I'm a working mum writing about life in Edinburgh (and anywhere else we go) with two curious, adventurous, and imaginative children. Visit my blog at www.linzertortes.blogspot.co.uk. Follow me on Twitter: @LinzerLaw
Published November 11th 2013
Explore the wonders of the natural world
My favourite part of any museum has always been the natural history section. As a child, I would beg to go to the museum in our closest city, and spend ages walking amongst the bears, lions, and birds. I was fascinated by the creatures that were extinct, and yet preserved forever in stuffed form. I loved to look at the rocks and crystals, carved out of the earth by unknown hands.
This little fellow was my favourite animal that I found.
So, when I found myself in Kensington, at a bit of a loose end the day waiting for a train after I'd been to the European Diversity Awards at the Natural History Museum, there was one obvious option. It wasn't shopping in Knightsbridge, just up the road; instead it was a visit to the Museum that I had only been able to see tantalising glimpses of at dinner the night before.
I lingered outside taking pictures of the architecture. Come opening time I didn't expect a queue to get in, but there was one. It was filled with a selection of people: locals with toddlers, tourists, students, and many school trips.
As part of the fund-raising, staff at the door have a some books you can buy. The activity book for children is good quality, and full of interesting activities.
Once through security I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Museum is completely free (although you can make a donation). Unfortunately, I had a bag, so I had to avail myself of left luggage: not free.
The Great Hall looks like something straight out of a Harry Potter film set.
I picked up a map from the helpful people at left luggage and then set off around the Museum. It soon became apparent that my slightly limited time would not be long enough; there are complete sections I had to miss out. I texted my husband to tell him we had to plan a family trip to London; I know my children would love it here.
The Museum is split into coloured sections: blue, red, orange, and green zones. These are all clearly marked on visual maps and text signposts, so it's quite easy to navigate. Even so, there is so much to see and do that you can easily get lost down a side alley of the main museum.
One of the themed display areas at the Natural History Museum.
In my case it was in the section about humans. It was filled with interactive activities, like demonstrations of famous experiments, that you could participate in. I think this section would be particularly interesting for children to get involved with. I spent ages in this area, marvelling at our complex physiology and amazing brain power.
An interesting experiment to do with your own children.
There are other sections of the Museum that are like stepping back in time to a 19th century collector's trove. Stuffed animals and birds of every variety line the walls. I found one particular exhibit downright creepy: it was just a cabinet filled with loads and loads of tiny birds. It was a historical collection, and I could just imagine it in a scary old house, where an eccentric explorer had retired.
Not my favourite exhibit at the Museum. Too creepy!
However, even these more traditional sections are surrounded by boards of facts to learn about, and activities to get stuck into. I particularly liked one, which was just lots of paper and pencils. They encouraged you to draw any of the displays and then stick it up on the huge board. Some of the art on there was excellent; there were really good anatomical studies juxtaposed next to children's drawings of dinosaurs and bears.
It's great to see a display of people's interactions with the exhibits.
At this point, I nipped over to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It's right over the road, and the Science Museum is just around the corner. How's that for museum heaven? When I came back to the Natural History Museum with the intention of just picking up my bags, I came in through a different entrance. It was like I was in a whole new Museum.
This sections draws parallels between the gods of the early civilisations and geological processes.
I was impressed by the National History Museum. It is vast, and filled with curiosities and educational experiences. There are all the amenities you would expect including cafés and many, many gift shops. There's also an inner-city garden, complete with a sheep, which makes a lovely outside walk.
Given its size, you could easily spend a lot of time here, so don't do what I was forced to and run round in an hour. If you set aside the time, and do get round quickly, then there's still two other options right on the doorstep to have more Museum fun!