Museums offer a dynamic opportunity to expose children to experiences and discover new things in a productive and educational environment. Indeed, today more than ever, museums have become unique spaces for learning and leisure. They play a vital role in local society, providing places where we can celebrate our heritage and culture, while also offering learning opportunities for families and schools.
Manal Ataya, Director General of Sharjah Museums Authority (SMA), which oversees 17 museums in the Emirate of Sharjah, believes that it is vital to plant the seed of curiosity at an early age, then nurture it and let it grow to attract the younger generation.
It’s not an easy task, but it’s a challenge that Ms Ataya and her team are facing head-on, as she explains: “Inquisitiveness is part of being a child and all children have it. However, it’s the parents’ and educators’ job to nurture it, with museums providing the right environment for this curiosity to grow.” She believes that children are never too young to visit museums, but only if parents begin to visit museums regularly themselves. It then becomes a natural extension of family life, with youngsters enjoying fun and recreational activities mixed with learning. The benefits are huge.
Children get the opportunity to be in a place where they are learning informally and being entertained simultaneously, she continued, urging parents to help their children find time to be in a museum that is physically, socially, and intellectually accessible to every single visitor, where they can learn something beyond the classroom. “Parents need to know that children don’t hate doing it – visiting a museum I mean – they just haven’t thought about doing it,” adding that learning doesn’t have to be separate from having fun.
Since it was established in 2006 by His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, SMA’s numbers have been steadily growing thanks to its keenness to attract young minds by launching new initiatives and partnering with educational institutions.
In 2018, Sharjah museums’ visitors of all ages, grew by nearly 18%, climbing to over 917,000.
In addition to numerous programmes and initiatives that are designed to attract youngsters, SMA has taken a step further in its efforts to bring museums closer to children.
Earlier this year, The Museums Express, a brainchild of Ms Ataya, through which she aims to inspire pupils to become scientists, artists, and visionaries, was launched to reach out to children residing in areas away from Sharjah city centre. With this in mind, SMA has converted a 42-passenger bus to a mobile museum that contains replicas of select collections taken from various museums in the emirate.
Onboard the mobile museum, children can investigate such things as a model of Ibn Majid’s compass; a 5000-year-old necklace; a 19th-century glider; and an astrolabe, historically used by astronomers and navigators to measure the altitude above the horizon of a celestial body, day or night.
“We seek innovation, but you cannot have innovation without the creative process first. Creative thinking leads to new ideas or unique solutions, and innovation is how you implement them,” Ms Ataya says. “Learning from diverse objects, whether it be a painting or a compass, children will learn that creativity involves analysing and restructuring our knowledge about a subject to gain new insights”
Ms Ataya believes that objects tell fascinating stories and demonstrate new ideas at specific periods in history. “However, children should know that all of these ideas were built on and developed over time until the present day. We learn so much from the past and it helps us shape the future.”
Each year, SMA, through its 17 museums, organise a plethora of events that are of interest to children and all family members. Covering different areas and topics, SMA museums provide fun and educational workshops that promote creativity amongst children.
In 2018, SMA organised over 870 programmes in partnership with various schools, universities, and specialised care centres in the emirate. Among SMA’s flagship annual events held at its different museums are summer and winter camps, which comprise a series of educational and artistic workshops with an overall objective of sparking youngsters’ interest in art, science, human history, and UAE’s heritage.