Creative Families Award: thinking about the nature of young children’s arts experiences in museums

In 2016 I undertook a piece of work on behalf of CapeUK (Now IVE), developing a Creative Families Award. The Creative Families Award is designed for museums to deliver for children aged 1-4 years, working with their parents, carers, grandparents or other grownups. The scope of the work includes a practitioner resource, which combines practical suggestions on running arts activities for young children in museums, with the research that informs these suggestions. There is a log book for families to complete during the activities, and a certificate at the end. The award has been piloted with four fantastic partner museums services: East Riding Museum Service, Heritage Learning Hull, North Lincolnshire Museums and Rotherham Museums Service. An evaluation of the pilot has included participant observation, fieldnotes, and collecting copies of the completed log books from the families who took part in the pilot.

In developing the Creative Families Award, we took the Arts Award Discover and Explore frameworks (aimed at children from the age of 5 years) as a starting point, so that there would be a natural progression from one to the other. The award comprises of a minimum of three sessions, which each place a focus on families documenting their children’s engagement with the arts activities through four key strands:

  1. Discover arts all around
  2. Making and creating
  3. Experiencing artists’ work
  4. Share what they have experienced

The children taking part in the Creative Families pilot across the four museum organisations took part in a fantastic range of activities. They explored museum spaces they had never been to before, and engaged with a wide range of modern and traditional art forms. Across their engagement with arts forms and spaces, we tried to think about how young children were engaging with and conceptualising a sense of aesthetics; this seemed to be a suitably broad and useful way of defining what we meant by the arts at this age. Children used materials including clay, paper, fabrics and found objects to make and be creative. Grown-ups accompanying the children noticed and interpreted children’s experiences of the sessions in beautifully nuanced and intimate ways, using words, images, photographs and examples from the children’s wider lives to convey how these experiences with the arts in museums were fitting in children’s wider everyday lives.


Snapshots from the Creative Families pilot

I haven’t analysed the data collected as part of the Creative Families pilot in a systematic way yet, but thought I would share with you some snapshots from the data set which are particularly occupying my mind at the moment.

C pointed out the sea creatures in the case and on the wall mural, declaring “a dolphin…swims like this…”. She began dancing from side to side with arms floating. Mum commented “I think we’ve found your place to dance!”. In her log book, C’s mum wrote she “liked the under water scenes downstairs, and decided it was a good place to dance!”.

Fieldnotes 12th April and extract from log book


A wanted her lion mask to be mostly pink, with some red, purple and yellow colours too. The colours seemed very important to A, she kept adding more pink, and asking for more pink paper when it had run out. She looked carefully at the different sheets of paper, making decisions about which to select next. Choosing between two red sheets of paper, A’s mum pointed out that they were the same colour, but had different textures. A looked with intense concentration, rubbing both types of paper between her fingers, before selecting one.

Fieldnotes 12th April


K’s interest and focus on making ‘small bits’ with the clay is an idea seemed to begin by accident, when K was trying to pull a clay shape out of a cutter. She pulled at the shape and said “oh whoops” as a small piece of clay pulled off between her fingers. A little later, K had started making ‘a train’ by squashing a large amount of yellow clay into a train shaped cutter. She then worked to pull lots of ‘little bits’ off the clay shape with her fingers. A moment later, K was experimenting with using a wooden spatula tool to separate out the little bits. She explained “I need to use this lolly stick, to get the little bits”.

Fieldnotes 19th April


 The group moved into the learning space next, where lots of different things had been arranged on the floor: feathers, wooden and metal objects, toy animals, different materials such as horse hair. The children were immediately drawn to these piles, and began exploring them according to their interests. K buried her hands in piles of very soft feathers, declaring they were “good”.

Fieldnotes 19th April


Next steps

I’m happy to say the full Creative Families Guidance Resource is now available for free download from the IVE website. Click here to download the resource. It is also possible to order logbooks to use alongside the resource through IVE.

Across my work with young children in museums, the same questions seem to emerge repeatedly. Questions like; what is the role of museum collections in the work, from the point of view of very young children? What is the role of adults when children visit museums? What are the roles of materials, spaces and ideas when children visit museums? Is this art more about process or product – where does the creativity sit?

Some of the observations from the Creative Families pilot have fed into recent academic publications, including a Special Issue on spatial, material and bodily ways to think about children in museums and a paper called Vibrancy, repetition and movement; posthuman theories for reconceptualising young children in museums. All of this work is concerned with how to weave theory and practice with regards to working with young children in museums. Look out next year for a forthcoming book about this!




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