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Farms, Faces and Feelings: Designing Bethlem Museum Family Trails

26 October 2015

As a Learning Volunteer, I believe the Museum of the Mind can provide an engaging and educational experience for visitors of all ages. For this reason, I have recently been creating activity trails for visiting families for use in the gallery. The trails, now available at the front desk, are suitable for ages 5+ and 7-12 and are themed around ‘Farm Animals’ and ‘Faces and Feelings’.

The Museum’s (wonderful) galleries consider how mental illness has been perceived and treated at different stages in time, using the history of Bethlem & Maudsley Royal Hospitals. The galleries also include important testimony from people who have suffered from mental illness, giving visitors an insight into the experience of being unwell, hospitals, treatment and recovery. Whilst sensitively and engagingly displayed, these can be complex and difficult subjects and there are many themes in the exhibition space, which may be inaccessible or unsuitable for little minds.

In designing and creating children’s activities in the space, therefore, I faced a challenge! I was reticent to create trails which did not engage with the subject matter, but needed to make sure they were suitable for children. The final products are themed trails, which included detail images from objects and pictures in the gallery for children to find, encouraging interaction and exploration.

The trail for younger children is Farm Animal themed and also includes a fact sheet on the history of on-site farms in ‘hospitals caring for and treating people who are mentally unwell,’ (which you can learn more about here). The sheet also encourages kids to create stories with their parent or carer, about the animals pictured, such as ‘the ginger cat’ (A Louis Wain drawing). The sheet asks  ‘what do they like to eat? Who are their friends? What are their favourite things to do on the farm?’ In this trail, I want to promote the experience of the museum as a space of play, whilst including elements of language acquisition and practice.

The trail for older children is Faces and Feelings themed, included cameo-sized photos of faces in artworks and artefacts. This is representative of the emphasis within the collections and displays of art as a way of understanding mental illness. Once all of the faces have been found, the sheet asks the young visitor to have a think and a discussion with their parent or carer, it asks ‘Can you tell how the person in the picture is feeling? Can you tell how the person who painted or drew the picture is feeling?’ This connects younger visitors with the displays of service-user artworks and the themes in the gallery of art therapy, communication of issues and insight.

The activity trails are free of charge and can be picked up at the front desk.  

Tagged in: volunteer, visiting bethlem museum, learning, family activities,