Kids in Museums, the ebullient group lobbying museum planners to think of the children, reckon the relatives who know more than most about our past are the companions of choice for youngsters visiting venues.
Launching their 2011 Manifesto in typically breezy fashion, the flag-wavers for better family access to museums have put grandparents at the heart of their campaign this time around.
“There’s a lot of concern about different generations not talking to or understanding each other,” says Mariella Frostrup, the patron for the group, suggesting that museums could solve this “intergenerational silence”.
“Museums are simply the best place to go to with your granny. Older people will often spot things they remember from when they were younger and start chatting about them. Some of my kids’ favourite museum visits have been with their grandma to the Natural History Museum and Science Museum.”
Informed solely by feedback from the audience they represent, the Manifesto contains 20 key offerings of advice, acting as a guide for museums keen to broaden their pull.
They range from having a well-stocked café and highlighting weird and wonderful objects to positively encouraging noise and debate.
“Museums are becoming important places for different generations to meet and have meaningful conversations, sharing histories prompted by real objects,” argues Dea Birkett, the Director who launched Kids in Museums in a spirited response to her own bad experiences in galleries.
Things have improved noticeably since. “My mum – in her 70s – took my nine-year-old twins to the Imperial War Museum,” she says.
“They wandered around the 1940s house and she pointed out familiar objects from her childhood – the wireless, the tin of powdered milk, the quilted bedspread and china hot water bottle.
“She rarely speaks about her childhood. The following weekend, she came round with her identity card from the war.
“She hadn’t taken it out for over 40 years. But a museum visit encouraged her to talk to her grandchildren about her youth, and entranced them. This conversation wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
Last month the group announced the Family Ticket Watch, devising tips for museums to offer more flexible deals for families of different sizes.
“We’re continually striving to be a family-friendly museum,” says Sam Mullins, the Director of the London Transport Museum, where the manifesto will be launched tonight (January 17 2011).
“We offer free admission to children under 16 and give each young family member a copy of our new family activity book, and all our museum displays have something to appeal to all ages.”
In November, a Kids in Museums Family Takeover Day gave children the chance to make the decisions, an approach which organisers have taken on board.
“We have taken its principles to heart in our 2012 exhibition, Journeys,” says Mullins. “Much of it is curated by young people as part of our Cultural Olympiad project.”
Other points on the manifesto call for staff and websites to be welcoming and interactive elements to be galvanised. With more than 200 museums already signed up, the industry clearly believes in the cause.
Download the Manifesto online.