rhyme for children’s literacy development and another one on how using stories, songs and rhymes can support mental health.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Supporting children with learning disabilities

I’ve just been putting together the handouts for a course for on effective provision and support for children with learning disabilities, a topic I feel passionate about. We will be exploring the needs of children with a wide range of learning challenges, the barriers they may face with learning and participation, and the implications, before going on to identify ways to maximise engagement, learning and enjoyment. This particular course is for a museum, but I also give lots of training on special needs for other cultural and heritage organisations, and for schools and libraries, and I find that many issues are common to all.

whistestop tourA Whistle-Stop Tour of Special Educational Needs by Clare Welsh and Rosie Williams is no longer in publication, though copies are still to be found. I have always found this section from it very pertinent and helpful:

‘As far as working with pupils with SEN is concerned, we must look at our assumptions and be prepared to challenge them.

  • the assumption that pupils will be at the same developmental starting point
  • the assumption that pupils will have the same knowledge
  • the assumption that because pupils have experienced something before, they will automatically remember it
  • the assumption that all pupils can understand the language that is being used around them
  • the assumption that pupils will have the gross or fine motor skills to carry out certain tasks
  • the assumption that all pupils enjoy social interaction
  • the assumption that all pupils will understand and respect standards of behaviour’

Wise words. Assumptions and stereotypes are dangerous things. Every child has different needs, even if they have the same diagnosis. A flexible, listening approach is vital. So is a calm environment in which every child feels safe and supported. Many children with learning difficulties have very high anxiety levels. Change, in particular, can be scary. For children on the autistic spectrum, and plenty of others, providing information – preferably with photos – in advance so they know what to expect from new experiences and new places makes a huge difference. Noise, crowds and clutter are very stressful for some. It’s great that lots of cultural and heritage organisations now offer specific activities or opening times to support children and families for whom these are a problem.

Like other children, most children with learning disabilities love getting involved. I will blog another time about inclusive participation strategies and the value of multi-sensory approaches.