Masterpiece outings: The best art trails & interactive exhibits for kids of all ages
As a family we value creativity and like to keep our children’s imaginations ‘always on’ -- as it’s great for solving life’s little problems. That means exposure to inspirational places is high on our free time list. Seeing and making art is a great way to explore children’s creativity, and as most parents know, the best way to keep kids engaged is to give them something to do. We’ve rounded up some of the best family-friendly art experiences and interactive exhibitions across the country so you can immerse yourselves in creative and historical works.
London’s museumland, London
Our kids love this cluster of buildings around Cromwell road in South Kensington because of the seemingly endless things to do, see and experience – at the art- and design-oriented V&A Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. As parents we love that we can all have a (mostly) free day out. Thanks to the numerous interactive exhibitions, it genuinely is a one-stop shop for hands-on fun for children of all ages and adults. When our bottomless pits need filling, we head to the pedestrianised area around the South Kensington tube station to hit the cafes, sandwich shops or restaurants.
Pick up a free family trail from the museum’s Learning Centre, and set off to explore the museum through puzzles, drawing and observation games. ‘The Undiscovered Museum’ trail is recommended for ages 5+ and no prior booking is required. Photography is not permitted in some areas, but these are clearly marked. The family trails run until 31st March 2017.
From how animals see the world to what effect the colour red has on humans, there are many interactive exhibitions and events going on all year round. The museum is a world-class visitor attraction and leading science research centre. It welcomes 5 million guests annually so go early or late to avoid crowds. My son has a particular interest in animals and especially dinosaurs, loving exhibits featuring dinosaur skulls or eggs. Admission is free, making it an easy way to spend a fun afternoon, and educating the kids without them even realising!
This place is huge – expect your little one’s eyes to pop with excitement at the range of exhibits. A permanent space exhibition displays space rockets, a space man and how the earth looks from above. There’s an IMAX cinema, and an area called The Garden that’s an interactive space designed for younger children where they can explore construction, light and sound. We’re excited about the Wonderlab, opened in October 2016, with 50 mind-blowing marvels of science to enjoy. Entry to Wonderlab will cost from £6 for daylong access although the Science Museum is free. 2017 will see a blockbuster exhibition called ‘Robots’ come to the museum with a collection of over 100 robots from different time periods there to delight older children.
Who says cartoons are just for kids? We’re almost as excited about this place as our younger escorts. This unique museum brings together all forms of cartoon art from British classics like Dennis the Menace to the Japanese form Manga into a series of interactive exhibitions and themes in their central London gallery. Created as an idea by a group of cartoonists, collectors and lovers of the art, this collective exhibited at various small venues until ten years ago when the museum opened its doors to the public at its current location. Exhibits on now include ‘Pictures from Punch’, the political magazine which ran for more than 150 years and was particularly popular in the 1980s and coming up is a tribute to the British science fiction comic 2000A.D. which has been running for 40 years. With the rise in computer gaming and its various art forms, I’m keeping an eye on this museum as I think my son who is mad about Minecraft and computer graphics would enjoy a trip here in the future. The museum regularly runs kids workshops during the school holidays from animation and claymation masterclasses to digital cartoon workshops.
Fascinating fact: The word ‘sleuth’ means a private detective to most people but in fact it is also the collective noun for a group of bears. In 2017 Birmingham will become ‘Bear-mingham’ as The Big Sleuth takes place in the city. I love it when art is in the community in this way - it rouses curiosity and expands awareness in a way that it wouldn’t otherwise. Roar your way around this art trail, spotting bear sculptures across different districts for tourists and residents alike. The sculptures are based on the Sun Bear, the world’s smallest species of bear that is threatened with extinction, and after the sleuthing fun is done, the pieces will be auctioned to raise funds for Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity.
Another stately home? the kids might say. Come on, we say, this will be fun! And it’s true. Mottisfont in Romsey is a beautiful National Trust property with sprawling grounds that has a wealth of interactive exhibitions and activities for families on offer. This property in particular incorporates art and some of children’s favourite characters. From community arts weekends where you can enjoy drop-in sessions with local artists to arts trails with childhood favourites such as Charlie & Lola or the work of Beatrix Potter, Mottisfont has plenty to offer. Prices are around £15 for adults and £7.50 for children depending on which ticket you choose and the property is open year-round except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The Coach House Cafe serves lighter lunches and snacks enabling a family to enjoy a few lovely hours exploring this romantic house and gallery set in a beautiful riverside location.
An open-air gallery in West Yorkshire, this popular attraction is the winner of the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2014 and is a firm favourite with families, including ours! We live just 20 minutes from here so I used to take the children when they were younger to run off some energy in the grounds; now that they are older they can appreciate the actual sculpture work which sprawls across the 500 acres of rural parkland. Activities include sculpture making to screen printing and photography for tiny children. Families can get busy inside all year round, but the art trails outside are the best whatever the weather. Get into the beautiful countryside location, take a camera and enjoy a family walk where you can spot something new around each tree! Entry is free but parking charges apply.