Recently, whilst I was up feeding Matilda, I was doing my usual browse of Facebook. As I was scrolling through endless posts on a local mum group, one caught my eye – “Can anyone tell me whether it is worth taking a 5 and 3 year old to the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden”. I felt like it was fate, I needed to read on and see what the general consensus was before I took Hugh (4 ¾yrs) later that week. Well the feedback was a real mixed bag, it neither inspired nor deterred me from visiting. It was worth a visit to form my own opinion and here it is….
I visited the museum a year ago on my own and as a Dahl fan, loved it. I had vowed I would take Hugh to visit but was conscious he may be a little too young given he had not been introduced to Dahl’s books. On the back of my visit I bought Hugh the BFG and over a few weeks we read it together every night before bed, it soon became a firm favourite. So 12 months on, Hugh getting ready to go to school and now a BFG fan, I thought it was worth a visit!
I think the museum would agree that their target market isn’t the pre-schoolers, it’s the children that know Dahl’s work and would want to understand more about him as a person and an author. This is where the real challenge is, how do you entertain a child who can’t understand what it’s all about? Here’s the answer!
The main exhibitions at the museum appear reading heavy, a few videos showing clips of Dahl and those who knew him well, but still mainly words. Not great for someone whose child can’t read yet! When I visited alone, I spent time engrossed in the reading, for the first time getting to know what an interesting character Roald Dahl was, but this time was different. I saw things I hadn’t appreciated on my own and it was these that helped Hugh to enjoy his day.
The displays, though on the surface don’t appear it, are extremely interactive. Hugh particularly loved comparing his height to the BFG and Dahl, as well as flying a plane dressed as a pilot. I must admit that the first two rooms were enjoyed but short lived. The majority of our time was spent in the last room, the Story Centre. This is set up for creative learning, described by the museum as the hub of creativity, a very apt description. The possibilities are endless, you can make your own movie using a storyboard camera, discover the use of rhyming phrases to create your own amusing tales and the best bit, sit in Roald Dahl’s chair for a photo. Hugh didn’t necessarily understand the aim of every activity but loved getting involved. We spent a lot of time in the craft area creating crazy pictures with a plethora of craft material provided.
Our visit finished in the Lower Babbling Room for storytelling. Delivered in a theatrical style, snippets of Dahl’s favourite books are read by the museum team. It was clear to see this was a real success as the roof was raised by the screams of ‘frogspottle’ from the over enthusiastic crowd of children. A real high to end a great visit. It also inspired us to start our next book, ‘The Enormous Crocodile’.
The facilities are very family friendly, there is a courtyard in which you can enjoy food from the café or an indoor space where you can eat a picnic. Even the toilets have sound bites being played, a novelty enough to require additional visits to the loo! There is parking further into Great Missenden but is an easy walk for children, and in our case for a buggy. Great Missenden itself is a picturesque Chiltern town and is worth a wonder if time (and children!) allow. In fact you can walk up to the graveyard where Dahl is buried and visit his grave.
On reflection I think what made our visit a success was the fact that the museum has recognised that it may not be the most obvious place to take a pre-schooler or even a child under 8. In a way, this has made them work harder to ensure that EVERY child, no matter their age, enjoys their visit. It’s not their main focus, but it’s the little things they have done. For example; it’s not huge as museums go. Not a bad thing for a younger child’s short attention span, but not great when they need to burn off some energy. The solution, self-guided family activity walks which take you into the woods, the place which inspired Dahl when writing Fantastic Mr Fox and his final book The Minpins.
If you are thinking about giving it a try, it’s worth also looking at what they have planned over the summer holidays. The museum is hosting a full programme of activities until the 3rd September part of their ‘Buzzyhumming Summer’. From making clay ‘Frumpkins’ (fruit and veg to me and you!) and chocolate ‘Cattypiddlers’ and bugs to ‘Gloriumptious Guided Trails’. The programme is bursting with things to enjoy and most of which are aimed at the over 4’s. You can find the full listing on the museum website (www.roalddahl.com/museum)
So what would I reply to the Facebook post now?
“Give it a go! Don’t expect your child to come out a Roald Dahl fan, but for them to have had fun. It’s a relaxed museum which encourages creativity. You can fill a day with lunch and an activity trail, or just fly by and join one of the planned activities. In the spirit of Dahl, use your imagination, it will be what you make it”.
NB: Emily and her son received complimentary tickets to visit the Museum but all views and opinions are her own.
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