'I Wish I Lived There…Don't You Mum?' A Day Out At Discover

By Anra Kennedy | 25 June 2003
shows a child enjoying a speaking magic tube

Photo: Lucy, aged 3, enjoys Discover's speaking magic tube. Picture © 24 Hour Museum

The 24 Hour Museum's Anra Kennedy packed the kids onto the train in search of a perfect museum for young children. To see if Discover fitted the bill read on...

On the way to Discover, the new interactive children's centre in London's East End, my three offspring were a little wary. 'Will it have dead animals Mummy?' was their main concern. This because they had failed to appreciate the finer points of taxidermy on our last museum trip, and grieved painfully for the furry victims.

After coaxing the girls past the amazingly tempting Story Garden with promises that we could explore it later, the initial signs were good. They thought Discover's imposing Victorian building was a castle and wanted to take one of the lollipop signposts home with them.

shows a Discover storybuilder working with two children

Photo: Amy, a writer and one of Discover's army of expert storybuilders, draws around twins Lucy and Milly, aged 3. Photo © 24 Hour Museum.

The wonders that awaited us inside made the journey from Brighton worthwhile. All three were enchanted with the tiny red shiny seats and the hand dryer placed at just the right height. Yes, the ladies' loos got a vociferous seal of approval. After a little bargaining I convinced all three that we could come back there later too.

Discover is centred on the concepts of storymaking and storytelling. Children are told by one of the 'storybuilders' that a baby alien named Hootah has landed in the garden (the spaceship is conveniently parked in the Story Garden). His home planet of Squiggly Diggly is running out of stories so Hootah's here to collect some more.

shows children scrambling over a storywall in the Discover Story Garden

Photo: Discover's Story Garden is also crammed with activities - here the girls scramble over the Storywall. Picture © 24 Hour Museum.

Children aged 2 to 7, and their grown-ups, are encouraged to make up stories as they follow the Story Trail, an eclectic mix of hi-tech interactives, magical dressing up clothes and simple toys.

The dressing up element gives Discover a surreal feel. As we watched from the entrance a small girl with a sequinned cocktail gown squeezed over her school uniform lugged a large suitcase towards the 'Lollicopter'. A teacher wearing ladybird wings and a tiara carried the look off with aplomb.

shows a child peering out of a bubble in the Secret Cave

Photo: Matilda, aged 5, finds a bubble in the Secret Cave. Photo © 24 Hour Museum.

Any day out with toddler twins and 5 year old can be fraught with stress factors. Discover's staff and scale helped to alleviate these. The space isn't huge and is all on one level. Even when the girls all ran in opposite directions I still felt in control.

The trail is designed to encourage interaction between children and carers. This is a wonderful concept but can be tricky when three excited girls are all trying to show you different discoveries. The excellent storybuilders stepped in at all the right moments and were unphased when faced with squirmingly shy little ones.

shows a child wearing a spider web cape

Photo: Rafath, aged 5, looks suitably pleased with himself in his spider cloak. Photo © 24 Hour Museum.

Discover is an innovative concept, beautifully executed. The mix of magical costumes, inventive storybuilders and a quirky, imaginative space combines to create an environment that can't fail to inspire young children. My daughter summed it up as we left - 'I wish I lived there… don't you Mum?'

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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