C o m m o n w e a l t h
A s s o c i a t i o n o f
M u s e u m s
CAM Bulletin Number 7 - Nov. 2001
A Canadian in Kenya:
the experience of programming for
children in the museum
Readers will recall that there were CAM internships in several locations working with the GCAM programme. In this column, we feature an article by Andrea Gumpert who was located in Nairobi, Kenya from November 1999 to March 2000. She describes one of the new programmes developed there.
"It was a wonderful experience for the children and teachers on how a museum can be made more interesting."
Allengrove Nursery School,
February 11, 1999.
In November 1997, the Commonwealth Association of Museums hosted a week long workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. From Children in African Museums: The Undiscovered Audience, came the Nairobi Declaration on Children in African Museums a document that expresses the philosophical direction of the workshop. The Group for Children in African Museums (GCAM) was also established with workshop participants pledging to continue strengthening the network and sharing ideas on children's programming and on making museums children friendly.
As part of an initiative by the Youth International Internship Program (YIIP) under the Canadian Government, the Commonwealth Association of Museums was awarded funding for two Canadian interns to be placed each in Botswana and in Kenya in 1998. The focus of both was the GCAM programme.
Primary among our duties as interns, we were charged to work along side education officers, develop and implement one new children's program, assist in existing programmes and facilitate an exchange between African and Western cultures. The benefits of such an internship include the exchange of knowledge between the African museum staff and the Canadian intern, solid hands on experience for the intern and, at least one, well researched and implemented children's program at the museum.
As the intern sent to the Nairobi Museum in the National Museums of Kenya network (NMK), I was partnered with an experienced education officer who shared my appreciation of such an exchange and we quickly got underway to conceive a program in the ethnographic section of the museum. After extensively studying the museum's material culture collection with the generous assistance of the Ethnography Department, a children's program called Kumbu Kumbu: a workshop for mini curators1 was designed for young children (ages 4 through 7).
The promotion of Kumbu Kumbu concentrated directly upon kindergartens, nursery and primary schools. An invitation and promotional poster was sent to the heads of schools outlining the objectives and the design of the program. In January 1999, NMK launched Kumbu Kumbu, the first interactive program for young children with bookings realized for almost every available time slot.
The program began with a brief and animated tour and discussion of the material culture of Kenya shown on display in the museum and followed with a workshop activity that encouraged the children to recognize, classify and exhibit a mini collection from the museums "hands on" assortment.
In a studio space separate from the exhibition, the children would each select an item from a central box that contained numerous modern and traditional objects including head rests, gourds, necklaces, a computer mouse, musical instruments, cooking vessels and African and Western clothing and toys. As a group, we would identify what the objects were and decide where they should be exhibited in our mini-Museum. Three divisions were created based on the sections that were considered during the museum tour: artifacts that were used for play, cooking or adornment. The children would draw colourful pictures of their selected items and arrange the artifacts in the appropriate section of the 'mini-museum'.
To reinforce their experience at NMK, they were encouraged to construct an exhibit with their pictures once back at school with the teachers' assistance.
The principle objectives for implementing this workshop included exposing young children to a fun and different learning environment, sharing their knowledge about material culture with each other and with the museum staff as well as understanding the role of a museum through collecting and exhibiting. Unintentionally, the children had a wealth of knowledge and skills that Kumbu Kumbu encouraged them to appreciate. In addition, by removing them from the classroom setting and introducing both the children and their teachers to the resources available to the museum (but not to the average class) their interest in the learning that transpired outside of the classroom was nurtured.
The success of Kumbu Kumbu was due in large part to the active involvement of the children and their teachers. The interactive format2 appealed to young children and challenged both the children and adults to consider the museum a stimulating and creative environment. Evaluations from teachers were consistently positive and encouraged the museum to further explore programmes of this nature, as well as continue to consider the young child as a valuable and potentially recurrent consumer.
As part of GCAM's commitment to encourage African children to enjoy and to learn through museums, the internship experience supported by the Commonwealth Association of Museums was just one example among many to cultivate that exchange and support. Ideally, both the intern and the host museum maintain the congruent benefits of any one experience. And, with the ongoing network and involvement of GCAM, professionals beyond the walls of one museum invigorate education programmes elsewhere with opportunities and ideas for African children visiting the museum.
1 "Kumbu kumbu" meaning 'old' or very roughly 'museum' in Kiswahili. This was the closest translation we could identify to supparize our plan. The Web address is: www.museums.or.ke/kumbu.html
2 The 'interactive' format used was questions posed to the children to lead them towards conclusions or 'discoveries' of their own rather than lecturing them with information.