Curious Explorers at the Jewish Museum

After the success of the Jewish Museum’s first autism-friendly morning, we were keen to hold regular Curious Explorers events throughout the year. Drawing on suggestions made by families, and recognising that there is currently no wider museum sector provision during school holidays for families with children with autism (nearly all current events are held on a Saturday), we made the decision to trial our next few mornings during one of the half term breaks. 

Having consulted professional experts on autism-friendly events in museums it was decided that the museum would need to be prepared especially for the event. While our first morning ran during museum opening hours, we made a decision to open at 9am for the next one to allow families a quiet and dedicated space in the museum before the public opening at 10am. 

To provide an accessible environment for all our visitors, some of the sounds in the galleries were turned off or significantly reduced to accommodate those sensitive to sound. Ear defenders and sensory toys such as koosh balls were accessible from the ticket desk and a Chill Out Zone was made available to provide a quiet space away from everything.   

We encouraged families to email the museum in advance to express their interest in the event and then sent them further information nearer the time to help prepare their child for the visit, including a visual story. Children with autism often struggle with the unknown, so having an idea of what is in the museum can help with this. The journey can often be the biggest obstacle to visiting, so our visual story also has buildings to look out for on the way to provide a distraction. As lighting levels differ significantly between galleries from bright to low lit spaces, this was also pointed out so that families know what to expect and can avoid this area if it may cause sensory overload. On the day itself families are given a programme of the morning, with a map and clear details of where each activity is being held and what to expect. 

A range of sensory activities and object handling are always on offer, all drawing inspiration from the museum’s current temporary exhibition. As part of our Shaping Ceramics: From Lucie Rie to Edmund de Waal exhibition, activities included an expert-led clay workshop where children made clay pots and buttons and an area for quiet hand decoration of ceramic mugs and plates.

       

More recently, relating to our Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait exhibition, families had the opportunity to engage in a number of fun and interactive arts and crafts activities, including designing an amplifier for a mobile phone and being creative with their own photo frame.

      

 Families were able to meet our team and handle some of the special objects from our collection. Focusing on objects relating to different aspects of Judaism, they then had a go at being a scribe, using a quill and ink to write letters of the Hebrew alphabet.


It has been wonderful to see a range of ages represented, from the youngest at four years old to several teenagers. For the majority of families, it was their first visit to the museum and most had specifically come for Curious Explorers. Initial feedback has been incredibly positive. One young person wrote, ‘It is nice and quiet and has a good environment and very friendly staff’

We have now held two Curious Explorers events and although numbers are still relatively small, it is lovely to be able to offer this special event and to see many families making a return visit to the museum. 

It was important for the museum to develop an autism-friendly morning as although provision in museums for families with children with autism has greatly improved, it is still often limited to weekend events and even these may occur irregularly. As a museum, we strive to champion equality and want to ensure that everyone has access to our programmes by removing any barriers that may exist to prevent them from visiting. 

To ensure that all staff were prepared, we provided some basic training in autism awareness for all those involved in the event. This included not only the Learning Team but also our Security team, café staff, front of house team and volunteers. In advance of our first event, staff also attended other autism events in museums and met with staff to learn from their experience. We also got in touch with a local primary school with an autism resource base and met with teachers and some of the parents to get suggestions for our morning events. These families became our informal advisory panel and not only provided honest feedback but also promoted the event to their contacts. 

The Jewish Museum’s next Curious Explorers morning will be held on Wednesday 25 October. For further information or to join the Curious Explorers mailing list, please email karen.vancoevorden@jewishmuseum.org.uk.

Future dates in 2018:
• Wednesday 14 February
• Wednesday 11 April

In addition to Curious Explorers, on Sunday 11 March we will be holding an Access For All Family Day, with a range of sensory activities and object handling. For the last event, we worked closely with the Jewish Deaf Association (JDA), who provided sign language interpreters so that we were able to offer interactive storytelling which was BSL interpreted and a fun, hands-on BSL tour for all the family. We also worked with icandance, a charity which offers dance and performance opportunities to children and young people with varying disabilities.