Go back to article: ‘The whole exhibition becomes the stage…’ – a journey through time by children for children as a new approach to peer learning


Our grant application was based on a detailed pedagogical concept that outlined both the overall project goals and detailed descriptions of which skills and competences children would acquire and which pedagogical measures could be used to achieve this objective. Linguistic competence, social competence, self-competence, historical competence and creative-artistic competence should be mentioned as particularly important here. To what extent the intended goals were achieved and up to what level depended to an extent on the personality of the child. Yet as a pilot project mistakes were always going to be made and the experience and evaluation provided an opportunity for the Museum to learn how to make improvements and run better programmes in future. Although an accurate measurement of success is difficult, some statements can be made.

The evaluation summarised the impressions and assessments of all involved parties. Internal evaluation, the observations of the alliance partners and educators, the children’s statements and the feedback from the parents were included in a final report to the funders.

In addition, continuous assessment was done throughout the project. A detailed project diary was kept which documented the current events, project schedule, organisational procedures and assessments after the individual meetings and workshops. These observations were discussed and evaluated in regular team meetings with museum management, the museum’s own staff and the museum educators supervising the project.

We started the project with fourteen children, all between 9 and 10 years of age. Eight children had a migrant background, two came from large families with five or more children, at least three lived with single mothers or fathers, all came from families that are generally considered educationally disadvantaged. The children represented exactly the target group we wanted to reach. Visiting the schools with the Museum suitcase proved to be an effective means of recruitment and the use of the educators of the after-school clubs to help with the choice of children was the right decision.[17]

Not only were more children registered than expected, but surprisingly all the registered children regularly took part and were involved until the end of the project. This may be taken as a sign that the contents of the project were exciting and so varied that the children did not lose the desire to participate. From the very beginning, we had emphasised the need for a very varied programme with new and surprising elements for each meeting so that motivation levels remained high. This is an approach we would continue in any follow-up project.

However, it was necessary to modify the course of each session structurally at some points. Our schedule was too tight in some places. We overestimated what can be done in the three hours of the afternoon meeting. It turned out to be very important to create a window for relaxation. At least half an hour at the beginning of each meeting and a few minutes at the end had to be available as free time so that the children could relax by romping, eating, sitting together, and talking after the school day. It makes more sense in future to schedule more project days than to overload the individual meetings and overburden the children.

Reducing the agenda is one learning point, but it was just as important to streamline and control the timing and agenda more closely. Allowing the children to constantly change the script was a mistake, causing unnecessary confusion and loss of time. The same applies to the choice of costumes. We had a large collection of costumes with several hats, handbags, jewellery and other stuff for dressing up, as a grande dame for instance. The girls constantly changed their costumes and tried to be the first to get hold of a particular hat or bag. The costumes have to be fixed at a reasonably early point for individual parts. That seems such an easy and sensible thing to do, but unfortunately we didn’t do it. Partly because the children had so much fun dressing up differently and the museum educators did not want to take away their fun, and partly because they became aware of the problem of this open-ended approach too late. Again, this is something we would change in future programmes.

Regarding the intended acquisition of skills and competences, the internal evaluation showed the following result. Not only did we discover that the children had acquired a great deal of knowledge, it also became apparent that a bond was created between the children and the Museum and that they felt they were part of the Museum team. The visual and physical elements of belonging, such as polo shirts and name badges have contributed significantly to this identification with the Museum. Even small things, such as the opportunity to get a drink from the kitchen at any time, were important in this process. Entering the kitchen of the Museum café with the large ‘Staff only’ sign at the door and leaving with a drink in sight of the café visitors, visibly boosted children’s self-confidence and self-esteem every time.

The participants developed a strong sense of belonging, helped and supported each other during rehearsals and were able to autonomously discuss the issue of the missing fellow actor and also make a joint decision to solve the problem.

The measurable improvement in the expressive use of voice and body was primarily due to the good work of the drama teacher. We can highly recommend conducting such workshops regardless of stage plays. Learning to articulate loudly and clearly, to control and use one’s body language and to maintain eye contact with the audience is a desirable skill to achieve. Not only have we noticed the improvements, but our alliance partners in the after-school clubs made similar observations in their daily dealings with the children. We were particularly pleased that the parents also confirmed the correctness of our assessment.

During the project we already had direct and ongoing contact with those parents, who picked up their children at five o’clock, and we received some feedback at these times. However, due to the shortness of time, we were only able to hold brief conversations in passing. Our most important sources for the parents’ views of the project were the interviews following the performance and the evaluation questionnaires sent out afterwards.

We had designed a different questionnaire for parents and children and distributed it at the closing event. Most parents filled in the sheets on their own. In case of a lack of language skills our trainee – a young woman of Turkish descent – took over the survey, translating the questions and answers.

It was particularly important to us to confirm which activities the children enjoyed most and which parts of the programme they did not like. Multiple answers to these questions were possible. Based on our observations and the direct feedback during the course of the project we had clear expectations and our assumptions turned out to be correct. The drama lessons and rehearsals were very well received, and exploring the Museum’s storerooms and operating the exhibits were very popular too. Several children explicitly mentioned ‘It was great to be allowed to have something to drink at any time’. We only got one answer to the question regarding unpopular actions. One boy succinctly replied, ‘the pub’. We were able to surmise that the child who completed that questionnaire was a boy who had considered dancing to be embarrassing.

After the performance the families remained at the Museum for more than two hours and thus provided us with a unique opportunity for more in-depth conversations. Frequently we heard “I was rather sceptical about this project and above all in a museum but my grandson loved telling everybody about his ‘important job’”; “I never thought my daughter would enjoy that” or “It is unbelievable that my daughter would voluntarily memorise and recite something. At school she is as mute as a maggot.” Incidentally, the very same daughter responded on the questionnaire ‘I liked best learning to speak loudly’. A mother laughingly told us her son constantly talked about his roles and costumes and that he had sent her shopping only the day before. She had to buy a spray bottle which seemed to be absolutely necessary to use as a prop – it was the mother of the ‘rainmaker’ from the tram scene.

These parents supported their children in participation. More problematic were the families with whom we had no contact, who neither responded to letters or emails nor to calls (a well-known problem according to the school educators) and who did not show up for the performance. Especially in the case of the one girl, who was not allowed to attend the performance as the mother had other plans that day, it was very obvious that the mother did not support the participation of her daughter. It was equally frustrating for us noticing the disappointment of those two girls whose parents didn’t come to the final performance. We commiserated with the children but could only tell them how great they had done and how proud we were of their achievements. The probability that this scenario will occur in future projects is high. We don’t have a solution to this problem.

Apart from this small drawback the closing event was a highlight for participants. In parting, both children and parents emphasised the explicit wish for future projects to take place.

However, there was one remaining task to accomplish, namely performing the play for the children’s peer-group during holidays. Due to the successful premiere the initial timidity to play act in front of their classmates vanished. The spectators from the surrounding elementary schools gave enthusiastic applause after the show. At the performance we also tried to encourage more children to join the next project and some showed great interest.

In summary it can be stated that the project was well received by all participants. The format of creating a dramatic performance has proved to be especially effective with this audience group. The children have benefited from the project and the Museum has not only succeeded in reaching this target group and binding them to the Museum but has also been able to intensify the relationship with the schools. The good cooperation with our alliance partners not only provides the foundation for long-term commitments but is also an important precondition for mutual future projects.

Due to the successful pilot project we obtained follow-up funding. The German Museum Association has funded two additional projects[18], which essentially corresponded to the proven concept but took into account the necessary modifications indicated by the evaluation of the pilot and mentioned above.

We are very pleased that even now – two years after the first project started – several of the original children still visit the Museum at weekends or during holidays wearing their polo shirts and name tags. Some just play in the exhibition, others even have the courage to address visitors, offering to show them around, explain a certain exhibit or switch on the juke box.

Figure 9

Colour photograph of two young children volunteering as guides at the museum

A spontaneous Museum tour guided by Lena. Lena took part in the first project 2016 and still visits the Museum at the weekends. At the beginning of the project she used to be very quiet and shy, but now she is confident enough to ask children and even adult visitors whether they would like further information.

In order to strengthen the bond between children and the Museum and to encourage a long-term engagement we are planning to establish a Museum club. Starting in May 2018 the club will put its first project into practice by creating an exhibition on the topic of ‘Children’s Toys through the Ages’.

Figure 10

Colour photograph of the team of young participants in museum shirts

The ‘spark carriage drivers’ proudly present their new polo shirts, which make them recognisable as members of the museum team


Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/180911/004