©Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery The Staffordshire Hoard
©Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery The Staffordshire Hoard

The Staffordshire Hoard

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Maggie Monteath, Kids in Museums volunteer, discovers that children can be enthused by the least expected things.

What do you do with a free morning in Birmingham? As a lone adult I decided on a visit to the Staffordshire Hoard at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery – little did I think I would end up writing an enthusiastic review for Kids in Museums!

The reception staff were friendly and helpful, finding a place for my suitcase despite the current cloakroom closure and directing me to the exhibition. Entering the small, dimly lit gallery I soon became absorbed by the glittering gold pieces inset with tiny garnets that had once adorned many an Anglo Saxon noble’s sword, and pondering on the as yet unanswered questions of who removed them and why they were buried.

Gradually I became aware that the gallery was becoming busier and lots of these new visitors were children. Quickly donning my Kids in Museums hat, I began to quietly observe. Most of the children were of primary school age and clearly very excited. Looking at the text panels I realised that while I was aware of the Hoard through small mentions towards the end of the National News, they knew all about it through extensive coverage on their local news. They knew all about the man with the metal detector who had stumbled on this find and was now very rich. This had happened to an ordinary man living nearby and it could happen to them!

Although, the design of the exhibition did not totally meet the children’s needs, many of the cases were too high and the objects labelled in a small font, they were not deterred. With plenty of adults to lift the little ones up and, joy of joys, the knowledgeable assistance of a young man dressed as an Anglo-Saxon, they had ready access to all they needed to see and know. The gallery was overseen by a kindly and sympathetic attendant who interacted with every family as they arrived, getting to know children’s names and giving every visitor a friendly goodbye. His handling of a potentially tricky situation when a toddler decided to test the sonar qualities of a glass case, was inspired. As he walked towards the family I felt sure the mother was braced for a rebuke, instead he began talking to the children and diverted their attention to objects in another case.

Having been so impressed by this exhibition I felt I should look at the rest of the site; dipping into paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites and the Birmingham School as well as galleries including ancient Egypt, Greece, Jewellery and Ceramics. Everywhere I found happy families exploring with plenty of room for moving about whether on foot, buggy or wheelchair. No one suggested they needed to be quiet. I also noticed a family trail available at Reception and lots of opportunities for hands on activities.

The two toilets I checked out were quite small but both had prominent signs directing families to the Parent and Baby rooms. The shop was very spacious with plenty of pocket money priced souvenirs and the huge cafe offered a wide menu including a select your own healthy lunch box for kids. With no entry charge this is a great venue for a family day out.

Who needs buttons and flashing lights? Anglo Saxon treasure is fascinating to adults and children.

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