Another Valentine’s Day, another romantic trip with all the family in tow. Last year I visited Hampton Court to sample the delights of their Chocolate Kitchen. This year we are off to our favourite family haunt, the Horniman Museum, for the launch of their new ‘family friendly exhibition’ – Plantastic. We while away the journey with a debate on whether we say “Plantastic” with the plant as in aunt or plant more like ant, because that affects the way you say ‘tastic’. Seriously try it yourself to see what we mean.
It was a great treat to take all the family, because I often go to previews but I don’t normally have all the kids with me. It is very hard to think straight or concentrate when they are running off in all directions, but this exhibition is really about them not me. What I love about the Horniman Museum is when they say ‘family friendly exhibition’, they really mean it.
This is not an exhibition for adults with concessions for kids, a couple of steps stools to allow them to see in cabinets or some simplified text panels for them to read and a couple of buttons to push. This exhibition is like stepping into TellyTubby Land, but an environmentally conscious TellyTubby Land that wants explain to us all about plants and how they work, how we use them in our day-to-day lives and how we impact on our environment. That can sound a bit preachy, but when it is all about sniffing different flowers, pushing pollen balls up a giant nose and feeding a pink robot how can you refuse?
For me ‘family friendly’ means there is something for children of different ages, so my 10-year-old, 7-year-old and 4-year-old are all happy and occupied. To be honest that is not an easy thing, I should know, I find it hard enough to do it at home! Plantastic kept them all busy with different layered interactions that they could all enjoy. Kids love the physical, they love the hands on and buttons to press. But it doesn’t always work. At the previous exhibition, Extremes, each text panel had a different a button to light up text in different languages. My youngest just continually pressed the buttons so I couldn’t read it in any language. Buttons are an attraction but not if everyone is pushing them at once.
I enjoyed seeing the very youngest visitors sitting on the floor playing with parts of the exhibition, they may not have been doing what was intended but they were having fun all the same. There is a great mix of interactive, the physical turning of handles, pushing of buttons and levers, and the ever popular computer screens too.
Some parts may have been a little tricky to explain, I struggled a bit explaining what a carbon footprint is to the 7-year-old, but we bravely got hands on and tried to figure out which buttons to press in the time given. The process of photosynthesis is also a little tricky for the younger ones, but they can get hands on building a flower or feeding the pink robot!
One exhibit reminded me of a WW1 incendiary device built rather bizarrely with cigarettes, it was in fact supposed to demonstrate the dispersal of dandelion seeds by blowing on it. I obviously spend too much time at the RAF Museum when I begin to see bombs and weapons in ‘family friendly’ exhibitions!
The most popular part of the exhibition with the kids was a section where you had to find out which supermarket food items contained different foods like salt and sugar. I thought this was a brilliant way to get them to think about what makes up cereal and fizzy drinks. They got to use a scanner to scan the barcodes which was great fun (even for the adults, like taking a trip to Sainsbury’s without all the expense).
I said at the start it is all about the kids, but to be honest the best family friendly exhibitions are the ones that get the adults to take part with the kids. So if it means explaining what something means, attempting to build a flower or realising that you really just love pictures of cats ( I was supposed to be compiling a food chain) the best fun is always when we all take part.
I say we all had a great time but to be honest, it was a little overwhelming for my 10-year-old who has autism. The bright colours, noise of visitors and excitement of the day were an assault on her senses that left her pale and tired. But then the best bit of the exhibition was not the fun interactives, or interesting games, it was the bean bags placed in a little chill out zone. This is what made Plantastic family friendly for me, this is what made all the difference.
The youngest threw himself on with abandon and we all took a bit of time out to chill, my daughter put on her headphones and let herself have some down time when everything was getting a bit much. I don’t always want to go to special autism friendly openings, I want my daughter to cope with the every day. Sometimes it is a real challenge, but sometimes it is the simplest little thing – a few bean bags that can make all the difference.
We rounded the visit off with cupcakes and face painting and whilst it probably wasn’t the most romantic Valentine’s Day I have ever had, it was certainly the most fun. So thank you to the Horniman Museum for letting my little ones be the critics for the day, they are certainly following in their mother’s footsteps and becoming museum connoisseurs.
Plantastic is on at the Horniman Museum and runs from 14th Feb until 01 November 2015
Ticket Prices apply for details please see the website
Please note we did not pay for tickets to this exhibition but attend the launch.
I am also volunteer on the Horniman Museum Accessibility Panel.