Museum Outreach: The power of interesting things

Learning Officer Andy reveals how museum objects can become part of the recovery process for children in hospital

At my last visit to the Leeds General Infirmary Learning zone, where I do museum outreach with children who are in hospital long term, I had one of my best experiences so far as a Museum Learning Officer.

I spend time with the children in the learning rooms, if they are able to make it, and then go to the wards with objects and do bedside sessions with those children not able to make it.

One child, A, was leaving the hospital to go home that evening. The staff from the Learning Zone said that he was 13 years old and had challenging behaviour and profound learning needs. They told me to explain carefully how he was to behave round museum objects. I felt some slight trepidation. When we got to the ward he was not there, then we heard loud screaming.

“That’s A, having his IV removed” said the staff member with me. My trepidation became a little more than slight at this point.

When A came back to ward he was clearly upset and crying a lot. The first object I showed him was a kaleidoscope, he had not seen one before and was mesmerised by it. The crying stopped instantly! He politely asked if he could look at the other objects I had and was very gentle with them without me having to explain how to handle them other than saying that they were very old and please be careful with them.

Andy (centre), pictured at Leeds Discovery Centre

He was very taken with the printing block from Hunslet Locomotives, being a 13-year-old boy and into trains. I explained that we have a museum in Armley with trains. As we were high up and had a good view out the hospital windows to the east, I pointed out the spire of St Michaels Church and tracked left to where Armley Industrial Museum is, “There is the museum. Why don’t you visit with your mum when you feel up to it,” I said. He ran off to tell his mum, and that was the end of that session.

From worrying that this session was going to be a challenging one to in fact being one with a polite, attentive and gentle child I put down to the power of interesting things. I am a firm believer that handling interesting things can aid in the recovery of many ills.

Andrew Kyrover, Learning and Access Officer, Leeds Discovery Centre

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