Isn’t it true that children are like clay, and can be molded by people and things that surround them? And nobody knows this better than Donna Mitchenson, who through her unique venture, “Culture for Kids”, is introducing children aged 0-5 to the exciting field of world cultures and traditions.
Donna, who has a Master’s Degree in International Cultural Heritage Management from Durham University, wants to make heritage fun for children. We asked her about her exciting venture, her methodologies, and her blog. Below is an excerpt from the emailed interview.
You have a master’s degree in International Culture and Heritage management. You could have chosen to work in any field of culture and heritage management. Why did you choose to work with kids?
My research at Durham University was in the area of communication of heritage, and understanding different audiences, their needs, limitations, and expectations. So my main motivation for starting “Culture for Kids” is my own daughter, Jade, who is three years old. We like to explore heritage sites and museums . So while I know heritage communication for the 0-5 age range is little explored, I feel there is a large audience which can be catered for.
How well do you think children relate to culture?
It is difficult to communicate heritage to children in the age group of 0 to 5, or for them to retain this information. However, one of the main objectives of the group is to create positive connotations surrounding heritage and culture in the minds of children. To give you an example, a parent contacted me after a session on Egyptian Day and said that her two year old put the crafts he had made on; collar, armlet and crown, and said to him, ‘look daddy, Egypt!’. To me, this sums up the essence of Culture for Kids, for them to take their creations home, and associate them with the heritage and culture they have learned about.
According to you, how important is it to nurture young minds about heritage and culture?
I think the future of heritage relies on how our children think and feel about it. It is our job to teach our children about the value of heritage and to teach about the wonder of diversity and promote acceptance. It is widely acknowledged that a child’s personality is forged during the ages 0-5. I feel it is important to expose children to heritage and culture during these years to encourage positive connotations in their mind which will stay with them in the future.
You employ a lot of art and craft activities to teach the kids about heritage. What are some of the other methodologies that you use?
I wrote a paper about making heritage communication more meaningful to the visitor by exploiting learning styles that was published on this topic. Although the paper was more geared to adults and technology communications, but the culture for kids sessions use the same sort of theory where children learn through play and sensory learning. I have used these theories for communicating heritage to the children through the venture.
I use arts and craft activities which are popular among the children. I create a brief information sheet to go with every activity which help parents explain the children what they are doing. I also use activities or games to highlight aspects of the heritage, such as Duplo blocks to construct a wall to signify Hadrian’s Wall, UK or we used a ball pool, which was very popular with all ages, to recreate a Roman Bath House.
What are the limitations/challenges that you face while working with kids?
It is hard developing activities which work well with such a young age range. Therefore, I have to put in a lot of thought which designing these crafts and other activities; often I try them out on my daughter first. I am also aware that there might people have their own preconceptions about heritage and culture and may not want to bring their children along. However, Culture for Kids initiative group has been extremely well received as an initiative, and continues to.
What are the ways you have been using to promote your venture?
I designed posters which are placed around the community and surrounding areas such as local nurseries and sure start facilities. The main source of promotion has been the Facebook page where the group has gained a lot of interest. Also, at Pelton Community Centre, where we conduct the group activities, has been very supportive.
Additionally, word of mouth has been a key fact for the promotion of this intitiave; once parents have attended, they often bring a friend for the next session.
“Culture for kids” is being appreciated and well received by a lot many stakeholders? What are your plans for future? Do you plan on expanding your venture in any way?
The aim of Culture for Kids is to engage children with different world cultures including their own.
After seeing the fliers for the group, a local nursery has expressed interest in holding sessions within the nursery for the children. Also, The Stroke Association has arranged for me to hold sessions with victims of stroke. Even though the audience is different, the key is to communicate the importance of heritage and culture. My main aim is to grow the group in numbers and build awareness for it. I hope to apply to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant to organise visits for the group members and their parents to various sites and museums, maybe even have them bring their creations to the heritage sites. I hope to use observations and evaluations I make during the sessions, and feedback from children and parents, to create a resource for museums and heritage sites for communicating to this age range.
You can visit Donna’s blog at https://cultureforkidsblog.wordpress.com/
As told to Devyani Nigoshkar