Monday 10 January 2022

Child Engagement in Museums: School Holiday Trails

The second instalment in a series of guest blog posts by Shiona Herbert of Ignite Your Audience

School holidays are scheduled four times a year in Australia – that's four prime opportunities to encourage families to visit your museum, so energise your collection with a simple theme that connects easily to children… TOYS! 

Let's take
Smurfs for example. These are great because they connect to those who loved Smurfs growing up in the 70s and 80s, and they connect to modern children who've witnessed a ‘Smurf revival’ with The Smurfs movie.

Collect a bunch of Smurf figurines, plush toys, books and games and place them in and around your museum - such as inside display cabinets, beside artefacts, and even create a little 'reading corner' of comfy cushions and Smurf books. Such items can be easily acquired from Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, op-shops, or borrowed from local families.

It won't take much time to set them up in the museum, so the energy you have left over can go into making an advert for your local paper advertising the 'Arrival of the Smurfs'. While you're at it, send your advert to your local schools so they can place it in their newsletter or promote it on their Skoolbag app. Leave the toy trail up for a month, then pack it away and bring it out again in a year or two.

Take it one step further and invite a school or community group to come and actually place the Smurfs amongst your collection. This provides a great opportunity to build more 'ambassadors' for your museum. When people are involved with a space, they take pride in it and are more likely to promote it to others. 

You may not expect to see a collection of 'monsters' displayed at a museum, but that's exactly what we did to connect to a Monster Stall market event the local Agricultural Society hosted across the road from the museum.

Prior to the event we gathered a heap of plush monster toys and monster trucks, then placed them amongst our artefacts on the day of the stall. We placed a flyer about the Monster Trail on the community noticeboard at the local supermarket encouraging people to come and 'find the museum monsters' after attending the Monster Stall.

This worked a treat as we had over 40 people of all ages come and look for the Monsters (which is a great turn-out for a small country town museum on a day of pouring rain). Those who popped in searched for the 'museum monsters' and received a monster sticker for their efforts.

This example illustrates that its not just school holidays that such an idea can be implemented; employ it to maximise visitor numbers when more people will be visiting your town for an event. By the way, the kids don’t actually touch or collect up the monsters - they just spot them, squeal with delight at finding one, and then it's off to search for the next one!

The practice of creating a toy trail occurs at larger museums too. The Western Australian Shipwrecks Museum in Fremantle offers their renowned Riddled with Rats holiday program every couple of years. They simply place 12 large rubber rats around the collection for visitors to find. They repeat it because it's so popular!

Why do they use rats? Because the Shipwrecks collection is predominantly from 17th century shipwrecks along the West Australian coast. There would have been plenty of rats onboard the ships that wrecked here as well as on those that successfully bypassed us on their way to Batavia (modern day Jakarta) as part of the spice trade. 

In terms of the cost of the trail, rubber rats are relatively cheap to buy and are easily stored. The Riddled with Rats trail also offer colourful A4 double sided trail guides to direct the experience and provide rat themed colouring sheets. 

You can value add by offering DIY colour-in sheets too, but otherwise, just place the Smurfs, Minions, Hello Kitty, ceramic cows… whatever it is you choose, amongst your collection and invite people to come and find these cheeky temporary museum residents.

If you find these ideas appealing for getting more people through the door then download the PDF for a brief guide of things to keep in mind when creating your Museum Toy Trail.

This is the second instalment in a series of guest blog posts by Shiona Herbert of Ignite Your Audience.

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