By Caroline Marcus
In September 2015, I was delighted to speak on behalf of Kids in Museums at an international symposium at the National Museum of Korea, Seoul. The symposium title was “Museums Where Children Have Fun – Results and Challenges of Education at Children’s Museums” and my presentation was entitled “Kids are Taking Over Museums! Takeover Day Opportunities and Challenges”.
The symposium marked the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Children’s Museum of the National Museum of Korea and it was a privilege and honour to participate and to hear the stimulating papers presented by speakers from Korea, Singapore and the United States of America. I was taken on guided tours of Seoul’s museums, galleries and heritage sites and learnt a great deal in the few days I spent there. I’d like to share just a few of my many favourite things with you.
National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
At the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, I was delighted to meet Eti’cat. Eti’cat is a “Museum Manner” mascot and follows museum manners and etiquette together with its visitors. Posters displayed in the Museum entrance explain that this is a public campaign for people to think about and share their thoughts on museum manners.
“We want to hear about promises that all art lovers must keep and invite visitors to tell us your promises.”
I liked image number 2 as it politely addresses the “Don’t touch” challenge in museums. It suggests visitors Look with your eyes. A longer description then expands with a description that “all artwork is sensitive to temperature and humidity. Touching with your hands may cause damage to the artwork. So that many more people can enjoy it in the future, please view the artwork with your eyes only.”
Image number 6 suggests positive ways to harness children’s enthusiasm in museums
“A wide exhibition space is very stimulating to a child’s imagination, causing them to run around in excitement. However, some children get hurt while running around. Please make sure to hold your child’s hand and teach your child how to view and enjoy artwork calmly”.
I thought this was a lovely way to welcome and involve visitors in ways to enjoy museums. This could be easily transferred to sites around the UK and children could design their own mascots. They can then write down examples of manners they wish to carry out, display them in the museum lobby and perhaps receive a gift for taking part.
Children’s Museum of National Folk Museum of Korea
The outside of the building is covered in children’s drawings relating to ancient Korean stories and signals a warm and welcoming environment to all visitors. There were so many positive examples to choose from. I was curious about a previous exhibition, “The Scoop about Poop”. When most people talk about poo they consider it an embarrassing and dirty topic. The exhibition explained that poo is an important part of our life cycle and contains the story of life. The exhibition shows the role poo plays in the eco system and the importance of it through stories. Children visit Poo’s house to discover how Korean traditional toilets have changed and explore questions such as In the olden days, when there was not toilet paper, what did people clean their bottom with? They explore various toilets including the King’s. There is a library full of poo stories and toilets from all over the world and also a section exploring poo as fertilizer that helps crops to grow. The range of activity trolleys and children’s resources exploring a range of different cultures was inspiring.
The Children’s Museum of the National Museum of Korea
The Museum holds hands-on exhibitions that show Korean history and culture from pre-history to Joseon times. There are permanent and special exhibitions that offer a glimpse into the Korean people’s lives long ago. The museum looks at ways to engage children with actual artefacts in the National Museum’s in order to form a connection with them. It aims for children to play freely in the museum as an educational playground, learn to appreciate the artefacts and develop an interest in them. It works on an adult level too. For example I was intrigued by the experiential age-appropriate exhibits that such as traditional ways to grind corn, how to reconstruct broken pottery to find out about social history, how to build the roof of a Korean palace and trying out a replica of a glorious golden crown belonging to a Korean ruler. The museum’s philosophy that is that through play, children learn that there are rules in life and how to cooperate with others. Digital technology is used effectively to engage children with the exhibits. These are just a few of my favourite things and it opened my eyes to many new ways to welcome and involve children and young people in museums.