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Robots, hoovers and teddy bears
V&A Museum of Childhood (London)
Member Name: dee778
V&A Museum of Childhood (London)
Advantages: Child friendly, well run, free !
For a long time I had heard about the Museum of Childhood in London, but in my imagination it was a small, dark and musty museum with limited interest. I couldn't have been more wrong; a school trip took me there for a day with forty 16 year olds, and I can reliably say that everybody had an entertaining and informative time in this light, airy and free interactive museum.
The museum is a fascinating collection of everything to do with childhood; toys from across the ages, original examples of children's clothing, extravagant and enormous dolls houses, games, puppets and puppet shows, and much more. There will be things that you recognise from your own childhood, whatever your age - there will be things that you always wanted but never had. It will make you feel a bit sad and nostalgic but at the same time it will excite and entertain you.
The Museum of Childhood started life in 1872 as the Bethnal Green Museum. A notice by the café informs visitors that the unusual black and white fish scale marble floor was laid by female prisoners in that year. Since then the Museum has gradually evolved to become the child welcoming and child-centred place it is today; reorganised to become more child focussed in 1922 with the addition of teachers and classrooms, it started to source child-related objects.
Over the following 23 years the childhood area of the museum became more and more popular and in 1974 it formally became the Museum of Childhood. All childhood related objects from other areas of the V&A were relocated to Bethnal Green and non-childhood related objects were moved out.
From 2005 to 2006 the museum was closed for a massive refurbishment, with new entrance, lifts and improved access. The result is traditional but at the same time bright and modern - a very attractive museum that children love and which attracts over 400,000 visitors every year.
We gathered our group inside the large entrance lobby. This area is bright and tastefully decorated with a green and cream décor with 3 large fun mobiles hanging down in front of the wide entrance to the galleries. The cream marble floor gives the museum a very European feel and was a comfortable place for us to instruct our students and present the tasks.
The lobby also has a designated buggy park area. This is not secure but a member of uniformed staff was drifting around in the area which gave parents some reassurance.
In this area we were welcomed by a designated member of staff, who gave the students an overview of the museum, with a hint of what to look out for. This talk was very appropriate for the age group, reminding them to look carefully inside the dolls house display as this gives a good indication of the way in which houses were actually arranged and decorated through the ages.
We were told where to leave coats and bags, and then left to our own devices.
Walking through the large main doors into the galleries, I was immediately hit by the height and the bright airy space. I was also hit by the noise; the place was very full of excited children, most of them very young and all of them with very excited voices. Undeterred, my teenage students plunged inside, heading straight up the stairs to the top galleries which contained the Childhood galleries. Each section of the childhood galleries explores a different aspect of childhood; how babies were cared for, the changes in children's clothing, what is the meaning of a home. These galleries are the most historical in the museum, housing objects from all eras. I was horribly fascinated by the glass breast pump and feeding bottles, but there were also high chairs and perambulators. Many of the toys in this area were very familiar to me, reinforcing the way in which girls of my generation were limited to toys that reproduced housewifely life - I recognised my old toy hoover, cooker, mangle and toy sewing machine.
The Ground floor galleries were much busier - the younger children were having a lovely time in this more interactive area. This floor holds the moving toys gallery on one side and the creativity gallery on the other. We all loved looking at the toys in both of these areas and recognising them from our own childhoods. How I longed for a Rolf Harris stylophone in the sixties - and why would my mum never buy me a Space Hopper? My colleague greeted Sindy and Barbie with great joy.
Some very odd dolls and golliwogs can be seen in the display of toys from around the world - some of them from China and Japan many of our students found rather scary and sinister.
Children of all ages enjoyed the interactive games area - this included a dance game, a reactions game and a virtual cycle race. There are also timed organised art and craft activities in this area for children. A firm favourite with smaller children was the interactive robot - winding his handle and putting a complicated set of cogs into place resulted in this life sized robot whirring into life with flashing lights, moving parts and whirring noises. The smaller children were ecstatic.
The two floors are connected by four sets of stairs and every gallery opens out into the central well so that you can look down onto the café courtyard and the book / toy shop below. Each gallery is fully accessible by lift and there are lots of seats and benching for weary parents.
In the basement we were shown the Clore Learning centre, where my college had a timed slot to sit down on the tables to eat a packed lunch. This area can also be used as a teaching area, and I saw around 3 other school parties apart from ours, all making good use of the area. The coats and bags that we had left were left in this area - again not secure, but put in large plastic bins which ran along one side of the room.
~~Toilets and other facilities ~~
Toilets are located in the basement. There are spacious male and female toilets both with baby changing facilities and low sinks and toilets for children. There were enough cubicles in the ladies to accommodate the noisy primary school party who had a group wee just before I went in - from memory there were about 10 cubicles and no queue, which is always nice.
Of the three hand driers in the ladies, one was out of order. Although the area was fairly clean, there was a lingering unpleasant smell, which my male colleague confirmed was also the case in the male toilets.
There is one disabled toilet which is kept locked. It is opened with a RADAR key or you can ask an assistant for key. Unfortunately the nearest assistant and key was back upstairs, which I thought could have been a bit annoying if you had come all the way down in a wheelchair.
In the interests of review writing, I also put my head around the door of the Quiet Room. This held a bed, sink and chair and was obviously designed for those who were overcome by the noise and excitement of the museum.
A member of staff immediately noticed my interest and rushed over to see if I was feeling OK. He was very kind and concerned and I thought this was an excellent indication of the helpfulness and professionalism of all the staff there.
I had previously chatted to a lovely lady who was counting and welcoming people in the foyer. She was delightful, chatting to everybody and singing beautiful opera to herself during quieter moments.
Every member of staff I met was smiling and welcoming, from the curator who greeted, welcomed and organised our party to the servers in the canteen.
The café is located right in the centre of museum so parents can sit and have a coffee while keeping an eye on children who may be roaming the galleries. This café is apparently the "award winning benugo café" and prides itself on handmade and authentic products.
Although all of the food looked extremely good quality and very fresh and tempting, the prices were definitely on the high side. I had a very delicious and good value latte for £2.30, but balked at paying £4.50 for the cheapest sandwich, even though it was a delicious looking ciabatta.
A sausage roll cost £3.10; the spinach roulade or quiche £4.10 and salad an extra £1.50. The café offered smaller, cheaper portions for children and there were free bottles of tap water on every table.
The café sold exceptionally healthy products considering that its main clientele were children. They did not succumb to any fast food or sugary drinks. They sold small boxes of raisin snacks and healthy fresh fruit pots for snacks.
In good weather visitors can use the picnic tables outside to eat packed lunches.
I would highly recommend this for a day out with or without children, and I wished I had taken my own boys there when they were younger. We spent 2 hours there and were fully occupied the whole time, and this was without engaging in any of the organised activities.
The museum is very interesting, very child focussed and obviously has put a lot of thought and effort into making it a really good day out.
~~Opening Hours and Directions ~~
Open 10am to 5.45 daily (last admission 5.30)
Entrance is Free
The museum is easily reached by tube, Bethnal Green tube station being much closer to Liverpool Street in real life than it looks on the tube map.
The museum is a few hundred yards away from the tube entrance and clearly signposted from the moment you pass through the ticket barrier.
At the moment the museum is not in the congestion charging zone, and pay and display parking is available nearby. Free on site parking for disabled visitors can be arranged.
V&A Museum of Childhood
Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9PA
Summary: A really good day out