KidsZone • London

Saturday 9th December 2006
Bethnal Green, Museum of Childhood

Grand Opening of Museum of Childhood !

After a wait of over one year, the V&A Museum of Childhood finally opened on Saturday 09 December. The occasion was marked by a grand opening celebration with a giant sized Miffy, live jazz band and performers. The star of the event was Children's Laureate Jacqueline Wilson, the popular children's author of books such as Starring Tracy Beaker, Candyfloss and Best Friends.

Jacqueline gave a speech to very excited and eager audience, she spoke warmly of days when she would frequently visit the Museum of Childhood with her young daughter. She even spoke of what trouble Tracy Beaker, one of her most well known but naughty characters might get into if she were to visit the Museum! Jacqueline inaugurated the opening ceremony by cutting the cake, which was cleverly designed into a model sized replica of the Museum of Childhood. Afterwards long queues quickly formed as Jacqueline signed copies of her books for her fans of all ages, excited parents and children.

The new entrance is one of the most noticeable improvements made during the refurbishments. It now incorporates an extra exhibition space devoted to the museum's community programme, currently displaying illuminated chandeliers made by local schools and groups. They've used all kinds of materials - including plastic water bottles, metal sieves, pots and pans - to construct impressive creations inspired by the enormous Dale Chihuly chandelier hanging in the V&A. Other new spaces include, a basement complex of classrooms, activity rooms and a screening room.

Inside the main hall the beautiful black-and-white mosaic floor has now been cleared of clutter to give it maximum impact. Most of the refurbishment is concentrated on the mezzanine level. This has been reconfigured to house touring exhibitions, starting with the current special exhibition celebrating 50 years of Dick Bruna's Miffy, which was a sure hit with the under-fives! New child friendly display cases and signs were also installed.

One of the main problems with a museum devoted to toys is that children were inevitably frustrated by the fact that they can't touch and play with the exhibits. The collection of stunningly detailed dolls' houses - the largest public collection in the country - has been a highlight of the museum for generations for little girls, and every one of them must have found her fingers itching to rearrange the furniture. This has been addressed during the refit through the introduction of lots of new features which encourage hands-on interactivity, including a zoetrope and a new train set.

There are also new floor-length display cases, which are much more child-friendly and allow information to be displayed at different heights depending on its level of sophistication. One height for labels the children can read for themselves, another for adults to read out and discuss, and another for academics and serious toy collectors, who want chapter and verse on the items' provenance and manufacture Noreen Marshall, curator for the Museum of Childhood, spoke of the great fun her team had in hanging the show, further adding, “we now finally have the chance to show off our great collection.”

Another solution in order to combat the difficult question of allowing children to play with precious or antiquated toys, the museum has introduced new play areas. A yellow abstract play mount allows children to climb over, jump over, crawl through and generally exhaust themselves out, which is great news for parents!

The jazz band delighted and entertained the crowd by parading around the different levels of the museum pausing at certain displays, playing their jovial music the whole time.

Two performers dressed up as garden gnomes with red pointy hats and a fishing rod, interacted with the children, inviting them to join them in their journey as they seek for a place to fish!

The event was very well attended with over 3000 people and the staff for whom in anticipation of this day must have been quite anxious with all the preparations leading up to the big event, were most helpful and calm.

The children now reunited with the museum truly ran riot, wanting to take everything apart to find out how does it work! It is great to see that some old traditions never die, that in this age of HD television and new Xboxes being frequently brought onto the market that a trip to the museum is still as popular and entertaining as ever. This opening ceremony was a mark of this achievement and of the hard work that goes into making this museum so special and unique.

Click here to visit our image gallery to see more images of the day's events.

reviewed by Siobhan Tattan
(KidsZone • London)