Part of being a Visitor Services Assistant at Manchester Museum means devising and taking part in personal projects; this might be learning a new language, developing tours or assisting curators behind the scenes. In October 2012 I was asked to think of a project I could make my own; I have always liked the idea of getting involved with education – especially 5-11-year-olds – so I put this forward, expecting to help out with school visits or maybe the Baby Explorers programme, which involves sensory play. I was instead, very surprised when I was asked to get involved with a new venture for the Museum – birthday parties for 6-11-year-olds.
I thought this might entail assisting with craft activities, but the next surprise was being asked to deliver thirty minute tours of the Museum for up to 15 children – the tour aspect, I thought ‘Okay’, but 15 children, ‘Oh my goodness!’ Once I had calmed down and considered the prospect, I thought ‘Why not? I’m a big kid, so it will be fun!’ So, the next step was coming up with a tour that lasted half-an-hour, covering the following themes – dinosaurs, natural history, the Vivarium (live animals) and Egyptology.
I decided the first area of the Museum would be The Manchester Gallery, where I could tell the story of Maharajah the Asian elephant and how he came to be at Belle Vue Zoo. The next stop was then Egyptology to see a special (mummified) lady called Asru. Following the story of this ancient performer’s life, the next port of call was the Vivarium to provide facts about poisonous dart frogs, and strawberry dart frogs carrying tadpoles on their backs before depositing each one into a separate bromeliad plant for safety. I decided the penultimate gallery was going to be Living Worlds, where imaginations can run wild; from a Bengal tiger to a green turtle, and even an albatross with the largest wingspan of any bird in the world.
Seeing such fascinating animals is a great climax to the final stop, Fossils Gallery – the home of Manchester Museum’s magnificent dinosaurs. This is where I am usually put to shame by the children, as their knowledge is far better than mine! It also gives them an opportunity to let their hair down, have a good stomp around Stan the T-Rex – and of course, roar like a dinosaur! To finish off, there is a mini quiz and a photo-shoot under the formidable Stan.
I would have to say that initially, the prospect of delivering birthday parties was very overwhelming, but now it is so enjoyable and fun I would miss doing them if they came to an end; especially when I hear such wonderful words of wisdom from the children I work with:
Q: How did Maharajah travel to Manchester?
- He was carried by another elephant!
- He flew in a helicoptor!
- He got a taxi and a bus!
One child told me over and over again that he had definitely seen live dinosaurs walking down his street! Who am I to argue!
Post by Peter Williams