Museums plan summer of fun for children - Museums Association

Museums plan summer of fun for children

Venues focus on play to give youngsters a boost after lockdown
Young people
Children participating in Tate’s Early Years Programme. Tate Modern is launching a free programme of playful activities for all ages this summer
Children participating in Tate’s Early Years Programme. Tate Modern is launching a free programme of playful activities for all ages this summer © Tate

From giant doodles to sensory zones, museums, galleries and heritage sites are gearing up for a summer of fun to boost wellbeing among children and young people after a traumatic year.

Many institutions are preparing to take part in the UK-wide Summer of Play campaign led by children’s charities including Play England, Chwarae Cymru (Play Wales), Play Scotland and Save the Children.

A high point of the campaign will be the annual Playday – taking place on Wednesday 4 August this year – which celebrates children’s right to unrestricted play. Playday 2021 aims to recognise the challenges children and young people have faced over the past year and “the need to enjoy time for play free of restrictions, with their friends, having fun”.

Royal Museums Greenwich in London and Coventry Transport Museum are among the institutions running family workshops and activities to tie-in with the Summer of Play campaign.

Play Wales is inviting museums in Wales to take part in a free online coaching and information session at 1400-1500 on 19 July to introduce the Playday and Summer of Play campaigns and provide guidance how to encourage and stimulate play at their venues. The session will provide ideas on low-tech, Covid-secure and simple ways to encourage play. Email Play Wales' Charlotte Derry at to sign up.

In Scotland, where summer holidays began in late June, Dunfermline’s heritage quarter is participating in the Summer of Play initiative through its Summer Safari, which invites children to track down wildlife at several of the city’s museums and heritage sites and record it in their HQ Explorer Past-ports.


Meanwhile under-16s are welcome free of charge at all Historic Environment Scotland (HES) sites as part of the Get Into Summer programme, which runs until 17 August.

The programme is part of a £20m government initiative to create opportunities for youngsters to socialise, play and reconnect throughout the summer. In addition, HES is providing extra support to families during the summer holidays, handing out thousands of free Playing with the Past activity packs to encourage imaginative play inspired by Scotland's castles.

Kids can play for free at Historic Environment Scotland sites this summer

“Historic sites are fantastic places for inspiring creativity, letting young imaginations run wild and for children, their parents, and carers to play and learn together,” says Craig Fletcher, HES’s head of learning and inclusion.

National Galleries Scotland is also distributing art packs to charities and families accessing food banks this summer. Each Art Fuel pack includes a free day bus ticket for the whole family to come and enjoy its new outdoor play area. It is continuing to engage digitally with children through Your Art World, a virtual community that challenges three- to 18-year-olds to create and share their art online.

Other institutions are embedding play into their summer exhibition programmes. Whitchurch Silk Mill in Hampshire is creating a sensory play zone, Colour, Light, Play, aimed at helping preschool children regain the ability to play with others that some lost during lockdown.


The mill has also expanded its outdoor offer for children, with more opportunities to explore its gardens and a new water play area, alongside its grass maze, fairy trail and a nature hunt.

As schools in England prepare to break for summer next week, London’s Tate Modern is launching Uniqlo Tate Play, a new free programme of art-inspired activities for families, which will run all year round.

The first highlight of the programme will be Mega Please Draw Freely, a project by the contemporary artist Ei Arakawa to transform the floor of the gallery’s Turbine Hall into a giant work of art. Between 24 July and 29 August, visitors of all ages will be invited to cover the floor with their doodles using crayons and drawing materials provided for free – inspired by the Gutai group of Japanese artists whose work in the 1950s focused on public participation and children’s play.

Jiro Yoshihara’s 1956 installation Please Draw Freely inspired Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall project this summer

“The Gutai group saw children’s creativity as central to art,” says Frances Morris, director of Tate Modern. “They put playfulness, self-expression and collaboration at the heart of their work – ideas which continue to inspire new generations of artists like Ei Arakawa today. This spectacular project will be the perfect way to launch Uniqlo Tate Play, a new series of regular activations, installations and experiences that will transform Tate Modern for families of all ages.”

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What are your plans?

Whether you’re planning school holiday activities at your museum or planning to take your children to their favourite heritage sites, we want to shout about all the amazing things that are on offer in museums this summer.

Use #MuseumSummer to share your stories with us and join in the conversation throughout July and August.

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