Having supported many families with young children throughout the pandemic, educators at the Fitzwilliam Museum became aware of a need for more stimulating and social opportunities for babies under 12 months and their carers – so ‘Gurgling in the Gallery’ sessions were born!

What is ‘Gurgling in the Gallery’?

Gurgling in the Gallery is a fun and friendly, interactive museum workshop for babies under 12 months, and the adults who are caring for them. Each session explores museum objects and artworks through sensory play and informal chats.  The events are open to all, and free to attend (although booking is essential to ensure social distancing for in-person activities).

Mother lifts baby above her head while seated on a large rug in museum gallery
Movement activities as we explore portraits and bodies together

Why is it needed?

Both published research (for example, Best Beginnings, Home-Start UK and the Parent-Infant Foundation, and this briefing paper from the Children’s Commissioner), and anecdotal conversations with families and Early Years practitioners, highlighted the potentially devastating impact of the pandemic and the associated restrictions on the health, development, and happiness of babies and their families. With opportunities to meet, socialise, and connect with others in an informal way severely restricted – despite the monumental efforts of family support organisations – we felt that the Museum could usefully offer a warm welcome and a stimulating environment for families with little ones.

How has the Museum welcomed babies previously?

In 2016, we piloted events for Under 2s which then evolved into our successful Baby Magic programme. We also offered ‘Baby Play Mats’ for families to use for sensory play opportunities on independent visits. However, when these were no longer viable due to COVID-19, we reshaped the offer to respond to the unique needs of 0-12 month olds. Our public-facing Early Years programme now starts with Gurgling in the Gallery for those under 1, with Toddler Magic for 1-3 year olds, and It’s Magic for 2-5s.

How are families kept safe from coronavirus?

In January 2021 we began offering online Zoom workshops for babies. Families were shown digital versions of artworks in their own homes, and took part in simple creative and exploratory activities using everyday materials. It was fascinating to see the babies watching each other on screen and being inspired by each others’ ideas!

In the Summer of 2021, we moved to offering sessions at the Museum with adults advised to wear masks (where possible) and activities conducted in spaces large enough to enable social distancing between families.

Father hold baby beside class cube display cabinet with gold exhibit
Getting to know the Gold of the Great Steppe exhibition

What happens at a session?

Each Gurgling in the Gallery event has a different focus, relevant to the artworks we are exploring together. Sensory play for babies with a range of stimulating materials and objects is interspersed with, and linked to, informal chat about the themes of the artworks on display. Families frequently comment that this stimulation and learning for both adult and baby is something that they really appreciate. Simple rhymes and songs help to bring the group together for shared moments, but the overall structure is very relaxed, with families encouraged to be still and soak up the atmosphere, or move around and explore as they choose. The babies show us what they need and enjoy, and we adults respond by providing space, comfort, excitement, or challenge as appropriate.

Mother sits on wooden gallery floor holding her baby who is smiling at the camera
Making Connections at the Museum

Want to know more?

Please sign up for Family Updates from the Fitzwilliam Museum or connect with us on social media to hear about when new sessions are available for booking. If you have any questions, or ideas for sessions that you and your baby would enjoy, please contact Nicola Wallis nlw30@cam.ac.uk