Recently shortlisted for the Daily Telegraph Family Friendly Award, the Geffrye Museum has an active education department that welcomes all, as Janice Welch, Senior Learning and Engagement Manager, outlines

First things first, how long has the Geffrye Museum run an education department?

The Geffrye Museum has been a teaching museum since the 1930s and has a long tradition of ‘hands on’ learning activities. The former Geffrye curator and educational pioneer from the 1940s, Molly Harrison, fully understood the value of experiential learning for different audiences within a museum setting and we have been building on this principle ever since.

Why do you want to offer this opportunity to schools?

We aim to offer curriculum-based enrichment sessions, which add value to school-based activities and are measurable in levels of attainment and engagement. We offer a unique and distinct opportunity to Learn Outside the Classroom where compelling learning experiences happen in context both in front of the museum’s period rooms and out in the gardens. We welcome and make provision for pupils, teachers, students and lecturers from all institutions and of all abilities, both locally and wider afield. We work dynamically, proactively and collaboratively to ensure the schools’ programme is relevant and current within the wider educational landscape.

Family friendly fun at the Geffrye Museum

Janice Welch helping out one local teacher

Is there a target age range?

We offer facilitated sessions ranging from Reception (4-5 years old) up to KS5 (16-18), although the majority of our visits come from primary-aged children at KS1 and 2 (5-11 years old).

What kind of things would you say children learn on a typical visit?

We offer a wide range of facilitated, curriculum-based sessions relating to history, geography, art and design at all key stages. We believe in the value of ‘active’ participatory learning alongside a modern understanding of different learning styles and learning needs. We use a multi-sensory ‘hands on’ approach to teaching and learning within the context of the period room using authentic handling objects to encourage children to learn about domestic culture and lifestyles from the past. Children are able to relate their own experiences of home to what they see in the period rooms.

How do you build sessions around the exhibitions?

The curatorial and learning teams have recently merged into one department at the Geffrye Museum. This has made it easier for the learning team to be involved in the development of exhibitions in the early stages. Curators will consult the learning team about the use of space to accommodate school classes, using a wide range of interpretation techniques to appeal to different learning styles, and choice of overall themes. The learning team will also consider how the exhibition fits with the National Curriculum and, if possible, design a session that relates to it. In our recent exhibition, Homes of the Homeless, we created a school session which explored life and the hardships faced by homeless children in Victorian London, which related to the history curriculum at KS2. All new sessions are supported by our authentic, multi-sensory handling collection.

Generally, how important is it to work with the local community?

The Geffrye’s mission states that we wish to be ‘at the heart of our communities and London’s cultural networks, and contribute to the creative, social and economic development of Hackney and East London’. We have just received a substantial grant from Arts Council England to develop new learning sessions to reach out to our non-visiting communities. As well as encouraging new visitors to the Geffrye, we hope to be able to represent their ideas/experiences of home into our future permanent collections to be as inclusive and relevant to our local communities as possible.

Family friendly fun at the Geffrye Museum

An example of how the community is at the heart of the Geffrye Museum, Andrew Buurman’s photos in A Street Seen reveal the residents’ diversity

Finally, what did it mean to be shortlisted for the Daily Telegraph Family Friendly Award?

The museum was long-listed for the Family Friendly Kids in Museums Awards in 2009 and 2010, but to have been shortlisted this time is really fantastic and recognition of our on-going commitment to families.

One visitor wrote about our recent Home Front Family Day: ‘It was busy and the events were wonderful – I brought some friends with a 2 and 5 year old, and Mary who is now 19 months, and there was something for all of them and the differentiation was impressive. The garden cart went down an absolute storm too. The young volunteers were amazing. Big congrats all round and hoping the Geffrye wins the Family Friendly award, as it deserves to.’

A Street Seen: the residents of Westbury Road is on now until 3 April 2016. Geffrye Museum, 136 Kingsland Road E2 8EA; 020 7739 9893;