A couple of Sundays ago Seren and I took the train to east London to visit the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. This museum houses the UK’s national collection of childhood-related objects.The main draw for me was the dolls house exhibition, Small Stories, (you know we love dolls houses!) which I’m actually going to cover in a separate post otherwise this one would be gigantic.
The museum is huge and super easy to find, being on one of the main roads running through Bethnal Green and walking distance to Bethnal Green tube (Central Line) and overground stations and Cambridge Heath Station. It’s on a main bus route too. You are encouraged to leave your prams / buggies in the entrance lobby (I didn’t have one, get me travelling light!) and the first thing we did was to visit the toilets which are situated on the lower ground floor.
Back in the entrance lobby area, are currently two special exhibitions –
Hidden Identities Unfinished (photos examining children’s lives in adverse conditions in Bosnia and Romania) and It’s My Party… (a look at how we celebrate birthdays). We looked at the latter exhibition for quite some time, before going in to the main part of the museum and up to the first floor. Cue lots of me saying “Oh look Seren, mummy used to have one of those!” and her being mildly interested and wondering why the toys were behind glass and couldn’t be played with.
That’s not strictly true though, there were quite a few interactive sections throughout and these kept her amused. On the 1st floor she enjoyed building blocks, dress up, a sensory light area and a brief go one of the rocking horses though this scared her a bit. I liked the way that some of the exhibits had yellow ‘Find’ signs next to them which increased our interest in them. You can also borrow Montessori packs to do (different packs suitable for 6 months to 5 years old) too.
We were in the right place for one of the workshops at 11.15am – a look at Mechanical Toys. This was aimed at older children (they did explain that at the beginning) though most of the children that had gathered were pre-school age. The idea was that one of the ladies at the front demonstrated the toys then you could take it in turns to have a short go but I guess due to the age of the children, it didn’t really work like that (more than one wanted to touch the toys at one time etc and they didn’t necessarily want to remain seated).
The ladies running the session, appeared quite flustered and said “this is like school, you need to stay seated”. Well, something that is exactly like school on a weekend sounds a bit rubbish to me, and Seren had lost interest anyway so we wandered off to have lunch.
The cafe is run by benugo and has a reasonable offering of hot and cold options. Seren opted for a sandwich, fruit and cake and I had a quiche and a couple of salads. The salads were lovely, though the quiche rather bland. If you bring a packed lunch, picnic facilities are available in the museum grounds (or head to the Museum Gardens park next door). They say that indoor picnic facilities “may” be available at weekends or school holidays so best to check in advance if this is important to you.
After lunch we went upstairs to the 2nd floor and Seren was straight into the sandpit and I got to sit down in one of the deckchairs. After a while, I started to look at the nearby exhibits and Seren followed. We sat down to play snakes and ladders though Seren lost interest after about half a minute and was more interested in swapping counters with the girl at the table next door.
After a dash all the way down to the basement for a toilet break and back up again, we looked at the dolls houses (the regular exhibits not the ones that are part of the special exhibition). Seren played with a dolls house and also in a toy kitchen for a while, copying what a slightly older girl was doing. There is also an “ambulance” that you can sit in, a lego table and an Under 3’s play area too. I enjoyed looking at the children’s clothes (Seren tried on some shoes) and the various through-the-ages baby and child paraphernalia (prams, cots, toys etc).
After visiting the Small Stories exhibition, it was back to the sandpit and for a go in the Punch & Judy tent before heading back down to the cafe for coffee, milk and cake.
We walked though the little Alice In Wonderland exhibition, The Alice Look, on the way out, this was pretty cool, Seren is quite taken with Alice since watching the (old, animated) film at Easter.
All in all, with lunch, coffee and 4 toilet trips, we were there for 4 hours. Though we went on a rainy Sunday, I didn’t find it too busy. Seren said that her highlight was the sandpit and playing in the Punch & Judy tent.
V&A Museum of Childhood
Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9PA
Open 10.00 to 17.45 daily | Admission – free