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An Essay project on the Interaction at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Central London in 2010

The aim of my project is to explore twentieth century theories of everyday life at the V&A Childhood Museum. I would like to discuss about the social \ interactive activities that are available and have adults- children interaction in a creative environment. There are activities and plenty of toys that can be part of their practice of routine with in their everyday life. This project will help me to demonstrate the importance of playing with toys which improve learning, interaction, social skills, imagination and creativity as well as problem solving skills between parents and their children.

One of the reason I chose to write about V&A Museum of Childhood is because I believe that all the displays and activities help to promote cultural tolerance and helping children to recognize similar interest and experience a sense of shared identity from all over the world. The changing relationships between children and adults in a range of different cultures as expressed by the display of the toys, objects, clothes, and furniture artifacts from various periods and cultures within the environment.

A study by John Pearce suggested that;

"Why people have to leave their home country and settle in foreign countries. They can also

learn how people are able to build up new existence with creativity, imagination and perseverance despite a difficult starting point. By bringing different cultures together and so inspire some cultural learning." J, Pearce (1998) p.101-102

The Museum of Childhood was always called the Museum of Childhood. It started out at the Bethnal Green Museum and was opened by HRH the Prince of Wales on 24th June 1872. The exhibits were made up of collections from food and animal products, showing what useful things could be made of fur and feathers. It started to concentrate more on childhood history, from 1920 onwards with old dolls houses and toys. During the Second World War and until 1950, the museum operated as a British Canteen, for feeding the general public. The Museum re-opened in 1974 and finally got the official title of the Museum of Childhood. All childhood-related collections held at the V&A at the South Kensington were moved to Bethnal Green and all non-childhood related objects at Bethnal Green stayed in South Kensington. It is now recognized a National Museum and has the largest collection of childhood related objects in Great Britain.

The entrance of the V&A Museum of Childhood, London.

The Museum aims to encourage everyone to explore the themes of childhood past and present and develop an appreciation of creative design through inspirational collections and programs. The museum runs a dynamic program of temporary exhibitions and displays a wide variety of activities and workshops for families. It also has a program for schools with teaching sessions and resources linked directly to the national curriculum.

The museum of childhood is spread over 4 floors, with the mezzanine and the first floor acting like a balcony around the edges of the building so you can look down over the ground floor central hall where the shop, information desks and the cafe are situated. (Illus.2) \In 2003, refurbishment and improvement works completed to the building, the Museum's upper galleries were also redisplayed. The shop, information desk and cafe were also redesigned to make them more open and accessible. The upper Childhood Galleries which include the dolls' houses, were redisplayed with a thematic approach, creating an interactive area where children, parents with their babies can play.

In November 2005, the Museum was closed further refurbishment, which was completed in the end of December 2006, concentrating on the development of essential facilities for the Museum's priority audiences, including schools and community groups. Specific improvements made to the museum included: the construction of a stylish welcoming new entrance enabling groups to move more freely, easing congestion at peak times, a new gallery dedicated to displaying artwork and the construction of a lift near the entrance foyer to ensure all levels of the museum are fully accessible. Improved lunchroom, cloakroom and new toilet facilities and a new learning centre space for school groups and including a designated space for community art and craft workshops.

On the lower ground floor, there are two main gallery permanent displays, Creativity and Moving toys. The moving toys, which explores some of the toys that were designed to demonstrating how they achieve that movement. This movement can be very fascinating for children who investigate why it moves and what is its function. This movement. The Museum's Creativity Gallery is made up of four areas Imagine, Be Inspired, Explore and Make it Happen. In this area they learn to communicate in different ways, by drawing, writing or experimenting the object around them. Creativity section features examples of toys related to the development of imagination and creativity during childhood. This section is the ability to challenge, question and explore arts and science. The more materials and ideas children are familiar with, the more creative they will become.

When children are given a new topic to learn, they need to know they can be experimental and be creative making a rhyme about it, making a dance about it, making a drawing about it. The activity, bringing creativity into learning shows just how creative parents and their children can be by making something of their own, for example pretending a child being a cashier and the parent being a customer in a grocery store the children can learn about coins and counting them for their math skills. Through this type of activity, they develop different social skills, such as empathy in role-play, and negotiation, in sharing their toys with others.

One of the objects on display under the title called “Institute of Play” (Illus.1) which is a cityscape of building blocks created by artist Colin Booth. They can be seen at the Museum’s Central Hall near the Information desk. Artist Colin Booth has created 3000 wooden blocks for children to create their own buildings and cities. By playing with blocks, they learn to negotiate with materials they want to use, this gives them an opportunity to use their brain and recreate things they have seen in their life. Seeing these kind of objects at the museum encourage children to use their curiosity to develop higher level of thinking. Children can ask questions about the blocks, sizes, and weight by themselves. They negotiate with the objects physical features, construction, function, value and design purpose, what colour is it, what is it made of, how has it been put together, how have the blocks been used before, does she like the way blocks looks like, do the blocks do the job they were intended to do like in the past. Building blocks also helps them to develop a child's hand-eye coordination, as well as enabling them to learn how to put things together.

Colin Booth, 2010,”Institute of Play” Wooden Blocks, London: The V&A Museum of Childhood.

On the first floor, Childhood Galleries show rows and rows of glass cabinets of dolls, teddy bears, games, miniature houses which tells the social story of children using a variety of objects, from dolls' houses to children's clothing dating from the 1600s to the present day. The Galleries are organized into the following themes: Babies, Home, What We Wear, Who Will I Be, How We Learn, Good Times and Families. The displays have been designed to enable visitors, especially children, to compare their own experiences of life with those experienced in the past and in different cultures.

There are also reading areas provided where visitors can discover more about the themes explored and where both adults and children can engage with related interactive exhibits. Throughout the galleries, visitors will find representations of childhood drawn from the Museum's collection of artworks and objects. The How We Learn display shows how toys can be used for learning important skills, such as counting, reading and spelling, both at home and at school. Who Will I Be focuses on toys that children use when playing at being grown-ups, this is very good for role-play area for children which features a work/play vehicle which regularly changes from an ambulance to a police car, to a fire engine and even an airplane, and includes clothes for dressing up. The What We Wear displays uses real and play items to illustrate the changes in fashion over the past 300 years. There is a dress up section for visitors to touch fabrics on display and try on hats and shoes from different times in the past.

The Good Times area looks at children's experience of holidays, parties and celebrations, joining clubs and simply playing games. It also explores the great tradition of the British seaside holiday with mementoes, postcards, seaside toys etc. At the heart of Good Times is a large sandpit beach for young children to play in and deck chairs for adults to sit and read the paper. There are adult and child-sized Punch and Judy booths for visitors to put on their own shows for family and friends.

According to Freelander Gibsons ;

"Children’s museum stands as a bridge between learners, the child’s world and the and the adult world, today’s youngster and the responsible citizen in the communities of tomorrow. The most common role other museums see for future children’s museums is to continue their child centered ways... the striking one that children’s museum play a research and experimentation role in areas such as museum learning, family learning, interactive, exhibitory and even schooling." Freedlander,G.(1999) p.10

While children are playing they can express themselves with all their senses, developing motor skills, problem solving, learn to share, take turns and learns to use their language skills. The skills that a child learns and practices during play also have application to their daily activities and life skills. The eye-hand coordination which a child develops and refines while putting the tea pot on a burner while playing can be applied to putting a key into lock in her daily life. A Child’s daily activities like being fed by parents applies when she feeds her teddy bear as she role plays as her mother. Children having a good time playing are when the children get together and play, they learn in a natural way. One of the benefits of playing is that children will respond to each other’s actions. The active side of playing is when children get together and play games like falling down in “ring a ring a roses“ or clapping “if you are happy and you know it. It gives children a chance to take part and reinforce their understanding and learning.

Play also involves repetition, it is possible to repeat words and actions more often in a play group activity than it is during normal activities. Children can spend hours having a tea party interacting with others by sharing the toys and learn to take turns with actions or words, which is the essential element of shared play and conversation. Play integrates many of the senses. Children more likely to learn and remember what their parents are talking about when they see, smell, and taste it. Learning is strengthening when several senses send the see messages to the brain. Through, experiencing the orange and its colour, the child learns it can mean both these things. Further more, a child may learn that we can use the colour orange as an adjective in association with many great objects, an orange house, the bird and yet still remember that the word orange can refer something that we eat. Try to organize and categorize the word “Orange” in her mind and she gets headings like food, fruit, fish, car colour and so on. How many different categories she comes up will depend upon how many connections spring to mind based on her daily experience.

Conclusion, The museum activities at the Museum of Childhood can be hugely beneficial for children and their parents. The many ranges of possible activities involving children and museums is limited only by the imagination of the staff. There is no magic to the success of learning activity; the activity can open up a new way for child’s mind to expand while actually doing something by hand. For instance, providing worksheets for children can encourage the visitors to observe and take part as an individual. It would be great for visitors to have already a good idea of what they are going to see and what work they are going to do next. It should lead on naturally to carry out the activities outside the museum and develop better understanding of life.


1. Antony Burton, (1996) Children’s Pleasure. London: V&A Publication.

2. Timothy Ambrose and Crispin Paine, (2006) Museum Basics. 2nd ed. New York:Routledge.

3. John Pearce, (1998) Centres for Curiosity and Imagination: When is a museum not a museum? London:Caouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

4. Gibsons N. Freelander, (1999) Bridges to Understanding Children’s Museums. Ohio Ohio Arts Council.

5. G. Black, (2005), The engaging Museum: Developing Museums for Visitor. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge.

6. Official Website of the V&A Museum of Childhood;

7. Seen in the museum; Booth,C. (2010) White building Blocks Sclupture, London:V&A Museum of Childhood.


1. The entrance of the V&A Museum of Childhood, London.

2. Colin Booth, 2010,”Institute of Play” Wooden Blocks, London: The V&A Museum of Childhood.