Learning is a process of active engagement with experience. It is what people do when they want to make sense of the world. It may involve the development or deepening of skills, knowledge, understanding, awareness, values, ideas and feelings, or an increase in the capacity to reflect. Effective learning leads to change, development and the desire to learn more. (DfEE 2000) Learning outside the classroom is about raising achievement through an organised, powerful approach to learning in which direct experience is of prime importance.
This is not only about what we learn but importantly how and where we learn. (Learning Outside the Classroom (2006)) … museums and galleries …, in themselves, understood as educational establishment. They were set up to enable people to educate themselves... Museums were one opportunity among many of acquiring knowledge. (Hooper-Greenhill 1994, p. 1) Museums are still very much thought of as educational establishments but the audience for whom they cater for varies very much from one museum to another.
Formal and informal educations are two terms that are used to describe the type of education that a person receives. Formal is the set ‘curriculum’ that is taught in the traditional school setting. Whereas informal education is the curriculum taught in museums or other institutes that are outside of the schools. (Hein 1998, p. 7) Children’s museums are not museums in the traditional sense. They are different in their missions, in their approach and in their specifically targeted age-group. (Pearce 1998, p. 19) Eureka! s a museum that has been specially designed for a specific age group, and is the UK’s first and foremost museum for children. Historical context of Eureka! Eureka was first opened in July 1992 by HRH
The Prince of Wales, as an educational charity, the idea for Eureka was modelled on the North American concept of a Children’s Museum and remains to be the only museum of its type and scale. The basis of children’s museums is in interactivity, learning by doing, learning through fun, learning through play. (Pearce 1998, p. 6) Since it has opened it has enjoyed unrivalled success, proving popular with children, parents and teachers alike. At Eureka! there are over 400 hands on, must touch exhibits, each teaching children more about themselves and reflecting the world in which they are growing up in, it is achieved by a fun approach to learning and development. Eureka! meets National Curriculum requirements, it has six themed galleries and a full programme of interactive workshops covering an imaginative range of curriculum themes to support Foundation, KS1 and KS2 learning.
The education service aims to take the hassle out of school visits by providing fully structured itineraries, picnic and storage facilities, staff support, teaching resources and work sheets. Museums are the world of ‘infotainment’ and ‘edutainment’ where people have fun but also learn something. (Pearce 1998, p. 80) Learning Experiences Teachers are provided with an education resource pack which includes detailed notes on how to get the best from each of the museum’s section and indicates links to the National Curriculum. There are also special workshops which may be booked for school classes. (Pearce 1998, p. 7) The museum also provides special designed packages for the school holidays and Science activities, also sleepovers that have to be pre-booked.
‘Me and My Body’ encourages children to find out more about themselves by using the exhibits to discover how the body and the five different senses work, also it enables visitors to use various aids to experience what it is like to have a disability. ‘Living and Working Together’ that recreates an environment where visitors can discover the mysteries of daily life and try out the jobs people do in the many buildings on a high street and in the house.. Our Global Garden’ helps children the familiar 'backyard' to amazing gardens that exist in the world. It is themed around seven different 'gardens'; each telling their own unique story, whilst emphasising the inter-relationships between them, finding out what makes them precious and how best to look after them. ‘SoundSpace’ provides children with a unique experience, enabling them to explore and understand sound, music and performance through state-of-the-art technology, by exploring the physics of sound by seeing and feeling vibrations and creating their very own musical sequences.
Throughout the experience, Sound Space aims to enhance the understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) by exploring the unique relationships that exist between music and creativity, science, technology and the arts in a fun and accessible way. Over the past three years Eureka! has been the lead partner for Creative Minds, a ? 3. 8 million pound regional initiative to encourage children’s interest and learning in STEM; to help in the creation of a future workforce. The 'Creative Minds' project is to provide young people with learning opportunities in STEM from 2003 to 2006.
Over 15,000 learning opportunities have been delivered to both young people, their teachers and those who work in the sector. (Publication Material, Creative Minds (2005)) ‘SoundGarden and Desert Discovery’, these galleries aim to extend opportunities in the museum for babies and young children to develop their senses and stretch their imaginations. These galleries support early education principles of learning through play, reflecting the intentions of the Birth to Three Matters framework and the Foundation Stage curriculum.
It is expected that the lifep of exhibits vary from 5-7 years and that the cost of devising, designing, fabricating and installing new exhibits in the future will need to be raised from various sources including charitable foundations and corporate sponsorships. (Pearce 1998, p. 67) The latest two galleries opened in 2004 and respectively in 2005. The museum needs to keep abreast of changes in school education; for example, the National Curriculum, that now emphasises on practical experience. (McLean 2003, p. 113)
Meticulous care is taken when devising and developing new exhibits for a children’s museum, to ensure that they will engage the target audience and enable them to learn as well as have fun. Exhibits are tested and modified in the light of children’s reaction and views. There are opportunities for comments and suggestions. As child-centred organisations the museums concentrate their resources on ensuring that they serve the needs of the children. (Pearce 1998, p. 113) The learning experiences found in Eureka! helps the child to make sense of the world around them by making links between feelings and learning.
This is part of life-long learning as these feelings stay with the child into adulthood and affect their behaviour, lifestyle and work. It influences their values and the decisions made. It allows the child to transfer learning experienced outside to the classroom and vice versa. A commitment to life-long learning can demonstrate a positive social role for a museum and can also meet the demands from funding bodies for demonstrating public benefit and greater public accountability. (American Association of Museums 1993 cited in McLean 2003, p. 114) Inclusitivity
Eureka! is a registered Educational Charitable Trust, in 1987 with the support of the museum’s patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, business sponsorship, government grants and the local council, it found its town centre site in Halifax, it later opened in 1992. The museum is situated five minutes from the motorway in Halifax town centre, next to the railway station on a 12. 5 acre site. It is a two storey, visible steel, stone and glass exposed structure. The whole site is accessible to wheelchair users and there is level access with a lift between floors.
The convenience of location and ease of access is an important dominant of usage, the access includes physical access for those who are physically disabled. A limited number of wheelchairs are available on loan and also has special parking for them. It has not debarred the disabled and has attempted to provide for their needs. (McLean 2003, p. 134) For anyone with visual or hearing impairments, there is a full range of multi-sensory, highly stimulating exhibits available. Programmes can be adapted for particular needs as long as the museum is informed beforehand for school groups.
Museum information is available in large print and houses a ‘Talking map’ that talks in four different languages. It is ideal for partially sighted individuals but it does not include any Braille for the blind people, so in this case it is a disadvantage for this certain group. Throughout the entire museum there is no inclusion for the blind, even though the galleries and the museum are designed so that these consumers are still able to visit, but it can not be done alone, they need someone to accompany them but the essential carers are admitted free.
The talking map also caters for people whose first language is not English. The site is well lit, with colourful lighting that attracts and engages the children into wanting to explore. The signage for directions are appropriate for the audience for whom it caters for, the children mostly, they are all big and colourful with pictures as well as writing. The gallery signage and information is at average eyelevel for all aged grouped children and legible. The toilets for both the able and disabled toilets are clearly marked and changing facilities are also available.
The museum was established as an educational charity and not for profit organisation, therefore Eureka! receives no government funding and must rely upon admission fees. These admission fees combined with transport costs mean that individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds or in areas of deprivation are missing out on the experiences that are offered. The prices are debarring a group of individuals from using the museums. These independent museums depend on visitors, it is consumer oriented, and has to be user-friendly, so it has an instinct and a need to reach out and serve their public. Sekers cited in McLean 2003, p. 30) The museum has offers for educational visits and large groups in order to reduce the cost of the visits to the museum, but on an individual family outing the prices are fixed. (Eureka! Publication Material, Appendix I) Health & Safety The building has its own risk assessment form that must be filled out before a group of children are allowed to visit for educational school visits. The building and exhibits are designed to minimise risk of injury from slips, trips, falls and finger traps.
All elements of the museum are constantly monitored and modified to meet current safety standards. All the signage is marked and the dangers indicated. The museum has a lost children procedure is in place with the staff having the appropriate confirmed by national qualifications. The museum has qualified First Aiders on duty every day and the staffs are checked for relevant criminal history. The maintenance activities are carried out in accordance with HSWA 1974 and MHSW Regulations 1999 by trained technicians.
Electrical and portable appliance testing is carried out annually in accordance with 16th Edition Regulations. Also, the fire evacuations and training are carried out in accordance with Fire Risk Assessment and Fire Certificates. Group leaders are advised to carry out their own risk assessment in accordance with their organisations aims. (Appendix II) The museum provides the teachers with information sheets for each area of the museum. The risk assessments are available for operations and activities as appropriate with again all the signage clearly marked.
As the museum is designed for ‘hands-on’ the risk assessment on all the equipment and facilities are checked daily and regularly to ensure they comply with safety regulations. Eureka! is covered by public liability and Employers liability insurances and has written accident and emergency procedures in place. Eureka! is licensed by local authority regulations for all safety, fire, plant and lifting equipment and appropriate certificates are held. Conclusion
There can be no absolute blue print for children’s museums beyond the key characteristics mentioned previously. Otherwise each group or organisation will have its own emphasis and idea of what makes their museum special and important to its area. Diversity is one of the strengths of the movement. The emphasis is always on learning, exploring, on discovery. For that reason, in developing a British model it may be appropriate to adapt the term children’s discovery centre or children’s discovery museum for future use.