It’s the little things that make a big difference

I’ve recently returned to the Whitworth after spending an amazing (if not tiring!) year on maternity leave with my little boy Henry.

I timed my maternity leave pretty well, returning to work just as the gallery opened it’s doors after a £15 million transformation, doubling it in size and creating new spaces that embrace the park.

As Early Years Coordinator I am responsible for all activity related to under 5s and their parents and carers. Since returning lots of people have asked me if I think having a baby myself has helped to inform my role. The answer is a definite yes and actually I’ve realized that a lot of the time it’s the really little things that make a big difference to the success or failure of an outing with a little one.

Many many times I have been caught out having run out of wipes or forgotten to bring enough nappies.
nappy supplies
So now at the Whitworth we have an emergency baby supplies kit packed full of everything you might need – wipes, nappies, nappy cream, cotton wool and even a few spare clothes, for all those little emergencies. Items are free to use and are available at our Welcome Desk.

Little things like toilets with space to take your pushchair in with you, otherwise how do you go to the toilet when you’re out on your own…?
The Whitworth has three baby changing areas all of which have a toilet within them and plenty of space for pushchairs, even double pushchairs. We have also put mobiles above each changing table to keep little ones happy and entertained during nappy changes.

Once Henry started walking he didn’t want to be in his pushchair for long anymore, he’d much prefer to be toddling around exploring. Juggling running after him and trying to keep control of a pushchair is a bit of a challenge so if there’s the option to leave the pushchair somewhere safe then that’s a big help.
The Whitworth has a buggy park at the bottom of the South Staircase and lockers to put away bags, coats etc.

However, I’d say the biggest thing I will bring back to work will be in the welcome I give to parents/ carers when they arrive at the gallery, knowing what a challenge it is just to get out of the house with a little one.
Providing a friendly and supportive space where you can get out of the house and meet other people and feel like you’re doing something positive and worth while with your baby is a life line. Sometimes just chatting to someone else who’s going through or gone through the same as you, whoever they are, makes you realize that you’re not on your own.
The Whitworth runs Art Baby sessions every Wednesday for non-walking babies and their parents/ carers.

Since reopening we’ve worked really hard to think of everything to make a family visit to the Whitworth as brilliant as possible. We’ve tried to add little touches that say ‘we’ve thought about you’. However, we always want to improve what we offer so if you have any suggestions please do get in touch at

To find out more about the Early Years programme at The Whitworth visit the website.

Museum of the Year 2015 – it’s the Whitworth!

The gallery, part of the University of Manchester, has been awarded the Art Fund’s prestigious prize – and we couldn’t be happier.

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On 1 July, at a prestigious ceremony at Tate Modern, the gallery was awarded the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015. It’s the largest arts award in Britain and the biggest museum prize in the world. It is awarded to the museum or gallery in the UK that is judged to have best demonstrated excellence, innovation and imagination. We reopened on 14 February, but while we were closed we did all we could to remain “open”, with pop-up projects all over the city and beyond, maintaining links to our existing audiences and building new ones. Since reopening, our new building has enabled us to undertake larger and more ambitious projects, presentations and exhibitions, and we hope we have realised our potential as a major UK cultural destination.

“During 2014, while MUMA created our new gallery, we took the Whitworth and its collections out into the city,” explains our director, Maria Balshaw. “We used the time to create more ambitious programmes. We considered what sorts of collaborations could work at the Whitworth, between young people and our collections, say, or between artists and the academics we share a campus with. And we created an ambitious opening season of exhibitions and events that could only happen here at the Whitworth.

“That period of intensive work paid off. In the five months since our reopening, 200,000 people have enjoyed everything from Cornelia Parker’s collaboration with the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Konstantin Novoselov – alongside her monumental new commission, War Room – to hip hop in the Grand Hall, tai chi in the art garden and an exhibition curated by older men from a local care home. In between, we’ve hosted ten, critically acclaimed exhibitions and witnessed a ‘takeover’ of the gallery by young people.

“What we have done this year is the culmination of all that we achieved in 2014. It has been a momentous period for the gallery – and winning this award is a wonderful way to say thank you to all those who made it possible, and to those visitors, old and new, who joined us on our journey.”

The panel of judges chaired by Art Fund director, Stephen Deuchar were artist Michael Landy; design critic and author Alice Rawsthorn; books and arts editor of The Economist Fiammetta Rocco; and Axel Rüger, director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

The University of Manchester‘s Whitworth was chosen from a shortlist of six finalists: Dunham Massey (National Trust), Altrincham; IWM, London; The MAC, Belfast; Oxford University Museum of Natural History; and HM Tower of London.

Use the hashtag #museumoftheyear to tell the world what the Whitworth means to you.

Call out for Early Years Practitioners

Are you an artist, musician, storyteller, dancer or other creative practitioner and interested in working with children aged 0-5 years?

The Manchester Museum, Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth are looking for creative and passionate people to work on their award winning Early Years Programmes.


Since 2006, Manchester Museum, Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth have been working together to develop rich, sensory, hands-on programmes and resources for young children, practitioners, parents and carers and in June 2012 were awarded the Clore Award for Museum Learning for their Early Years work.
Current work includes:

• Participatory learning programmes for Foundation stage children in early years settings
• Family programmes for under 5’s, parents and carers
• Engagement programmes for under 2’s, parents and carers
• Targeted partnership programmes

If you are interested in applying to work with us please email a CV (no more than 2 sides) and a supporting statement (500 words) outlining your experience of working with children, your reason for wishing to work with us and how you are suitable for this role.

Please send your applications by e.mail to by Friday 4th August 2015.

For further information about our range of programmes for under 5’s please visit our websites:
Manchester Museum

the Whitworth

Manchester Art Gallery

and Culturekidsmanchester Facebook page:
Culturekidsmanchester Facebook

If you have any questions then please contact:

Elaine Bates:
Early Years Coordinator Manchester Museum
0161 306 1777

Lucy Turner
Early Years Coordinator Whitworth Art Gallery
0161 275 7453

Sarah Marsh
Temporary Family Learning Manager
0161 235 8869

Clore Art Studio: Pattern Edition at Manchester Art Gallery

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The Clore Art Studio: Pattern Edition, opened in April taking inspiration from the exhibition House Proud. Artists Jessica Wild and Sarah Marsh have created a space for families to interact with ideas; exploring pattern in exciting and innovative ways.

The ever changing space will be evolving and transformed over the next year, with new exhibitions and feedback from our visitors and volunteers via our hashtag #MAGfamilies.

As well as using the space for our monthly art clubs, we get regular visitors bringing their young ones for self directed play. The open-ended, multi sensory resources in the space are perfect for the culture babies around town!

Open everyday 10-5pm. See you by the Pattern Pegboard!

New Awakenings: The Early Years Programme at the Whitworth

Hello, my name is Michiko Fujii and I have been developing and delivering creative early years events and workshops across Manchester’s cultural venues and beyond for over 10 years. I am really excited to be writing this post as the Temporary Early Years Coordinator, filling in for Lucy Turner at The Whitworth.

Since the opening of our fantastic new gallery, the spotlight has been on our Early Years programme. As part of the inaugural event on the 14th February, babies and their adults were treated to Brass Baby – a drop-in, multi-sensory experience led by Northern Brass, who tested out the acoustics in the new, opulent first floor Grand Hall space. The session was highly interactive as brass musicians responded both to the new building and also to our youngest participants. Our theme of new awakenings and landscapes formed connections to new exhibitions across the gallery and also the outdoors as the gallery extends out into the park. I also took inspiration from the new Green textiles exhibition, laying out an exciting array of green-themed, sensory materials.

no holding back   and breathe...!best buddies

Our new weekly Toddler Art Club sessions have been lively and energetic as ever with dancers Bridget and Annabel waking everybody up with music and movement on Monday mornings. Visual artist Felicity has also been encouraging child-led exploration with more green-themed materials and objects as we rotate around different gallery spaces each week. This week we focused on feeling, weaving and diving into baskets of textured, recycled materials. I also watched lots of little ones engrossed in examining and constructing with reclaimed objects – great for practising those fine motor skills!

under the duvet   playful patterns

And now there’s even more creative fun for toddlers on a Monday too as we have launched a drop-in Early Years Atelier in our new Clore Learning Studio which opens out onto the beautiful sculpture garden. Here the focus is experimenting with wet, messy materials, taking inspiration from the outdoors using clay, natural materials and tools to make sculptural forms, mini worlds and whatever else can be dreamed up. We’re really looking forward to the arrival of spring weather so that we can begin to work outdoors too as we fold open the new studio doors. The Early Years Atelier is a free, drop-in space open Mondays from 10am – 4pm.

indoors outdoors  clay play

For those with smaller babies, we also run our blissful Art Baby – Music Baby on Wednesday mornings. Each week, new mums, dads and carers can book online to this lovely, relaxed session as musicians Nancy or Ruthie fill the galleries with music as our littlest ones are free to explore an exciting array of baby-friendly, sensory materials with their adult. The colourful materials are laid out like an interactive installation on the gallery floor and it’s nice to watch other visitors stop to coo at babies and comment on how lovely it is to see such young participants enjoying themselves in the gallery.

nancy wins a fan   green comes in all tones, forms and sizes

To all those lucky Manchester residents with babies and young children, enjoy our first snapshots of sessions and we look forward to welcoming you in to explore with us very soon!



Nature Discovery gallery for Under 5’s is now open!

At Manchester Museum, we have been redeveloping our Nature Discovery gallery as an imaginative space that encourages young children to lead their adults through an object rich exploration of the natural world. Young children will be able to search for creatures, create fantastical stories based on the natural world and immerse themselves in a series of habitats.

‘The Den’ provides a cosy reading area, with animals playfully hiding around the tree trunks.

‘The Meadow’ is full of light and colour, with plants, butterflies, insects and underground animals for children to find.

‘The Treetops’ showcases a variety of birds from our collection for children to spot.

‘The Forest’ is a beautiful and enchanting 3D paper ‘story book’ art installation, developed in collaboration with artist Helen Musselwhite. Between the paper cut trees, children and their adults can glimpse a variety of animals, from small insects to large creatures, highlighting the beauty and diversity of the natural world.

We will be using the gallery to continue to develop our programmes for young children and their families, including; Baby Explorers, Magic carpet and our Big Saturday family programmes. There will also be an opportunity to develop new programmes for Nursery and Reception classes visiting the museum and to offer professional development sessions to support self-led explorer visits. Please check our Early Years page for updates.

Elaine Bates

Early Years coordinator

A British (Baby) Invasion

Many Americans go to Great Britain to see Big Ben, or tramp through Downton Abbey-type manor houses or to hopefully catch a glimpse of William and Kate. I went for the babies! As the Manager of Early Learning Programs at the Dallas Museum of Art, I am always searching for ways to strengthen our programs for early learners.Photo 6

More than a year ago, I stumbled across the CultureBabies blog, and I was so inspired by what was happening in museums in the UK for children 0-2, I knew I had to see it in person. While many museums in the US offer a variety of programs and classes for toddlers and preschoolers, classes actually focused on babies seem to be harder to come by. So I wrote a grant, sent a few emails, packed my bags, and a year later, made my way to Manchester for some babies in museums research.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to observe both a Baby Explorers session at the Manchester Museum and a Baby Art Club session at the Manchester Art Gallery. Museum staff and the class participants were all so welcoming and willing to share their experiences with me, I felt right at home. And I quickly fell in love with how both institutions use sensory play as a vehicle for encouraging babies to explore their world while also modeling meaningful ways for caregivers to interact with their children.

I was especially struck in both sessions by how ordinary objects became things of beauty. In the metal sensory play area at the Manchester Museum, metal bowls, spoons, whisks, and kitchen containers were transformed from utilitarian utensils into light, reflection, and shine. I observed one mother shining a flashlight through a metal object, and watched as her baby focused on the light and reached for the object as the light reflected around her. The next minute, the baby was waving a whisk through the air, experimenting with its weight and feel.

Photo 1

At the Manchester Art Gallery, babies were knocking over cardboard boxes, burrowing into mounds of fabric, playing in a bowl of flour, and clanging metal spoons together. There were shrieks of delight, lots of happy babbling, and adults and children giving themselves completely over to enjoying play.

I saw tremendous value in both programs for adults and babies. For the adults, these classes seem to give them permission to leave behind all the usual tasks that build up in a day, and allow them to simply enjoy being with their babies. The adult-child interactions I observed as an on-looker were definitely sweet, but even more importantly, were contributing to positive social-emotional growth and language development for the children. Caregivers also leave these sessions with ideas for how to use everyday materials at home as playthings, learning that items as simple as a wooden spoon and a bowl of flour can provide endless entertainment and valuable open-ended learning opportunities for babies.

But perhaps the greatest outcome of these baby classes from a museum educator point of view, is that the families create strong relationships with the museums and see them as valuable partners in the journey of raising a child. At the Manchester Museum, one little girl has been attending the Baby Explorers class for the past few months with her foster mother. When I observed the class, she attended for the first time with her new adoptive parents. It was truly beautiful to see this little girl so confident in her surroundings, sure of herself as she crawled from one space to another, even as she adjusts to a new family and home life. The adoptive parents too were warmly welcomed into the museum family and appreciated the observations museum educators were able to share about their new daughter.

I came back to the DMA inspired and ready to try new ways of playing and learning with babies in our own galleries. Earlier this year we officially took our first “baby steps” into the world of museum programming for infants and launched a new class just for children 0-24 months old called Art Babies.

Photo 4

Art Babies differs from other baby tour programs in the US in that we focus on caregiver education and adult-child interactions. This isn’t a tour just for grown-ups who can bring along their babies if they like. Neither is it a class just for babies, with caregivers sitting in the background. We share tips on what types of art appeal to babies, offer suggestions for how adults can interact with very young babies when in an art museum, and then get out of the way and allow for family time in the galleries.

Over the past year, we’ve looked at abstract expressionist paintings and pretended to paint squiggly, Jackson Pollock-like lines in the air with the babies as the “paintbrushes.” We’ve searched for animals in the paintings and filled the galleries with growls, meows, and barks. And we’ve twisted and wiggled our bodies in a baby yoga session inspired by several of our Hindu sculptures. Over the coming months, I hope to incorporate some of the ideas and strategies I gathered from my new friends in Manchester and add a sensory play element to the class. So stay tuned for the DMA’s version of the British (baby) invasion!

Leah Hanson Manager of Early Learning Programs Dallas Museum of Art