Something we are clearly seeing among our partners and at the cultural events venues we work with. Which is good news as households have a need for this type of services. This is also confirmed by our recent large-scale survey among parents with young children: 95% of respondents are interested in taking their kiddiewinks on cultural outings. However, a lot of these families are unable to find a suitable offering.
Cultural education exchange for the kiddiewinks
publiq caters for this need in a variety of different ways. Through Schatten van Vlieg (Fly’s Treasures) for instance, we will be placing added emphasis on the kiddiewinks in 2020. On 12 September 2019, we set up a breakfast session in tandem with a number of cultural events venues who already have experience, to a greater or lesser degree, with devising an offering that is aimed at the youngest target group.
Where the participants were initially quite modest and had doubts over the accomplishments of their projects for kiddiewinks, this exchange with peers enabled them to arrive at solutions by themselves. They realised that the initial problems encountered were not insurmountable and recognised that their work very much meets the demand, not to mention the fact that it is of great merit. Moreover, it appeared that even those who were more experienced still faced a lot of questions.
The breakfast session proved that less experienced or smaller cultural events venues operating on smaller budgets are decidedly capable of achieving wonderful and valuable projects.
People often – wrongly - assume, especially in a museum context, that every exchange or activity on site also needs to entail direct transfer of knowledge linked to the collection. Which, at first glance, would appear to be unfeasible when working with kiddiewinks. How could a 1-year old possibly learn about money or the Merovingians? What could a tiny tot learn about the theatre?
First learning stage
But: the learning gains also consists of the cultural venue being experienced as fun place for families to can and enjoy a shared experience, even if it is not linked to the regular offering or collection. Baby massage at the local library or museum can be the perfect introduction to the venue. But it is a great way to get families to set foot inside the cultural events venue to get a first taste, experiencing the venue as a safe place, where parent and child can spend a lovely time together. This is what the participants refer to as the ‘first stage of learning’: the transfer of knowledge comes later on, by itself, as a matter of course, unwittingly.
Also bear in mind the long-term effects of a fun and adapted first exposure at a young age. The thing is, this youngest target group also grows up to make up the audience of the future. Moreover, it is the young parents that need to be piqued in such a way that they will be coming back in due course with their child in tow, when he/she is a little older. In a nutshell, the participants concluded, do not be afraid to abandon traditional knowledge transfer for a while and to allow the personal world of the young child — colours, animals, shapes, sounds, touch, etc. — into your venue. What is more, it has been scientifically proved that learning from experience is more effective. So there’s nothing to stand in the way of a playful approach.
Alternative viewing experience
Finally, the cultivation, intensification and enhancement of the viewing experience through alternative approaches is of great merit in itself. The parents too stand to benefit from a playful viewing experience as this gives them a different perspective of the collection or performance. In doing so, we are acting to foster the transfer of knowledge to the parent through the child.
Should we always go for culture with a capital C? No. This is something the participants agreed on. Parent-child yoga amid the museum’s art works too is a worthwhile offering. In addition, our interlocutors warned against a pitfall: do not be too quick to go down the ‘child care’ route. Families need to engage in cultural activities together. Those in attendance confirmed this finding based on the responses from their audience and was also borne out by our survey earlier this year. Making this possible does not need to be complicated. Just one example to emerge from the panel was an exhibition by a contemporary lady artist whose work chiefly revolves around line patterns. Getting parents to experiment with performing tactile line patterns on their baby’s little body inside the room packed with such works of art is a simple and straightforward activity, yet it offers an added dimension compared to a traditional baby massage.
Costly and professional?
All participants were also in agreement that a cultural activity for the kiddiewinks does not always need to be grand or spectacular. The contrary is true: just keep it simple. An activities chest where your heart sinks into your boots as a parent at the very first glance? A treasure hunt that threatens to take up your entire afternoon? Neither parents nor children enjoy being overwhelmed. The same applies to you as a cultural venue assistant. So be bold and select: get families to stop and take in just five out of the hundreds of works of art on display. Limit the length of time the performance takes or cut up the experience into multiple components. In doing so, you are allowing for the limited attention span of children and you will not be testing the parent’s patience. Another interesting conclusion the panel arrived at was that you should not be afraid to take the kiddiewinks’ parents by the hand, for two good reasons: first of all, they often struggle having to balance having to work everything out by themselves with a small child in tow, and secondly because, as the organiser, you also want to make sure your message is properly put across. A guided event once or just a few times a year, in which parents enjoy a genuinely pleasurable experience with their nippers in a cultural context is much more worthwhile than picking up a pack waiting at the reception desk and, other than that, simply being left to your own devices.
Before I came here, I thought I was clueless. This exchange showed me that I’m doing a good job after all and that we’re on the same wavelength. Which just goes to show you don’t need a professional background as an educationalist to set to work with this target group.
The story of an entire team
Finally, every member of the panel is confident that culture for kiddiewinks needs to be a joint effort that involves the entire team. From management to reception desk staff and the room attendants, everybody needs to be singing off the same hymn sheet.
9 tips to get you off to a flying start
- Differentiate between the different ages as part of 1 assignment: no need for a separate space for the kiddiewinks. The time spent together as a family is short enough as it is. Moreover, the children are often accompanied by just the one parent, which makes dividing them into groups is not an option.
- A ‘baby spot’ immediately shows visitors that the cultural venue is also there for the kiddiewinks. Looking to make your venue even more family-friendly? Check out the action points of the Familiemanifest.
- Limit the number of assignments or works of art to stop and admire.
- Let the target group be your guide to start off with: simply ask them, without first spending hours mauling over a concept. Take the young children of colleagues, loyal visitors, neighbours out on a tour. What are the things the children themselves are attracted to? This could be something you would not even stop to consider. Get reacquainted with your own collection or venue through their eyes.
- Think in terms of open, creative assignments and do not resort to right/wrong.
- Work shoulder to shoulder with partners (e.g. the library: which books do they have on your topic, organise a book start session at your venue)
- Organise a game of hide and seek at your venue (e.g.: find Fly). This will have the youngest visitors checking out the collection by themselves, whilst playfully getting to know your venue in the process.
- Work up a memory: this is something even very young children are already capable of.
- Plan befores and afters (music, you or one of the parents reading a passage from a book,): children have short attention spans and this helps to prevent parents coming out for just one thing.
7 ideas to borrow from those in attendance
- Intergenerational walk & talk: escort a group of parents and children to talk about works of art seen around the museum (M HKA)
- A pouch to take out (Gallo-Roman Museum)
- Touch & feel boxes (Museum of the National Bank of Belgium)
- Golden Canvas: delivering endless creativity (M HKA)
- Audio tour voiced over by children
- Visit an after-school club and tender cultural stimuli: something different from the same old offering of painting and stamping (Peep!)
- Not quite sure how to go about it yet? Meet families and young children through Schatjes van Vlieg (Fly’s Treasures): organise a treasure hunt next summer and get support and inspiration from the Vliegteam (Fly Team) (Kortenberg Library)