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An enjoyable family day out - providing you have children that look at things properly
Hancock Museum (Newcastle)
Member Name: abigailhiggins
Hancock Museum (Newcastle)
Advantages: Varied exhibitions and hands on activities for children
Disadvantages: Layout is a little confusing, restaurant is expensive, and some activities were broken
As this museum, since its reopening, has had awful reviews I thought that I would write a good one, as I'm sure many visitors, such as myself, have enjoyed their visits there.
I visited the museum, now known as 'The Great North Museum; Hancock' during the summer holidays 2009, with my 8 year old niece and 10 year old nephew. I have been an avid museum visiter since I was a child. I used to get dragged around them by my parents, but I think that this helped me to enjoy them now that I'm an adult. I can enjoy looking at all sorts of things, so museums that others would find dull, I would probably at least be able to tolerate. My nephew and niece, on the other hand don't visit many museums, so aren't natural fans, and so I was hoping that this museum would be 'child friendly.'
The museum is fairly easy to find, and is close to a Metro station. It is free to visit, which is a Godsend in these difficult financial times, and also useful for parents as school holidays can be very financially draining! Upon entering the museum you are practically inside the gift shop, which I agree must be difficult for people with younger children to entice away from, but my 2 were old enough to be told that we would look around the mueum first and go to the shop at the end of the trip.
The first part of the museum that you come to, downstairs, is a large hall, filled with all sorts of different animals and creatures. It is visually quite impressive, and my 2 enjoyed looking at all the different animal exhibits. There are also a couple of live exhibits. There are also computer touch screens to find out more about certain animals in the gallery. Other galleries are accesible through that one, and there are various exhibitions, such as one about Roman life, and the one that the children I was with enjoyed the most was the one that detailed the various creatures that had lived before the dinosaurs, up to dinosaur times. There were some dinosaur skeletons, which my nephew thought were 'cool,' and some models of how dinosaurs would have looked. There were some interactive things to do, such as jigsaw type puzzles, and a couple of activities on computer screens. It depends on the sort of children you're with whether they would do these or not. My niece wanted to do everything, and so my nephew joined it with all the activities too, and they looked at the exhibits with interest, but I imagine that some children might have ran through the hall in 2 minutes flat without looking at anything.
Upstairs, there is a sort of landing that goes along the top of the animal gallery, so you can see the animals displayed up high, a bit more clearly. There is an egyptian exhibition, which for some reason, my nephew and niece weren't too interested by, but I thought it was quite good. They did like the activity where you have to use the blocks provided to make a model pyramid, with my nephew insisting that his cousin not look while he did it so she wouldn't be able to 'cheat' on her turn, and then proceeded to try and help her when it was her turn anyway, when she wanted to do it herself! There was also a darkened tunnel to walk into, with projections of water and fire and things on the ground. I think this was to do with the egyptians belief of death, but can't quite remember. I know it was very popular with children to walk through though. Also upstairs was an exhibition about birds and various woodland creatures. Upstairs also houses the planetarium, which cost extra and we didn't bother with, so I can't really comment on that. Also, there was a restaurant, which we visited. It wasn't really big enough, as we were fortunate to get a table, but we saw lots of people being turned away. The food was quite expensive, which I was expecting, as I'm used to museum prices. I suppose they have to have it fairly dear as they don't charge for entry to the museum. I managed to tempt the kids with a sausage stottie sandwich, which was about the cheapest thing on the menu! There is also another shop upstairs, smaller than the downstairs one, but with a range of cheap and expensive gifts.
One other part that I should mention is the room for (supposedly) under fives. I think it's called the 'Mouse House' or something like that. It is downstairs, at the end of one of the galleries. I noticed it first, but didn't mention it to the children as I thought they would be too old. But when they saw it they wanted to go in, and we must have spent about half an hour in there! It's a room with some holes in one wall, that children crawl through to get into the mouse hole, which is just a space with some cushions. It's big enough for a few kids to sit in there, and I think kids like it as generally adults are too big for the holes and so they can get away from mum and dad! Also in the room are some little doors that open and then you hear various sounds. There's not much else in there though, but for some reason my two loved it! I was a bit cross though because the room is billed on the museum leaflet as being for under fives, so I felt that small children should take priority. Lots of parents/carers were just letting their older ones rampage around though, and it was a small room so toddlers were in danger of being trampled on. When my nephew began a game of 'Tag' I quickly stopped it, so my 2 were content to just sit in the 'hole' and talk to the other kids in there, but I was the only one who spoke to children about their behaviour; the other adults were happy for theirs to charge about, which I didn't think was very fair on the little ones there.
At the end of the visit my 2 spent a good half an hour in the shops, choosing little goodies to buy. There were some quite expensive things, that would have made good Christmas or birthday presents, but there was a range of things from about 50p to £2 that most kids were getting, and my 2 were happy to go away with a couple of little nicknacks.
I can't remember the exact timings of the day, but I think we arrived at about 11am and left at about 4pm, so we spent a good 5 hours in the museum. We all had a really good day, and the kids both told their parents that they had enjoyed it. My nephew took quite a few photos of the animal exhibits while we were there, and was keen to show them to his mum straight away.
As other reviewers have said that they did not enjoy their visit then I don't think anyone else will know whether they will like it or not until they actually go there and see for themselves. Adults who enjoy museums should like it, as there is a lot to see, but if you are going without children then I wouldn't recommend going during school holidays! As for families with children, that really depends on what expectations the families have. I expected to look at everything and to spend a good few hours there, so we did. I encouraged the children I was with to look at things, and to try out the interactive activities and so they did, and they enjoyed the day. I know some children just race around museums with their parents following them, and so they could have been in and out of the Hancock within an hour, probably less, and so wouldn't have enjoyed it. This museum was perfect for the ages of children that I had with me - 8 and 10, as they were old enough to look at things properly, and to find the exhibits interesting. I wouldn't recommend this museum to children under about 6, unless they are the type of children who really enjoy looking at museum exhibits. There is not a great deal for young children to do at the museum. There is the 'Mouse House' but apart from a few doors to open and the 'hole' to explore, there's not much there, and it won't hold young children's interest for very long. I also have a 2 year old nephew, who loved the Discovery Museum in Newcastle, as it had a large water play area for under fives, but I wouldn't take him to the Hancock for a good few years yet.
My nephew and niece enjoyed the hands on activities, but, although the museum had not been open long, there were a couple that had already stopped working, which was disappointing. I think whoever is in charge of these needs to decide either to check them every day and replace them as soon as they break, or to take away the ones that don't work and put something else there, as it's disappointing for children to find an activity to do and then discover that it doesn't work.
Summary: Lots to see and do, if you already know that your family enjoys museums
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