The V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, East London, comes up regularly whenever I’d ask for recommendations for family-friendly museums to visit – and it didn’t disappoint for a great day out when I visited recently with 4 1/2 year old Little T and 7 month old Baby A.
The museum, which is part of the Victoria & Albert Museum, houses a collection of childhood-related objects. Toys, dolls’ houses, costumes, puzzles, games and nursery furniture are displayed across two floors, offering a fascinating look into how childhood items have changed and evolved through the centuries.
The V&A Museum of Childhood runs several workshops and activities for children, from toddler mornings to arts and crafts – check the museum’s What’s On page for current exhibitions and activities.
On the first floor, the Childhood Galleries is separated into sections that explore different aspects of childhood – what home means, how babies are cared for, what children wear, and what children will be when they grow up.
The V&A Museum of Childhood has a collection of 100 dolls’ houses, some of which date back to the 1600s! Also on the first floor you’ll find a collection of toys and puppets from around the world and displays showing the nursery equipment, toys and clothing from the Victorian era to modern times.
Century of the Child Exhibition
The exhibition, “Century of the Child: Nordic Design for Children 1900 to Today” was on when we visited the V&A Museum of Childhood and will continue running until 2 September 2018. The exhibition explores the influences which have helped forge Nordic design – including iconic designs and characters such as BRIO, LEGO and the Moomins – and examines how children have inspired some of the century’s most progressive designs, architecture and literature.
There is an area here for children to get hands-on with blocks and other toys, however, it was very busy when we visited so we headed on to the mezzanine floor to see the rest of the galleries.
The displays in the Creativity Gallery on the mezzanine floor are categorised into Make it Happen, Explore, Be Inspired and Imagine.
The highlights for the kids were the several hands-on exhibits dotted around the galleries. The interactive areas in the Creativity Gallery are great for babies and toddlers – Make Believe and the Sensory Pod. The V&A Museum of Childhood also runs Arts & Crafts workshops that regularly take place in this gallery; make sure to check the museum’s website for the current dates and times.
The Sensory Pod is a multi-sensory playroom featuring color-changing light columns and a tactile wall. While Little T entertained himself by changing the colors of the lights, Baby A enjoyed running her hands over the different textures and materials of the tactile wall.
Moving Toys Gallery
The displays in the Moving Toys Gallery, on the other side of the mezzanine floor, have toys and games categorised into Look See, Circuits and Motors, Springs and Cogs and Pushes and Pulls.
The Moving Toys Gallery was Little T’s favorite part of the museum. There were interactive displays geared towards preschoolers and older children, where he could ride a rocking horse, use a magnetic pen to create a drawing (in this case, a hair style around a head) and move cogs into the right places to get a robot working.
Overall, we enjoyed visiting the V&A Museum of Childhood and easily spent about three hours between exploring the galleries and taking part in the hands-on activities. Highlights for us were the multi-sensory pod, since Baby A could also explore the light panels and tactile wall, and the robot activity that was rather challenging and kept Little T occupied for some time working with other kids to move the cogs around.
I found the displays fascinating to see the various toys, games and nursery furniture through the centuries, while reliving my own childhood looking out for the toys I recognised from the 80s and 90s – the original My Little Pony and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Game Boy (got me through many long-haul flights!) and Pound Puppies, to name a few.
V&A Museum of Childhood
Address: Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA
Opening Hours: Open daily 10.00-17.45 (last admission 17.30)
Closest Tube Stations: Bethnal Green [Central line] (Note: there are two sets of stairs exiting this station. To find the closest station with step-free access, download the latest “Avoiding Stairs Tube guide” from the TfL Accessibility guide.)
Tickets: Free admission
Family-Friendly Facilities: Family bathrooms on the lower ground floor, cafe area serving kids’ lunch boxes, step-free access to galleries with a ramp heading to the mezzanine and a lift for all floors, excellent gift shop selling books, toys and home items.
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