Eureka! The National Children’s Museum in situated a stones-throw away from Halifax train station in West Yorkshire. The museum is focussed on hands-on inter-generational learning for children between the ages of 0-11. During our trip, I found some examples of good engagement practice that relate to our engagement reflection points.
All About Me was the first gallery we reached and it included interactive exhibits that were very popular with children of all ages. The gallery is all about how the body works, and, although it had a science-focus, the emphasis on play is strong and consistent meaning children very quickly feel confident enough to interact independently with the exhibits. All About Me is full of everyday examples of science, from losing baby teeth to what makes a healthy diet. The everyday examples that they used in the gallery were applicable to everyone, especially very young children, helping them to think about what they eat or their teeth. The way that the examples are displayed allowed the children to make links between the science in the gallery and their everyday lives.
Everyday examples of science could be found throughout the museum. The Living and Working Together gallery takes the form of a small town, complete with bank, garage, post office, grocery store and home. Again, the emphasis in this gallery was inter-generational play and encouraging science talk and interactions between family members. In this space we talked about why cars need petrol and did some simple calculations in the bank to open a safe. In Sound Garden, one of three galleries specifically for under 5’s, there were lots of prompts to encourage families to play together and talk about STEM. By encouraging families to talk about STEM, not only will children feel more comfortable with it and see its relevance to their lives, but so will the rest of their family.
With STEM as its theme and the focus primarily on play, Eureka! has children at its core and this comes across strongly. By shifting the emphasis away from science knowledge and onto having confidence and ownership, all audiences have the opportunity to engage with every exhibit. From friendly staff to clear signage, Eureka! makes no assumptions of prior knowledge and makes everyone feel welcome. This unique combination of STEM content and play means families are quickly put at ease and can enjoy the experience on their own terms, making the most of the activities on offer.
By encouraging families to play and explore together, Eureka! creates an atmosphere of inclusion in which families are given the confidence and ownership to discover at their own pace. The use of everyday examples means that every child can contribute and get involved and families can talk about the science that is around them.
In our ‘out and about‘ series we go searching for examples of good science engagement practice in other museums and science centres.