This Saturday morning I had a midwife review at UCH, Euston so decided to combine dragging the family into town with a museum visit. Being massive and constantly knackered, I wanted somewhere manageable but that’d be enjoyable. Luckily, a stone’s throw away is the Grant Museum of Zoology, which pitches itself as a family-friendly museum. After the midwife, we took ourselves for lunch and a play in Gordon Square before visiting.
Let me start by emphasising – it’s a small museum – think one large room, but with a double height ceiling which stops it feeling cramped. The size means you’re unlikely to get more than an hour out of here, so if you want a longer day out, take a look at my suggestions for extending your visit below. That said, it is definitely worth visiting, especially if you are in the area – and it’s free to get in, too!
Old wooden cases line the room, and are packed to the brim with specimens – that is animals, some pickled in alcohol, others as skeletons – like a Victorian nutty professor’s cave. In my experience, kids love something a bit creepy and gory, and they love animals, so both together equals a winner. Staff were very laid back and seemed more than happy for my kids to tear around the place.
The specimens are arranged mainly by animal group . There’s humour in the display which will appeal to children – such as the skeletons on the balcony keeping a watchful eye over the place. The text labels are short, mostly giving a fact about that (living) animal.
Most objects are not at toddler height, so expect to do a bit of lifting (or piggy backs, in our case).
The kids enjoyed looking at the specimens together – the toddler repeated the names of animals he knew and made the corresponding noises. He also learnt a new (onomateopic) word from his sister in reaction to the pickled mouse head – ‘eeeewww!’
There is a top ten objects self-guided tour available at reception – once I persuaded the 11-year old to do it with me, we saw the rarest skeleton in the world (a quagga), dodo bones, pickled brains and, our favourite, a jar of pickled moles. This sheet is aimed more at a ‘general visitor’ rather than children, which might explain her initial reluctance.
My daughter most enjoyed looking at the animals and deciding which one we should ‘adopt’. The cruel and heartless parent that I am, I’ve got a no pet rule at home. As it’s only £12 a year for a child to have their name next to their favourite specimen, and it teaches them about death (the most compelling reason usually given for getting a pet), I’m definitely putting that on her birthday list. I’m not going to tell you which lucky creature we have our eye on though, incase somebody else nabs it.
In terms of what else appeals to children, there’s a walk-in light box (or micrarium) covered with thousands of slides of microscopic creatures, which you can use a magnifying glass to inspect.
I-Pads are dotted around the displays which pose ethical questions on topics such as cloning and animal testing. I had to show the 11-year old how to scroll through the pages, but then she was happy to go around and use them to post her responses to the questions, some of which appear on Twitter. The questions relate to the displays and are thought-provoking, but with limited interaction between previous comments. For example, how did I not see this gem, posted on the same day as my visit?
The central space has tables, chairs and children’s books which the kids enjoyed looking at / attempting to tear the pop-up bits out.
The museum offers special events aimed at families throughout the year – the next is a drop-in handling session ‘Ravenous Reptiles’, running over half-term 27-31 May 2014 – so you consider timing your visit with one of these.
There are low-cost things the Grant Museum could do to improve the experience for families visiting at other times, and increase the average length of visit e.g. replace one row of tables and chairs with lower ones more suitable for younger visitors; have self-led activity sheets/colouring-in with a box of pencils on the table; and offer returnable backpacks at Reception with toys, games and puzzles on a zoological theme.
More (artistic) photos of our visit can be seen here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/96876964@N00/sets/72157644323422081/
THE BARE BONES
Address: Rockefeller Building, University College London, 21 University St, London WC1E 6DE
Current opening hours: (check website before setting out)
Monday – Saturday, 1-5pm
Recommended length of visit: 30 mins – 1 hour
Buggy accessible?: Yes – ramp to entrance, and there was plenty of space for us to park ours in the main central space of the museum.
Baby changing: Wall-mounted change table, WITH STRAP (I get so excited when I see a still-useable strap!). In disabled toilet (ask for key from reception to get access to toilets. You’ll want someone to help with the manual door if you’ve taking the buggy).
Breastfeeding friendly?: There are chairs, although no arms, and think it’s quiet and laid back enough to feel comfortable feeding here.
Toddler time from gallery to toilets: It’s about a minute; allow time to ask for key at reception first.
Nearest playground: The rather charming Gordon Square is the nearest green space, only a 3-4 minute walk, and my son had lots of fun chasing the pigeons. If you want a proper playground, the wonderful Coram’s Fields is about a 20 minute walk (at adult pace).
Food: No cafe or refreshments, but plenty a couple of minutes away at Tottenham Court Road. We went to Planet Organic on nearby Torrington Street and spent just over £20 for all four of us. No high chairs available there, but we like the wholesomeness of the food (less guilt over subsequent cake!) Or picnic in Gordon Square, above.
Want to make more of a day of it?
The Grant Museum as part of UCL Museums, forms part of the Museum Mile, a group of 13 museums stretching from Kings Cross to the River Thames. This means there are plenty more great museums within walking distance – see http://www.museum-mile.org.uk/page2.html for map. Many of these I’m sure will feature in forthcoming reviews!
Well that’s the end of my first review – what did you think? Have you been to the Grant Museum before? Or do you have any more questions before you set off? Post your comments below, and I’ll get back to you.