How can we help children engage with the contents of our amazing museums and galleries? We ask an expert.
As kids, we all remember those educational trips to museums where the subject matter was drier than the dinosaur bones on display and the highlight of the day was the gift shop.
But with so many new museums popping up in our capital, there’s no time like the present to start getting your children engaged to nurture a lifelong love for culture.
Planning a visit
With endless information available at the click of a button via the device in our pockets, do we still need museums and galleries for our children’s learning?
Absolutely, says Sharifa bin Horaiz, content development manager of the education and professional development department at the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.
“The physical museum brings people together from all sorts of different backgrounds,” she explains. “It’s usually a place where a variety of cultures can be seen in the same place – it’s valuable to experience it physically.”
While we may feel that the museum has escaped technology’s clutches, many are now producing their own apps and online content, which might be helpful in engaging your kids.
“Many museums are using smartphone and mobile apps to their advantage where you may be able to take a tour of the museum or look through the galleries before you get there,” Sharifa says.
“It can be a great tool for adding that layer to interpretation, and because the spaces are accessible in different ways, it’s almost an introduction to a real-life experience.”
When you visit, treat each painting or artefact as an opportunity for learning and discussion – and we don’t mean reading the information plaques in silence.
“If we think of what a museum used to be, it was these objects separated by glass,” Sharifa observes. “But there are so many ways now that we can enjoy museums and galleries. Technology is just one of the ways that can help you understand – it can let you zoom in, rotate, get closer.
“There are a variety of different elements and tools, such as programming, workshops and event days,” she adds. “It can come down to what sort of learner or visitor you are. Are you there to learn more about a particular topic, or could it be more of an informal passive learning experience?”
Learning can take many forms, but to get kids interested, Sharifa recommends asking them to describe what’s in front of them.
“It can be as simple as listing everything you see,” she advises. “Is it a painting, a sculpture, what are the colours, the shapes? What emotions does it evoke? This leads to a variety of different discussions that you won’t get by flipping through an app.
“Children are generally more forthcoming about art than some adults are – we don’t like to get things wrong,” she laughs. “I think that it’s important to remember that children respond to it and it’s okay to do so in any way. It’s not necessarily about getting the artist’s intentions correct, but having fun while looking, especially for families, is so important.”
“Many museums will offer collateral to help people to develop anything from language skills to problem solving,” she adds. “This might include an activity guide pack that includes props, tactile objects and nuggets of information that help parents and children understand the subject. [It] facilitates communication and develops and stimulates curiosity, helping adults and children alike to investigate further.”
They won’t have time to get bored here…
- Louvre Abu Dhabi: The Children’s Museum at this famous art gallery offers two floors of interactive learning for kids aged six to 12. AED 63 for adults, AED 31.50 for children over 13 and free for children under 13. Saadiyat Island. Sat-Sun and Tue-Wed 10am-8pm, Thu-Fri 10am-10pm. Contact: 600 565 566, louvreabudhabi.ae
- Manarat Al Saadiyat: From film and music workshops to creative classes, this cultural hub is the place to be for hands-on learning. Prices vary. Saadiyat Island. Daily 9am-8pm. Contact: 02 657 5800, manaratalsaadiyat.ae
- Warehouse 421: With ever-changing exhibitions, plus film screenings, talks and workshops, this location offers a cross-curricular approach to cultural learning. Prices vary. Mina Zayed, near Mina Center. Tue-Sun 10am-8pm. Visit: warehouse421.ae
WORDS Camille Hogg