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Cornwall Museums Partnership

Play in a socially distanced world

The ‘play in museums’ mentoring project

Kids in Museums alongside Charlotte Derry (Playful Places) and Penny Wilson (Play KX) offered eleven museums mentoring and support to develop playful offerings at their venues. The aim was to make visits for families more fun, engaging and enjoyable. Here at PK Porthcurno we’re so pleased to have been selected to take part in this project which fortunately kicked off just as we were reopening in September 2020.

With the new restrictions on social distancing in place, we were saddened to have to remove or close off our much-loved free playful museum resources for visitors at PK. All our Victorian costumes, paper-based coding activity stations, early years toys and books were stored away out of reach to allow for our Covid-safe museum reopening in early September 2020. Looking for new ways for children to play in a socially distanced way during a visit to PK, even if only as a temporary intervention, became a top priority!


The mentoring

The project hit the ground running with two remote group meetings for all the mentees in September. Charlotte and Penny supported us by bringing a calming warmth and a great sensitivity in understanding the challenges that all our venues were facing together. It was fascinating to hear peers from other museums across the country all struggling with similar fears and frustrations around playful things to do in museums and galleries in a socially distanced way.

The artists drove our project pilot planning by sharing resources which included playful prompts, a risk benefit assessment template, a play statement and a fantastic Play Scrapbook full of imaginative ideas to inspire us all. We were encouraged to be courageous and outrageous but realistic and to think about was achievable for our team.

We had a one-to-one Zoom meeting with Penny and Charlotte with advice and feedback on our project pilot. A final remote group meeting took place before the project concluded with a remote Kids in Museums Training Event that took place in November via Zoom: 60 delegates attended and each venue was asked to write a case study afterwards.


What did we do at PK?

We used our first Tiny Fun Palace event as a play pilot at the museum on Saturday 3rd October. The event included small playful games and interventions including semaphore gaming, takeaway coding packs, mirror reflective fun, hopscotch and bubbles!

We revisited existing resources and used them in a new way, allowing us and our visitors to be more playful with spaces in and around the museum. For example, we filled our awkward empty costume wardrobes with mirrored reflective shapes, used previously for school workshops, to allow for experimental moments of playfulness, even if only fleeting.

‘The mirrors were really interesting to look at, I tried shining my phone torch onto some of them to get different refractions which worked well’ – Young Curator feedback

We shared 5 playful prompts on social media and our website over the October half term – this was a new way for us of providing prompts for play at home.

Fun was also piloted as part of our working day as we introduced playfulness to colleagues at the start of meetings. Learning peers had a go at tearing a Covid shape out of paper in under 2 minutes via Zoom, and at our in-house staff team meet we played giant Pick Up Sticks.

Love the idea of playing with your team to introduce the importance of play to them’ – Training event attendee comment


Our learning

We were able to run with ideas quickly and at a low cost by reinventing our existing resources and spaces. Using quick and snappy ideas helped to reduce dwell time of family bubbles in spaces and keep the visitor flow moving. Reflective play intrigues all ages and fills awkward empty spaces!

Takeaway packs are self-sufficient and easy for families to pick up and use in their own independent time and chalked Hopscotch, of course, remains in place for longer when undercover and away from the rain!

The colourful flag semaphore game hung between trees in our gardens attracted passers-by – the museum is now closed again but at least there is still something to see and do outside the building.

Playful prompts are a great way to share play remotely, although interaction on social media is certainly a challenge. Zoom team meetings are much more fun when you have a laugh!

Special thanks to Kay for giving us all a laugh with our paper-tearing!’’ – Engagement lead feedback

This mentoring project was the start of an exciting point of change – it gave us new confidence in providing playful things to do at the museum and online. It offered ‘permission’ to let go of the need for a learning outcome and the same old ways of doing things pre-Covid and simply allow for play. Going forward we will embed more playfulness in and around our museum and our own working days – the project outcome is play!

To see all the different things that the venues achieved and continue to do through the project, follow #playfulmuseums on Twitter. Project case studies will also be available on the Kids in Museums website in the new year!


PK Top Tips for play in a socially distanced way:

1. Reinvent with existing materials and resources

2. Use playful prompts and takeaway packs

3. Be bright, bold and colourful outdoors

4. Be experimental, realistic and consider weather elements

5. Trial ideas and observe visitors/peers from a safe distance

6. Play is for us all

7. Work with artists and Kids in Museums!


By Kay Dalton – Engagement Curator, PK Porthcurno


Further information:

Charlotte Derry (Playful Places) works with the Happy Museum in the U.K and is a consultant for museums, galleries, schools and heritage sites – supporting and developing their capacity for play. She is the author of Rules for a Playful Museum and worked in the museum sector for over ten years before becoming a play trainer and consultant.

Penny Wilson (Play KX) is a playworker in London’s adventure playgrounds. Play is her work and is at the heart of her life. Her specialty is supporting children with disabilities as they play with their siblings and peers. For years she ran the Chelsea Adventure Playground in London, where children of all abilities played freely together.

For more information about Kids in Museums visit Sign up and read their manifesto!


PK Porthcurno is a museum experience that explores the story of our interconnected world, and how the tranquil valley of Porthcurno became host to our worldwide communications.

We have free entry until end of March 2021, pre bookable. We hold daily free talks and demonstrations, there are still permanent interactives to explore in the museum, an underground bunker with escape stairs (currently closed to keep our visitors safe), a cable hut overlooking stunning Porthcurno beach and a beautiful outdoor sculpture garden.

You can also find out more about our award winning environmental programme Planet PK by following @planetpkporthcurno on Instagram.

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