Are you ready to embark on an extraordinary adventure where imagination knows no bounds? Step into the vibrant world of Young V&A, London’s brand-new free museum crafted exclusively for children. This remarkable museum in East London is a kids-version of the main V&A Museum in South Kensington and is a haven of creativity, playfulness, and discovery.
Young V&A is unlike any other museum in London, as it is entirely dedicated to catering to the curious minds and boundless energy of children. From the moment you enter, you’ll be greeted by a mesmerizing display of toys and exhibits spanning different periods of history. It’s a place where little ones can immerse themselves in a world of wonder, bringing their wildest dreams to life.
The old museum was dedicated to displaying vintage toys behind glass displays, which was great for adults remembering their beloved childhood toys. It was also a popular museum among toy collectors from across the world. The new museum on the other hand is 100% dedicated to young visitors with a focus on interactive elements engaging children in different types of activities. You’ll still find plenty of vintage and historical toys (there are 2000 artefacts on display), but adults looking for the vast collection of toys from the old museum might get disappointed.
Young V&A (fka Museum of Childhood) located in Bethnal Green in East London, opened on July 1 2023 after a three-year refurbishment. While the old museum featured traditional static displays of toys from different historical periods, the new Young V&A is all about interactive galleries made with children’s interests in mind. Young V&A is a branch of the main Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in South Kensington.
In this blog post, we’ll cover the three main galleries of Young V&A, and tell you all about our best experiences from exploring its interactive displays, activities, and exhibits. Whether you’re a parent seeking an exciting outing for your little explorers or a teacher looking for an educational and entertaining field trip destination, Young V&A is definitely worth considering when planning a day out in London.
The Play Gallery (0-5)
The Play Gallery is a toddler’s paradise with all its touchable materials and displays. It creates a “textural landscape” where rough, smooth textures collide with bumpy, scaly, fuzzy, furry, sparkly, and shiny things. When you enter, there’s a leaning cone made of green marble (some parts are real stone, while others are painted to look like it). It guides you into a world where objects are displayed at a low level, perfect for crawling.
Tunnels made of astroturf and pink fur connect different spaces. It’s all very safe, and parents can feel safe while their toddlers explore on their own. One of the most exciting features is a domed display case that resembles a mirror-polished R2-D2!
A diamante-encrusted boot shines beneath a sequined column, and there’s even a mysterious “sound tree” with an interactive game you can spy on through peepholes. The gallery also provides plenty of benches and seating nooks for tired parents and over-stimulated kids. Some are in the centre of the action, while others are more secluded.
The Play Gallery also has a section dedicated to games. You can make your own board game at a special table, learn about the design of video games through displays, and even play a Minecraft version of the museum itself. The space for the Minecraft version has a low-resolution pixelated carpet.
A grand gilded portal leads to a giant foam construction set just nearby. A mesmerizing “sand spinner” combines a sandpit with a potter’s wheel and a large magnetic marble run that encourages collaboration and play across different generations. The gallery keeps the excitement going by constantly changing colours and textures and alternating between open and enclosed spaces. The designers specified a mind-boggling 111 different materials throughout the gallery. It’s clear that the designers had a lot of fun creating this space, and their enthusiasm is contagious.
The Imagine Gallery (5-11)
The Imagine gallery, designed for children aged 5-11, has a special room resembling a little theatre. It cleverly uses the space that was once a staircase. As one mom mentioned, the room has a deep red carpet covering a stage and steps, making it a comfortable spot for breastfeeding. There’s a dressing-up wardrobe where kids can dress up and perform alongside film clips from the museum’s archive. The room also has a circular projector that can be used for shadow puppetry. This is housed in a corrugated oval pavilion and highlighted with fluorescent yellow columns.
The doll’s house collection has been transformed into a street-like display. You can walk between the houses, which are set at different heights. Some of the houses now have interactive elements too. Nearby, a tiny window gives you a view into a surreal living room. Thanks to clever perspective, visitors can feel like giants or dwarfs depending on which side of the floor they stand on. It’s an amazing experience to see the excitement in toddlers’ eyes when they realize they can tower over their parents!
The Design Gallery (11-14)
Upstairs, there’s the Design Gallery, which is mainly for 11-14 year-olds. However, there’s also plenty to entertain younger visitors. One interesting feature is a wall focusing on urban mobility and scooter design. There’s also a mini factory that shows how everyday objects are manufactured. The factory has a playful design with sawtooth shapes and is covered in environmentally friendly hemp panels. The gallery also incorporates displays made from recycled cupboard doors and materials salvaged from previous V&A exhibitions as part of the museum’s commitment to zero landfill waste.
The open studio area has a terrazzo work surface made from rubble from the building site, and some plastic surfaces have specks of foil, revealing their past life as yoghurt pots. Additionally, there’s a new gallery for temporary exhibitions, starting with Japan: Myths to Manga in October. Downstairs, you’ll find various learning studios and quiet reading areas glimpsed through new mirror-lined arched openings in the main hall.
As we explored the different levels of the gallery, I noticed more and more creative details. There are foam-finger signs designed by Graphic Thought Facility, smiley faces hidden in door mouldings, a street art mural around the lift shaft, and an animated neon sign pointing towards the restrooms.
These small touches will captivate the observant eyes of younger visitors who love paying attention to details. Every surface and corner of the gallery has been carefully thought out, and every junction is an opportunity to add a little more delight. It’s truly an impressive display of care and attention to detail that is rarely seen in the design of buildings. It makes you wonder, what if buildings for adults could also be this joyful and inspiring?
Top 10 Things to See at Young V&A for Kids
Here are the things we enjoyed the most after our visit to Young V&A:
- Textural Adventure: Imagine a place where you can touch and feel different textures! The Play gallery offers an exciting landscape where kids can explore rough and smooth materials, bumpy and scaly objects, and even fuzzy and furry textures.
- Mirror Magic: Step into a world of mirrors! In the Play gallery, there’s a captivating domed display case filled with historic mirrors. You can gaze into these mirrors and see yourself reflected in a whole new light.
- Game Creation Station: Unleash your creativity and design your very own board game! Young V&A provides a special table where kids can let their imaginations run wild and bring their unique game ideas to life.
- Minecraft Adventure: Ever wondered what it’s like to explore a museum in Minecraft? At Young V&A, you can! Discover a virtual version of the museum and embark on an exciting Minecraft journey.
- Building Bonanza: Get ready to build something amazing! Young V&A features a gigantic foam construction set, allowing kids to let their architectural dreams come true on a grand scale.
- Sand Sensation: Dive into a world of sand and spin it into fantastic shapes! The sand spinner combines the joy of playing in a sandpit with the magic of a potter’s wheel. You can create mesmerizing patterns and designs with your hands.
- Magnetic Marble Mayhem: Are you up for a marble run challenge? Young V&A offers a large magnetic marble run where kids can collaborate with others to construct thrilling tracks and watch marbles race through them.
- Dress-Up Extravaganza: Step into the shoes of your favourite characters! In the Imagine gallery, there’s a wardrobe filled with costumes just waiting to be worn. You can dress up and perform alongside film clips from the museum’s archive.
- Doll’s House Adventure: Explore a world of doll’s houses like never before! Young V&A has transformed its doll’s house collection into a street-like setting. Walk between the houses, discover interactive elements, and feel like a giant or a dwarf in the surreal living room.
- Design Discovery: Uncover the secrets of design! The Design Gallery introduces older kids to the fascinating world of urban mobility and scooter design. You can learn and be inspired by the different aspects of design.
The Princess of Wales opens the Young V&A
During her visit to the museum, The Princess of Wales was warmly welcomed by a group of schoolchildren who guided her through the building. Their project involved showcasing the museum’s different sections to Her Royal Highness.
The first stop was the Play Gallery, a delightful space designed specifically for toddlers. Inspired by how infants explore and perceive the world, the gallery offers a sensory landscape for young ones to engage with. The Princess had the pleasure of meeting children in the gallery and learned how it supports their language development, motor skills, and imaginative play. From there, they proceeded to The Arcade, a dedicated area for teenagers that explores the fascinating history and creative process behind video and board game design.
Next, The Princess ventured into the Design Gallery, an inspiring exhibition showcasing innovative object design and its potential to create positive change. The gallery not only displays remarkable creations but also features a working studio for Young V&A’s Designer in Residence, fostering a space for young people to participate in workshops and sessions. This encourages their creativity and sets the stage for future designers to shine.
In the Imagine Gallery, The Princess engaged with the children, discussing the various activities they had been involved in during their time at the museum. This gallery offers a multitude of spaces that encourage creative expression through performance, storytelling, imagination, and community. The highlight of the gallery is The Stage, a dedicated performance area displaying objects from the renowned Theatre and Performance Collection at the V&A. Here, children can enjoy dressing up and showcasing their own imaginative shows.
The visit by The Princess of Wales showcased the incredible experiences and opportunities available to children at the Young V&A Museum. From sensory exploration to design inspiration and creative performances, this museum truly embraces the imaginative spirit of young visitors, nurturing their talents and providing a space for their voices to be heard.
Is it worth a visit?
After our incredible visit to the Young V&A Museum, it’s clear that this extraordinary space has revolutionized the museum experience for children in London. With its dedicated focus on providing a stimulating and immersive environment for young visitors, Young V&A has surpassed all expectations.
The museum’s interactive displays, thoughtfully designed exhibits, and engaging activities captivated our imaginations and ignited our curiosity. From exploring the history of toys to unleashing our creativity in the interactive workshops, every moment was filled with excitement and wonder.
What truly sets Young V&A apart is its commitment to creating a relaxed and informal atmosphere, allowing children to freely explore and discover without constant supervision. The museum’s emphasis on authenticity rather than perfection creates an environment where children feel comfortable and inspired to unleash their creativity.
Not only is Young V&A an exceptional destination for families and school groups, but it also serves as a powerful example for other museums. Its innovative approach to catering to young visitors showcases the importance of listening to children’s voices and incorporating their perspectives into the museum experience.
In a world where children are often overlooked in traditional museum settings, Young V&A stands as a beacon of inspiration and inclusivity. It has successfully redefined what a children’s museum can be, offering a space where learning, play, and imagination converge.
As we bid farewell to the vibrant halls, we carry with us cherished memories and a renewed appreciation for the power of tailored experiences for children. The impact of this museum will undoubtedly continue to shape the way we think about engaging and educating young minds.
We wholeheartedly recommend a visit to this wonderful museum dedicated to children, where the magic of childhood comes to life and where young imaginations are celebrated and nurtured. Prepare to be awestruck and inspired as you embark on an unforgettable journey into the world of Young V&A.
Images: David Parry courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum