You all seemed to enjoy my brief forays into the UK’s National Museum of Childhood in East London, so I thought today I would return with a proper look round.

toy - inside museum

The museum is part of the V&A museums, and apparently the Museum of Childhood is the largest institution of its kind in the world. Must admit that surprised me, as I thought the Smithsonian Institution or some other American institution would have a childhood collection. Currently the museum has four galleries – Moving Toys, Creativity, Childhood and the Front Room. We spent most of our time in Moving Toys.

Moving Toys was not just rocking horses, pull-along toys and clockwork. they also included in this gallery optical toys. The theory being that “optical toys are a kind of moving toy that creates visual special effects“. Bit of a stretch!

By the way what do you think of these rocking horses? The one on the left is one of the oldest-known rocking horses in the world. It is believed to have belonged to King Charles 1, when he was a boy which would date it back to the early 1600s. And as for the other rocking horse, surely this can’t be a toy!

The creativity gallery was definitely aimed at the younger generation. You may recall I found my inner child in immersed light! However there were a few fabulous puppetry displays in the make believe section which were aimed at the older audience.

The childhood gallery is currently upstairs and filled with expensive toys and furniture. Rather splendid to look at but didn’t quite have the same pull on our memories or imagination. However I did find a few things upstairs that caught my eye.

I suspect after the forthcoming transformation project the museum will look completely different, and looking at the plans I think they are going to miss a trick with the changes. It is proposed to create a “world-leading centre of creativity for children“, which is an “unforgettable first museum experience for children“. Fabulous of course for the younger generation, but by shaping the museum in its “entirety around the way in which children aged 0-14 explore, play and learn“, I think adults will miss out. Part of the joy for us when we visited earlier this year was remembering our childhoods and exploring the history of toys. I suspect the static displays we spent hours looking around will be lost in the desire to have everything interactive.

Upstairs - Museum of Childhood

29 thoughts

  1. I must admit I really dislike interactive myself – I want to read and find out at my own pace. I’m just old fashioned! I love finding things that remind me of childhood. One of the museums in Glasgow has a set of Cuisenaire rods that I learned arithmetic with. No-one else I know seems to have used them so it was reassuring to find they weren’t a figment of my imagination.

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    1. ooh I remember have to draw those, my schools obviously were not posh enough to actually have them as 3D objects!


      1. Definitely not posh, but maybe innovative? I remember children a bit younger than me learning to read with the initial teaching alphabet. My MiL was a teacher and swore that ita was responsible for a generation of illiterates!


      2. Innovative sounds good to me πŸ™‚ every generation seems to try something different which is a nightmare when you go to a parent for help!

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  2. Looks like a very interesting museum. I hope they don’t go all interactive. I think giving kids the space to use their imaginations in whatever way they want is a good thing.

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  3. It’s an enormous space, isn’t it? Reminds me very much in style of the museum in the centre of Edinburgh- might be natural history, I can’t remember, but it’s a beautiful place. Shame to change this. Like you I was peering into the cabinets, making connections. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Not easy to photograph, Becky. I have to say that wooden rocker looks very convincingly like something Charles 1 might have used.

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    1. Huge space, which is why I think they want to change it but be a shame as space is good. The Edinburgh one being exactly the case in point!

      PS and yes nightmare to photograph!! So many rejected photos.

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  4. I didn’t manage to visit before it shut its doors, and like you worry that I may have missed out in the quest for interactivity. Of which I am not a fan. So many children press the button, or whatever, and rush on to the next before they’ve even seen what the button did.

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    1. Exactly! I feel we’re failing future generations by not enabling them to learn the skills of observation and stillness in addition to learning by doing and buttons!


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