London's Museums: Making History Fun for Kids
by Dawn Copeman
Do you remember traipsing around dusty museums as child? Longing
to get outside, to play, to eat, to do anything that was just,
well, less dull? Do you dread taking your own children on a
'cultural' holiday for the same reasons? If you do, then you're
worrying over nothing. If anything, you'll find it hard to drag
your children away from these historical attractions. You see,
whilst you were busy growing up, history was becoming interesting
The London Museums listed below are just a sampling of the
museums in Britain that make it easy for you and your children to
have a fun time and learn something at the same time. They offer
kid's backpacks, discovery trails and hands-on activities that
you'll want to join in on too, (and you can!) They also offer
online activities for children to rouse their interest before
The Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington
This museum is home to over 3000-year's worth of art
and design. It offers trails for families, hands-on activities,
family events, backpacks and activity carts.
Trails for Families are suitable for children
aged seven to twelve and their families. There are five
different trails that encourage the children to complete puzzles
and activities as they visit the museum. These trails are free
of charge and can be obtained from the information desk on
The Backpacks are aimed at children aged five to
twelve, but younger children can obtain an activity sheet to
complement the backpack, so that they too can have fun. My
daughter had just turned four when she did her first Backpack.
The Backpacks contain puzzles, jigsaws, stories and things to
make and do as they walk around the museum. There are five to
choose from; each covering different galleries. The backpacks are
free of charge and do not need to be booked in advance, but they
are only available on Saturdays or everyday in the school
holidays. You can collect them from the Information Desk, but
you will need proof of ID to borrow a Backpack.
The Activity Cart is an arts and crafts activity,
aimed at children aged three and over, that moves around the
museum. The activity on offer reflects the gallery it is
currently in. This activity is free and does not need to be
pre-booked, but as each activity lasts between 20 and 90 minutes,
make sure you leave enough time for this when you plan your
visit. The Activity Cart is available on Sundays and everyday in
the school holidays.
The V&A offers hundreds of Hands-On Activities
throughout the museum suitable for children of varying ages.
Some of the Hands-On Activities include trying on armour, corsets
or crinoline, making chairs, weaving or guessing the mystery
In addition to the above, the V&A also offers a series of
Family Events such as printing a psychedelic
T-Shirt, Middle Eastern Magic and a Turkish Weekend. The V&A
has an online newsletter for families where you can preview
forthcoming events. It can be found at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/activ_events/families
Online: The V&A offers a variety
of games including pairs, make a curiosity cabinet and guess the
mystery object. Visit http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/1185_families/flash/
There are two other Victoria and Albert Museums in London: The
V&A Museum of Childhood, home to the national childhood
collection and a celebration of childhood and toys; and the
V&A Theatre Museum, which has the largest collection of
artefacts and memorabilia relating to British theatre, opera,
film, and puppetry. The V&A Museum of Childhood has good
online activities for children and the displays are interesting
to children, but it doesn't offer any backpacks or trails. The
V&A Theatre Museum has no activities or trails for children.
Details of all three museums can be found at the V&A website.
The Natural History Museum
This is where
you will find out about how the earth was formed; discover
geology, precious stones, a well-hidden Wildlife Garden, (it's
next to the West Lawn, but most visitors don't know it's there);
and visit a colony of leaf-cutter ants. It is also where you
will find dinosaurs, always popular with children, and in 2006
they introduced a new animatronics display! But if that wasn't
enough -- or if the queues for the dinosaurs are too long, as
they can be in summer -- then the Natural History Museum offers
Explorer Backpacks, Discovery Guides and two hands-on
The Explorer Backpacks come complete with
binoculars, a traditional explorer's hat, drawing materials and
activities for your children to complete as you wander around the
museum. The Backpacks are suitable for children under seven.
They are free, as is entrance to the museum, but you will need to
pay a refundable deposit of £25 via credit card to obtain
the backpack. The Explorer Backpack can be obtained from the
Information Desk when you arrive at the museum.
There are a wide range of Discovery Guides aimed at
children aged four to sixteen. They include a variety of
activities involving various exhibits in the museum and have
educational content. They cost between 40p and 80p and can be
bought from the Information Desk.
There are two hands-on galleries in the Natural
History Museum: Investigate and Earth Lab. In the Investigate
Gallery you and your children aged between seven and fourteen can
handle geological, plant and animal specimens, put them under the
microscope, search the computer database and use other scientific
apparatus. There is also a secluded garden where children can
explore plants and animals in their natural habitat. In the
Earth gallery, children can look at fossils, investigate them and
even bring their own along for identification. The Earth gallery
must be pre-booked. Investigate is open weekdays from 2.30pm to
5pm during school term time, and 10.30pm to 5pm during the
holidays and all day Saturday and Sunday.
Online: Before you go you must visit the Kids Only
area of the Natural History Museum website; it has several online
games and videos to make the children more excited about their
The Science Museum
If you want to see Stephenson's Rocket, the Apollo 10 capsule
or other early inventions of science and technology, then this is
the place for you. In addition to children's trail guides
(suitable for children aged four to sixteen, which can be
completed as you view your exhibits of choice), the Science
Museum has an entire gallery just for children. Head to the
basement and here you will find a complete floor full of hands-on
activities. They offer five different mini-galleries suitable for
children of various ages.
The Garden is not an actual garden but a place
where children aged three to seven can find out about simple
scientific principles through play.
The Pattern Pod is a multi-sensory environment
aimed at children under eight and their families. Its range of
activities teaches young children about patterns.
The Launch Pad is my favourite place in the museum.
It is full of fun, easy puzzles and games that teach
scientific facts. There is a wide range of activities suitable
for children from two to adult. It can get busy!
On Air is aimed at children over eleven. It is a
working radio studio that children can take control of. There
are also a range of computer based activities to teach children
about sound waves and music.
The Secret Life of the Home is aimed at older
children and their parents. It is a display of everyday items
found in the home, from the earliest fridge and coffee maker to
the earliest home computer game. There are some interactive
elements here, but not as many as in the other galleries.
Online. The Science Museum delivers great value
through its website. It has downloadable activity sheets on
experiments that children can carry out at home such as DNA for
beginners, Hands on Science and Code Breaking.
It also offers games and virtual experiments; the current theme
is optical illusions, as well as a virtual tour of one of the
museum's galleries and the Apollo 10 capsule. Visit http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/education/families/online.asp
The Bank of England Museum
This little museum traces the history of the Bank of England
since its formation in 1694 to its role as a central financial
institution today. It is surprisingly child-friendly for a small
museum. Online it offers quizzes, jigsaws a walk through time
and a virtual tour and the museum runs many children's activities
such as making a door hanger in the shape of a pound.
So forget about the dusty exhibits and ill-lit corridors of your
childhood memories. Today, once your children experience what
London's museums have on offer, they may never want to
- The Victoria and Albert Museum
- The Natural History Museum
- Kids Section: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/kids-only/index.html
- The Science Museum
- The Bank of England Museum
Dawn Copeman is a freelance writer and commercial writer who has had more than 100 articles published on travel, history, cookery, health and writing. She currently lives in Lincolnshire, where she is
working on her first fiction book. She started her career as a freelance
writer in 2004 and has been a contributing editor for several publications, including TimeTravel-Britain.com and Writing-World.com .
Article © 2006 Dawn Copeman
Photos courtesy of Britainonview.com