Family Learning

Tees Valley Museums believe that high quality family provision supports families with children of all ages to engage with our collections, buildings and stories. We use the below principles in all of our planning for families.

Family Learning Principles

Recent research suggests that families with children under 12 who play together, tend to be happier. It also found that almost 40% of parents felt they didn’t play enough, with around 30% of families spending less than five hours per week playing together. Children’s play is a human right, enshrined in international law. That’s because play is central to the way children make sense of the world and develop as individuals. In family play, children and adults need to be co-players, with children taking a lead where possible. We see play as part of learning. We also see it as a bedrock of creativity. Creative people are curious – they notice things, make new connections, investigate and explore. Creative people are resilient, imaginative and expressive. All of these dispositions can be nurtured through play.

Museums should be places where people have first-hand experiences of the material culture from our past and get to figure out what that means for them in their lives. Museums have the potential to be immersive, sensory spaces where families can have a shared experience of being. Children are particularly keen to explore using all their senses, but so too are many adults. Along with Tilden we see interpretation as provocation more than imparting information and the most effective learning as active, not passive. So we are looking to create interpretive experiences for families that leave enough room for them to make their own meanings.

Conversations build relationships. Vygotsky said language was at the centre of learning and that everything we learn, we learn with and from each other. Lynn Dierking used this idea when thinking about families learning in museums and talked about families building ‘the family narrative’ – an understanding about who they are as a group, how they interact with each other and how they understand the world. Our collections, stories, buildings and outdoor spaces can be at the heart of those conversations.

Families are about belonging together. However many children and whatever their ages, whether the adults are parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles or carers, however small or extended the family group, families build bonds through sharing experiences. Museums are great places for sharing memories of the past and for building memories together. Great days out to talk about with friends, interesting experiences to remember together, happy moments captured on Instagram.

We are committed to our provision being as inclusive as possible. Within a family group people are likely to have different needs and those must all be met if the family is to share their museum visit and not leave anyone out. In addition to being aware of potential barriers for disabled people, with families we need to consider likely barriers in relation to age (from pre-schoolers to grandparents), height, learning approaches and just being a group. Our front of house staff are often good at noticing if issues arise. Sometimes simply observing resources and spaces in action can be incredibly helpful in spotting unforeseen barriers.

We value stories of past lives, we see experiences as central to effective learning and we see understanding ourselves and others as the foundation of well-being. The greater the range of lived experiences we encounter, the richer our own lives. This is intrinsic to what museums are, but we know we need to be proactive in making sure we reflect all our communtiies and cultures and tell stories that all families can relate to.

Family learning case studies

Toddler Takeover Day

Tees Valley Museums have been working with Kids in Museums to celebrate Takeover Day - where museums, galleries, historic homes, archives and heritage sites invite young people in to take over jobs normally done by adults.