The impressive display. Photo credit: The National Army Museum.
The impressive display. Photo credit: The National Army Museum.
Miranda's daughter busy in Play Base.
Miranda's daughter busy in Play Base.

A review of The National Army Museum, London

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Miranda Baxter, a Kids in Museum volunteer, reviews the surprisingly child-friendly Chelsea venue with several generations of her family in tow.

About a 10-minute walk from Sloane Square tube, the National Army Museum can be described in three words: learn, do and play. I was accompanied by my two-year-old daughter, my 11-year old nephew and my 60+ parents, all of whom found something to please — not only my war boffin dad!

We hadn’t done our homework about what to see and do there, but it didn’t matter: the welcome-desk staff were brilliant at helping us navigate. In particular, they sent us in the direction of the Play Base for under-9s – which was so fantastic, we’ve since been back just for that.

We all started together in the top-floor Battle and Soldier galleries, where both my little one and nephew attempted to beat out a battle order on the drums until my toddler’s tummy decided it was lunchtime. My dad and nephew were left happily to their own devices and thoroughly enjoyed the World War II Normandy tank simulation.

The cafe had highchairs and scrumptious food that left us feel refuelled and ready for action.

We arrived at Playbase at our time slot, parked our buggy and got stuck into the soft-play assault course, complete with slide. Role play is a big part of it too: children can plan meals and cook healthy fare for the troops, phone up orders from the Quartermaster’s shop or entirely reorganise it, be a soldier and drive and maintain a truck. On a practical level, there’s a toilet, so busy baby soldiers don’t have to leave.

After our hour-long session, we reunited with my dad and nephew in the ground-floor Army Gallery, where we were confronted by a fierce drill sergeant on a large screen. In this interactive marching exercise similar to a giant Wii game, both my daughter and nephew marched to the beat. This for me was part of the museum’s strength: that you can learn in a playful way about what for many people (especially kids) can be a fairly abstract subject. Information about the collective, collaborative nature of the army was brought vividly to life using personal stories and testimonies across the centuries, balanced by interactive elements and play.

I particularly liked the digital, crowd-sourced interactive display that asks questions about the ethics of drone use and how we should be taking care of veterans.

The National Army Museum admission is free; Play Base £4.50 per child, advance booking essential.

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