Too few kids are getting cultural experiences
So half of all parents believe that it isn’t their job to teach their children about history and culture. According to a survey of 1200 parents of children aged 5 to 12, commissioned by Visit Birmingham and published last week, these people think that this sort of thing is the responsibility of schools.
Has it occurred to them that children are in school for an average of six hours a day on weekdays when it doesn’t happen to be a school holiday or other closure? Children attend school for around 36 weeks a year which gives them just 1080 hours per year of exposure to teachers. There are 8760 hours in a year. That means that children are with their parents, or the adults who look after them, for 88% of their time.
And yet, the survey tells us gloomily, that four in ten children have never been in an art gallery, 17% have never visited a museum and a quarter of all parents have never taken their child or children to the theatre.
Of course there are cost factors here. Theatre-going can be very expensive but it really doesn’t need to be premium stalls seats in the West End for children to benefit. Many regional theatres have splendid programmes of child-friendly shows presented by visiting companies at relatively very affordable prices. Children’s theatres such as Polka Theatre in London, Unicorn Theatre in London and Egg Theatre in Bath work very hard to keep their ticket prices within the reach of families. And National Theatre on the South Bank in London has Travelex sponsorship to offer seats at a flat rate £12.00 for many of its shows, some of which might be suitable for older children.
I’d like to more companies – both in central London and elsewhere – being more enlightened about the encouragement of young audiences. More performances offering free tickets for under-25s, for example. And surely more companies could offer discounted family rates such as two children free with two paying adults – especially during half-term weeks such as this one.
When it comes to other ‘cultural’ experiences many of the best ones – such as our finest museums and galleries – are free. That means that, rather than assuming that the child/ren won’t be interested, as one in five parents professed to believe in the survey, you can pop in for a few minutes whenever you wish. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.
When my younger son, Felix, was about five or six he fell in love with Henri Rousseau’s painting Tiger in a Tropical Storm in the National Gallery. It then hung near the front of the building and for years we ‘had’ to pop in for five minutes to say hello to ‘Felix’s tiger’ whenever we were in the Trafalgar Square area. It’s how you build an interest.
This week, given that it’s half term, hundreds of families will be flooding, or popping, into the British Museum, The V&A, The Natural History Museum, Horniman’s Museum in London, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, The Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle or one of the dozens of other museums and galleries in Britain which will cost you not a penny – as long as you resist overpriced refreshments and tat souvenirs.
But many families will not and the reasons clearly go beyond money. Far too people, sadly, view ‘culture’ – by which they mean almost any experience beyond everyday pap TV and downloaded pop music – as something difficult, daunting, posh or ‘educational’ in the pejorative sense. They are as intimidated by the steps and grandiloquent Corinthian pillars of the National Gallery as I would be by the entrance to a Kensington nightclub. The difference is that I don’t think I’m missing much and they, tragically, are.
The irony is that these wonderful centres of marvels to see, think about – and often these days, touch – were funded, for the most part, by philanthropists who earnestly wanted everybody, not just the middle classes, to enjoy them and to benefit.
Of course there isn’t a museum or art gallery in the country which isn’t doing everything it can think of to be more welcoming and inclusive to get that missing 40% through their doors, but it obviously isn’t enough – yet.
Part of the trouble is that dumbing down is now so endemic in the way children are brought up and educated that ‘culture’ is too often regarded as a minor thing which can be bolted on somewhere and its box ticked.
It isn’t. It is fundamental to the development of whole, rounded people and far too important to be marginalised into the 12% of life that a child spends in school. We have to find ways of grafting it permanently into the experience and attitude of every child. We can’t call ourselves a civilised society until we do.Tagged in: children, culture, education, exhibitions, galleries, museums, theatre
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