Ruthie Collins takes a look at the family activities coming up this summer at the Fitzwilliam Museum
Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum is one of those places that many children growing up in the city will remember forever. With its steps flanked by a pair of stone lions so iconic they’re now immortalised in a series of children’s books starring Will and Fitz, the Cambridge Cats, it’s a treasure chest of mystery and wonder. Yet museums can often feel intimidating, particularly for parents with very young children.
The horror of offending the public with runaway tantrums or the thought of trying to entertain small people without them breaking precious artefacts can put many parents off even trying to go (particularly if sleep deprived). But the good news is, at the Fitzwilliam, you don’t have to wait until your kids are at school for them to enjoy a range of parent and child-focused fun that you’ll probably cherish experiencing with them forever.
Parents with babies and nursery tots are welcomed at the museum, with a range of fun self-guiding resources for parents available on request at reception. If you’re bringing a baby, ask for a comfy baby mat; and for toddlers there are children’s books and family friendly trails that really do make the collections come to life. Children from five to 12 can explore the entire museum with Fitz Kits – themed boxes of games, toys and objects (one even has a dragon!) to match the collections, too.
“Here at the Fitz we offer a range of activities and events for families to help them engage more deeply with our collections. We aim to inspire children and families to enjoy art and visiting museums,” explains Felicity Mottram, the museum’s Learning Associate (Families). “My personal favourite is our Family First events, which are free drop-in events.”
Family First drop-in events happen on the first Saturday of every month. “I liked making a woodlouse the best” was my four-year-old son’s solemn verdict on the Creepy Crawly themed Family First session we went on back in May.
Our family were warmly ushered into the museum and taken on a whistle-stop bug spotting tour around the collections – featuring flower paintings and a rich range of ceramics. Both buggies and wheelchairs are made welcome, with buggies escorted in the lift by Fitzwilliam staff, so there’s no danger of losing the rest of the tour group if you dash to the lift!
With a selection of highly interactive talks and ‘creature hunting’ competitions that kept the kids entertained throughout, both parents and kids learned and had fun together. The session also included a scavenger hunt, drawing, plus a free art workshop where we got messy (aprons and baby wipes all provided) making prints of the bugs we’d seen in the paintings, which we got to take home. Run by professional artists, the sessions are a great way to meet families and learn about art.
Also running throughout the year are a range of bookable workshops for children and parents of all ages. Mother of two Belgin Bodur enjoyed Baby Magic, an art making and sensory play session for under twos, centred on botanical drawing and flower painting exhibition, Crawling With Life, featuring works by the likes of intrepid 17th century German naturalist and illustrator, Maria Sibylla Merian. Belgin’s four-month-old, Maya, loved making an insect house, which has been well used by big brother, four-year-old Mark, since. Maya’s favourite part, though, was singing in the gallery. “The best bit for me was meeting other families who also had an interest in art, plus enjoying the paintings in the gallery and being in a positive atmosphere where everyone was having fun,” says Belgin.
“Once they’ve visited, families keep coming back”
My four-year-old, Otis, also loved It’s Magic, a session centred around the same exhibition but geared towards slightly older children. A patient facilitator kept the group of children and parents spellbound with stories and games. “I liked the insects,” Otis told me afterwards, dragging me off to the museum shop.
“We get a lot of new first-time visitors but we then get repeat visitors, which is a real compliment to the sessions, really,” says Felicity. Once they’ve visited, families keep coming back, with some children even known to the staff from when they were babies. “This is exactly what we want – for families to feel welcome and to enjoy themselves,” explains Felicity.
Family First is on 4 June, 2–4pm (drop in, free). Baby Magic is on 13 July, 10-11am (book in advance, £3). Family Art Week is 2–4 August (drop in, free, various sessions).