Babies in Museums - Walking & Talking
Updated: Dec 8, 2021
Hello! I'm Nicola, and I'm a Museum Educator specialising in Early Years at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Recently, I had the huge privilege of welcoming fellow artists & educators with an interest in very young children's experiences to the Museum through the Magic Acorns network.
We began with an introduction through objects - each participant chose an item from a 'treasure basket' of assorted sensory play props. Not toys in the conventional sense, but an inviting selection of pebbles, shells, a string of beads, a spoon, colourful fabric swatches and so on. The items gave us a tiny insight into the person who had chosen them - a love of the beach, an interest in pattern, a need for comfort in a new place. We extended this to think about how each thing might connect with the objects all around us - European armour & weaponry. We quickly noticed similarities in shape, colour, texture, and function between the objects on display and those in our hands.
We reflected on ways in which objects might facilitate dialogue and connection with babies too. Heuristic play offers babies an opportunity to exercise their agency, make decisions, explore ideas, connecting with past experiences and with other people. This is an interesting comparison with the work of museums, who also use objects to create meanings and invite dialogue, both physically and intellectually. Objects can be surprising, intruiging, comforting, challenging, and can lead us along lines of enquiry whether we meet them through a glass case or squeeze them tightly in our hands.
We moved through the galleries of the Museum, enjoying the beautiful, smooth lines and surfaces of Magdalene Odundo's ceramics in a new display alongside works from Cambridge collections which inspired her. We also explored an exhibition of 'Gold from the Great Steppe' - recently excavated material from East Kazakhstan which gives tantalising insights into the life of the Saka people in ancient times. We discussed the sensory nature of these works - some would have made sounds as they hung from horse tack, others would have been attached to clothing and worn on the body. These person-to-object, body-to-body imaginative connections are very accessible ideas, even to young babies, as they are part of how we make sense of our place within and relationship with everything else in the world.
Over coffee and mince pies (!) our group considered the idea that engagement with museum objects happens in a variety of ways, and we should work against a hierarchy in which certain forms of engagement are considered more legitimate or effective than others. Rather, through attentiveness and care, we can offer a responsive pedagogy that builds connections based on what each individual, of any age, brings to our encounters.