It seems Robots are the thing this year in museums. As I sat in the hairdressers at half term getting my daughters shorn I noticed that even Chanel are getting in on the act. Whilst Robots at the Science Museum might be better for the slightly older child I have no doubts in recommending Robot Zoo at the Horniman Museum for a younger audience.
My 12, 9 and 6 year olds were already thrilled that, on our press visit, we used the staff entrance to the Horniman Museum. Whilst most museums relegate their staff to uninspiring back entrances, getting to go in the front door is a real treat. Always coming in via the garden route, I had forgotten how beautiful the amazing building is.
Made of Doulting stone and designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, the museum was built in 1898-1901 and cost £40,000. If it looks vaguely familiar the Whitechapel Gallery in London was also designed by the same architect.
My son is instantly amazed by the number of keys that hang on the wall, a sure-fire sign of an interesting museum with lots of treasures hidden behind locked doors and cabinets. I think they are more excited about coming in the ‘back way’ than seeing the actual exhibition!
Robot Zoo is like any other Horniman Museum exhibition, fabulously family friendly. All three kids are engaged and having fun running from exhibit to exhibit. There are lots of interactive games like ‘Fly Swat’ (testing to see if you have reactions as quick as a fly) and ‘Squid Racing’ (think end of Brighton Pier fairground fun) that get the adults involved too.
There are a number of larger than life animals recreated using a variety of familiar machine parts, the youngest notices microphones in the giraffe’s ears which starts us on a confusing conversation about how we hear sounds. Various buttons and joysticks allow you to move parts and get you thinking about how the animals see, hunt, eat and hide.
The chameleon is a hit with all of us, the youngest loves moving the eyes separately and seeing what he can find around the room like some miniature CCTV candid camera operative. No 2 daughter loves changing the chameleon’s colours to attract a mate (quite appropriate as we visit on Valentine’s Day).
The text and language panels are quite complex, but I like the fact they don’t dumb down. There is plenty for the more inquisitive child and adult to get to grips with. I particularly like the Robot Bodyshop section that gives you a chance to think about different parts of the body and how they work.
There is some lovely attention to detail and I spy a Dürer drawing behind the Robot Rhino which to be honest could have been more on show so kids can see the different ways we can capture and appreciate animals.
A sign of a good exhibition is the balance of exhibits. I love the fact the kids have as much fun at the simple stuff like the camouflage wall and chucking plastic sucker balls as they do with more expensive and complex machines.
They get stuck in creating their own creature and it was interesting to see my youngest running backwards and forwards to the duckbill platypus so he could accurately recreate it. Then accuracy went out the window as they devised their own slightly alarming versions.
A really good time was had by all and I was impressed as the kids kept running back again and again to try things out. It is interesting how they use their own tech gadgets to capture the day, even using a stop watch on their iPod to time the fly swat challenge. As we left I asked no1 son what was he favourite bit. He couldn’t narrow it down and gave three favourite parts, which is high praise indeed.
Robot Zoo at the Horniman Museum is on from 11 February 2017 – 29 October 2017
For ticket prices please see the website. Please be aware the African Worlds Gallery and the Centenary Gallery are currently closed for a new redisplay opening in 2018. The Horniman Walrus is still waiting to welcome you.
Top tip : Robot Zoo gets very busy at weekends, you can buy your tickets online to save queuing for tickets (you may still have to queue to get into the exhibition). The Cafe opens at 9.30 so you can always get there early for a coffee and be first in the door when the museum opens at 10.30am.