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Kids in Museums poster

It’s exciting times in Britain’s museums and galleries. Never before has there been such imaginative and innovative plans and practice. Museums up and down the country are striving to make everyone not only feel welcome once they have entered their doors, but feel able and eager to make take those first few steps towards them.

It’s also exciting times at Kids in Museums, a classic story of good emerging out of bad. Founded three years ago under the auspices of the Guardian, when writer Dea Birkett’s young son was thrown out of the Royal Academy for being too noisy, Kids in Museums now leads in promoting family-friendly policies, attitudes and exhibitions throughout Britain. The Kids in Museums Manifesto has been a phenomenally successful and useful tool in encouraging and guiding museums in making a family visit enjoyable and engaging. In all its work, Kids in Museums sees a museum visit through the eyes of the visitor and draws on visitors’ experiences and expertise.

Now Kids in Museums is growing up. It is being set up as a separate organization and applying for charitable status. This will enable the good work to expand and develop. Kids in Museums and the Guardian will continue to work together on the annual award, the Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award.

Kids in Museums was founded as a visitor inspired and led organization. Everything we do is from the visitor perspective. We hope many of you will become involved.

For the past, present and future of Kids in Museums – and your role in that future – keep reading below.

Kids in Museums - A Brief History
kids at the Natural History Museum
Kids at the Natural History Museum

March 11 2003 – The two-year-old son of writer Dea Birkett is thrown out of the Royal Academy’s Aztec exhibition for shouting ‘Monster!’ at a statue of Eagle Man who looked rather like, well, a monster. See the original column which led to the launch of Kids in Museums.

March 15 – Dea reports her family’s expulsion in her Travelling with Kids column in The Guardian.

Two days later – Hundreds of families have written in to say they’re fed up with being made unwelcome in Britain’s museums and galleries.

Some weeks later – The Royal Academy wrote to Dea not to say sorry, but to assure her that they ‘actively encouraged’ families to attend. There was clearly a conflict. While the vast majority of museums and galleries now have an access policy encouraging us to take part, families were reporting that the day-to-day practice is often different.

July 12
– The Guardian Kids in Museums Campaign is launched. A 20-point Kids in Museums Manifesto is compiled from reader-visitor comments. (See Kids in Museums Manifesto below)

September 6 – The Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award is introduced with a logo designed by Quentin Blake. Hundreds of nominations pour in.

November 11 – The shortlist for the first Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award is announced more....

February 6 2004 – The remote Killhope North of England Lead Mining Museum beats all the national museums to win the first Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award more....

Image of children at the Museum of Farnham, shortlisted for the 2004 Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award
Museum of Farnham, shortlisted for the 2004 Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award
July 14 – Details of the second Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award announced. For the first time in any museum award in Britain, a panel of children will pick the winner. See this and more

June 1 2005 – Shortlist for the second Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award announced. Falmouth Art Gallery and the Museum of Farnham make it to the shortlist for the second year running more...

July 5 2005Pitt Rivers and the Natural History Museum in Oxford declared winners of the second Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award. See this and more

Six months later – The Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award winners in Oxford increase their visitor numbers by 10,000.

April 1 2006 – The third Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award is launched – the biggest family-friendly museum award in Britain. Latest Guardian coverage of the Family-Friendly Museum Award.

For museums you have recommended – and a few of the celebrities favourites, including David Bellamy and Tessa Jowell. See this and more

Kids in Museums Manifesto

  Kids in Museums illustration

1 Be welcoming - from the car park attendant to the curator. Emphasise that the museum is family-friendly in publicity and leaflets.

2 Be interactive and hands on - where kids can touch objects, and learn to know what they are allowed to handle, and what they aren't.

3 Be pushchair accessible - with lifts where there are steps, automatic doors, and a place to store a pushchair.

4 Give a hand to parents to help their children enjoy the museum.

5 Consult with children - not just adults and parents - about what they want.

6 Be height aware - making sure that objects and art are displayed low enough for a child to see, and that signage is at a child's height. Footstools should be provided to help.

7 Have lots of different things to do - art carts, picture trails, interactive experiences, storytelling, dressing up - so parents don't have to do all the work.

8 Produce guides aimed at children, but also ones that children and adults can use together.

9 Provide proper, good-value food, high chairs, and unlimited tap water.

10 Provide dedicated baby changing and breast-feeding facilities, and good toilets where you can take a pushchair.

11 Teach respect - help children to learn that there are objects they should not touch.

12 Sell items in the shops that are not too expensive and not just junk, but things that children will want to treasure.

13 Have free entry where possible, or have family tickets and children's discounts. Children may only want to spend a short time in a museum, so paying a lot to get in puts many parents off. Issue special tickets to families with young children which allow re-entry, so they can go outside for a break or even come back the next day.

14 Provide some open space - inside and outside - where children can run about and let off steam.

15 Provide some quiet space, where children can reflect.

16 Make it clear to child-free visitors that the museum is family-friendly. Have special times when children are less likely to be there.

17 Have dedicated family-friendly days, when extra activities are laid on for kids, and those who want to avoid the crowds can choose not to attend.

18 Provide a creche for young children at major museums.

19 Attract all ages, from toddlers to teenagers, without offering separate facilities for each. It should be enjoyable for the whole family - parents and children.

20 Don't make presumptions about what children do and don't like. Some kids can appreciate fine art as well as finger painting.

Image of children at The V&A, the only national museum to be shortlisted for the 2004 Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award
The V&A, the only national museum to be shortlisted for the 2004 Guardian Family-Friendly Museum Award

Kids in Museums - How you can become involved in ensuring Britain’s museums and galleries are family-friendly

Kids in Museums is all about visitors. Our plans include developing an interactive website and forum for families and sending families of ‘mystery shoppers’ into museums and galleries to report back on what they find, both good and bad.

The Kids in Museums Manifesto will also become a dynamic document, continually responding to your – the visitors’ – comments and input. If you would like to be kept in touch with developments at Kids in Museums and become involved, please email

Kids in Museums
PO Box 20479
SE17 3WF


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