Charlotte Spink, a Learning Assistant in our Learning and Engagement Team, reflects on transitioning Little Dragons under 5s group from a multi-sensory museum-based programme to a digital session families access from home during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Lockdown brought with it many changes to ways of working in museums, especially when it comes to engaging with our very youngest visitors – preschool children and their families. Little Dragons, the Oriental Museum’s group for children under 5 has been running as a weekly gallery-based session for over 8 years, attracting an average of 15-20 children per session. Each session is themed around exploring an object the children can see on display, with craft activities, songs and sensory stories. All these activities were very much based on sensory engagement, communicating directly with each individual child and personalising the session for them.
However, during lockdown we had to rethink our approach. In March and April we surveyed our audiences to discover what sort of digital content families were looking for and the platforms on which they wanted to access content. Responses from busy parents and grandparents who now found themselves with additional child-care and home schooling responsibilities indicated that they wanted content focussed on museum objects on platforms that they were already familiar with and using daily – such as Facebook and You Tube – viewable on their mobile devices. So, from my dining room, armed only with a mobile phone camera, some Blu Tak (yes, really) and a few props, I set about translating our in-person sessions into online content. Whilst recognizing that there were some things that would not adapt well, I wanted to retain as many opportunities for active engagement, rather than passive watching. Retaining a familiar structure, incorporating action-rhymes and singing were key. Engaging parents too was important. By letting them know what materials they needed in advance and suggesting fun follow-up activities.
In the first few weeks I developed a range of new skills including video editing and using live stream software. As we emerge from lockdown these new skills will be valuable continue to engage with audiences in new ways.
The content was streamed on Facebook Live weekly on Wednesday mornings at the same time as the museum-based session ran. Over the course of 13 weeks, over 1100 people have viewed the videos (far more than could ever have come along to the museum-based sessions) and we have received lots of positive feedback too. It was rewarding to know that many people who came along to the museum sessions before lockdown are continuing to join in from home.
In August the Oriental Museum was opened up for staff working in ‘segments’ and I now have access to high quality recording equipment, microphones, gimbals and lighting set ups which will enable me to improve the quality and variety of content. It was so good to be back working in the galleries with colleagues around to assist and problem solve.
Overall, the experience of adapting Little Dragons at an online setting has been exciting and involved lots of new learning. That can be nerve-wracking at times, but we owe it to our audiences to overcome our fears and keep our museums accessible no matter what.