Imagine walking into a museum. It is light and airy. Looking up, you can see the ceiling towering above. Display cabinets form rows in the middle, on the ground. By sheer osmosis, you seem to absorb information as you walk in. At the back, you come across a door way. It opens up into another room of similar size. This time darker. Like a twin to the first. This is the Natural History museum and the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford.
Sparking curiosity. It made the perfect atmospheric outing, this weekend, especially running up to Halloween. If you are a fan of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials, you will find it strangely familiar.
The first part of the building is the Natural History museum. It’s housed in the most beautiful, victorian building. It is light and airy, and set up to educate. Even the columns are made from different stone, with the type and location chiselled in at the base. Intricate iron work all the way to the roof.
There is nothing fusty about the exhibits. There is a lot. I’m not sure at what point during our visit, the Boy stopped saying “Look at this”, every few seconds. Or when he conceded that he couldn’t possibly see everything in a day.
I love beetles. Thrilled to find this display. Regular readers may notice that I have the same quote in my sidebar. Each beetle has a series of tiny squares of paper behind it, with tiny printed words, skewered by the same pin as the beetle. Intricate and precise. Keeping important information with each beetle.
Not into beetles? No worries. There was something to interest everyone. We haven’t visited for a few years (here), so it felt new and fresh to the children. They’ve reached the stage where they spend more time reading the displays and sharing interesting facts. Walking each other back to view something of great interest.
Each had their favourite. For Eldest, she spent time examining all the bird displays. We were all shown the origins of bird nest soup.
For Middle one, she loved the elephant skeletons and the size of them.
And the Boy. Well, his favourite was through the door, in the Pitt Rivers part of the museum.
Strangely enough, I don’t seem to have a photo of the shrunken heads that he found fascinating, so instead I’m showing you an entirely separate display of toys that I liked.
The Pitt Rivers museum has the most amazing collection. If you are interested in anthropology then this is the museum for you. They have cabinets full of musical instruments, weaving, masks, votive offerings and witchcraft, fire starting implements, native canoes, samurai armour and swords, ceremonial paraphernalia, tally sticks…. and so much more. It is like wandering into the most amazing, old curiosity shop. Each item labelled to enlighten you. Often handwritten in the most precise, tiny writing, which makes you question the size of the writer.
(images of spectacled, learned mice writing labels by candle light)
Under some of the display cabinets are more exhibits in drawers which you can pull out to view. There is so much to see. Something for everyone. A dream of a place for anyone that has ever wondered about something from the past. Just about anything.
This is the part of the museum that I would not like to be alone in. Kept darker to delay fading of the exhibits. It has a more eerie feel to it, but maybe that’s just me.
Back in the Natural History museum, among the animal skeletons. I think it was Eldest that suggested how interesting it would be if everything in the museum came alive again. I’m not sure I share the same understanding and appreciation of the word “interesting” as she obviously does, but I do admire her curiosity and imagination. The perfect place to spark both.
I’ll stick with the beetles.
Please, don’t come back to life!
There are lifts between floors, giving access to wheelchairs and prams. There is nearby on-street parking, as well as a park and ride. Not the cheapest options, so if you are prepared to walk and make a day of it, then there are alternatives.
The museum is free to visit, with donation boxes around. There is a cafe on the second floor with cakes, sandwiches, children’s box and drinks, giving excellent view of the ground floor of the Natural History museum and the building as a whole.
When I travelled as a child, I always had a clutch of books. While others couldn’t read in the car, I would have my nose in a book with no ill effect. I would read for most of the journey. Once finished, I’d gaze out of the window enjoying the moving scene.
I am the youngest of four, it eventually reached the stage where my older siblings found other pursuits more interesting than holidaying with the family or they were away at school. Suited me as, I tended to have the back seat of the car all to myself. No one to argue with. Room to spread out.
Later, I travelled by train and plane for work. I looked forward to these journeys as I knew I’d have plenty of time to read. I went through shelves full of sci-fi and discovered the best train station book stores to buy my favourites from.
In contrast, my children prefer to have travel entertainment which is more interactive and collaborative. They like I-spy type of games that they can all play together. I make spotting lists for journeys, or they will make up stories together. Sometimes there are arguements but mainly they are happy. A good job as all three of them sit along the back seat together.
This summer, to help break up the journey, I’ve made a drawstring patchwork travel bag with nine squares. I’ve used fabric, from my stash which are nature themed. My favourite bees and fire fly fabric among them. They are 2.5 inches squares, allowing a 0.25 inch seam allowance. I picked out my blue seashell fabric as the backing, which I used for my pin cushion. I must use it more. It gives a perfect holiday feel.
Inside are more of our collection of pebbles and stones. I am determined to find uses for our previous seashore finds. This time I’m putting them to work as markers for noughts and crosses, or tic-tac-toe. My version is Pebbles and Shells.
There is something about holding a pebble in your hand that is truly calming. They are all the perfect size for the squares. If any are lost, we can replace them. I won’t even have to worry about littering.
This bag has a secret. On the under side of all the pebbles and shells, I’ve marked on numbers. 1 to 9. This set can also be used to work on the magic square. If you haven’t come across the concept before, the idea is that each row, column and diagonal should add up to 15. It is great for practising adding up and stretching logic muscles. It could be timed and played as a competition.
Yet again they are having too much fun solving the puzzle to realize they are practising their maths again.
Alternatively, they could use it as a memory game, matching number bonds. Finding 2 and 8, or 4 and 6 for example. Or make up stories about the different patches. I remember my sister doing this for me when I was younger than them.
I’m sure the children will dream up other games to play with this travel bag. I’ll add in a deck of cards, so I can teach them a few card games too. Also a ball of wool. Finger knitting is a great way to pass the time and literally keep little fingers busy!
Hopefully, this summer we will take it on journeys, and maybe into restaurants, to play as we wait for our meals to arrive. I love how the patchwork turned out and I certainly won’t mind bringing it out of my bag for us all to play with. Even in the busiest pub. It is light and small, making it perfect for travelling.
What do you take on journeys or holidays to keep children entertained while they travel?