Northern Ireland Museum Council - Museums Association

Northern Ireland Museum Council

Playful Museums are local museums creating fun, engaging and accessible spaces for young children, toddlers, babies and their carers, families and educators.

The aim is to make museums and their collections accessible and meaningful to those who are not typical museum audiences. This involves a shift in approach for parents, childcare workers and museum staff, who as a result have become more playful and discovered new techniques to engage the very young.

Initially a one-year pilot funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund, the work has become embedded in the local museum sector, driven and coordinated by the NI Museums Council. This strategic lead involves partnership-building, training, promotion of an annual Playful Museums Festival, the development of a working group and grant support for bespoke programming.

The children were very engaged and enjoyed exploring the items on display

Training for the sector focuses on child development and creative techniques to engage under-fives. Community engagement is based on dialogue and rapport-building to design activities that support early childhood development and learning through fun, active play.

The highlight of Playful Museums is the festival, which takes place in February every year. This is a month-long series of bespoke under-fives programming across local museums in Northern Ireland. In 2019, 13 museums programmed 34 events and more than 5,000 people participated. Early Childhood Studies BA students from Stranmillis University College work with museums to develop creative and fun activities linked to their collections that support early child development.

As part of the initiative, Carrickfergus Museum created Micah the monkey, a well-loved puppet, based on a Barbary ape skeleton on display in the museum. The museum has developed a new Playzone for under-fives and offers weekly Super Saturdays with Micah.

Participants said the programme helped them develop new skills

“I really enjoyed it as it was suitable for my three-year-old to be independent but also created an opportunity to bond with me.”

“The children were very engaged and enjoyed exploring the items on display.”

“The Playful Museums Festival is a great event and something which we look forward to every year.”