It’s become a familiar refrain in the British press over the last few years: the humanities are being dismantled, arts subjects are disappearing from schools, funding for everything outside Progress 8 is being cut. Uptake of performing arts subjects has declined by close to 10% this year alone, while the drive for more “rigorous” examinations has seen subjects like Art History dropped from the A-Levels entirely. Schools, teachers and parents alike are all increasingly wary of subjects that lack perceived “seriousness”, and which do not directly correlate to future employability.
With arts subjects and cultural activities shunted out of schools, it is now incumbent upon parents to ensure their children get a holistic education. Fortunately for children in and around London, there remains a wealth of excellent – and free – museums and cultural activities to fill the gaps left by school. If you are worried that your child won’t find any cultural stimulation when they enter secondary school, or even if you are just looking for a way to stoke their interest while they are still young, the museums below offer a great starting point.
The Horniman Museum remains one of the most eccentric and delightful museums in London; masks, puppets, musical instruments, a six-meter totem pole, a stuffed walrus, and live alpacas all reward curiosity, and more than justify repeat visits.
In addition to its standing collection of art, fashion, and historical artefacts, the Victoria and Albert Museum has one of the most comprehensive selections of children’s activities, including an interactive treasure hunt and a full recreation of the museum in Minecraft.
Sir John Soane’s Museum is one of the more obscure London attractions, but definitely worth your while: an idiosyncratic collection of paintings, drawings, architectural models, historical objects, statuary and one (very impressive) Egyptian sarcophagus contained in a house left exactly as it was 181 years ago. Excellent museum trails and free art workshops help make the museum more accessible, and children with an interest in design and architecture will find a lot of encouragement here.
The Wellcome Collection can be challenging for younger children, but its collection of medical paraphernalia and curiosities – including a centimetre-thin cross-section of the human body – and its activity pack for younger visitors makes it an unusual and worthwhile day out. For any parents hoping their child might be a doctor one day, this introduction to the history of medicine can be a good way to spark an interest.
The Tate Modern and the Tate Britain both have outstanding art collections spanning a huge range of styles and time periods, but for children who are still on the fence about fine art the Tate operates numerous family events and maintains a website with dedicated activities and videos. Even better, under 12s have free access to all temporary exhibitions.
The British Museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of historical artefacts and treasures, including some of the most famous carvings and statues from the ancient world. Egyptian mummies, winged Assyrian lions, statues from the Parthenon, gladiator helmets and samurai armour – even children indifferent to history will find something to spark a lifetime of fascination. Family activities make a great starting point, and obsessives can even arrange sleepovers in the museum itself.