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‘Through play they show us’: how Thinktank co-produced the cool Minibrum gallery with Early Years children

The Minibrum gallery and associated learning and community engagement programmes were co-produced entirely with Early Years children (0-8 years old), their families, specialists and educators, and expert advisory panels. In creating Minibrum, Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT) broke new ground, becoming the first UK Science Centre to create a STEM-learning gallery and programme entirely dedicated to this age group.

Just as lockdown began in March 2020, I started work on the evaluation of the fascinating MiniBrum project at Thinktank in Birmingham. Over the next 18 months I worked with staff from BMT and a range of experts to create tools that ensured the young children’s responses were at the heart of the evaluation as well as the development.

The co-production team was led by an Early Years Specialist and supported by an Advisory Board and Working Group that included both external stakeholders and staff from across BMT’s Learning and Engagement, Curatorial, Conservation, Operations and Commercial teams.

The children, their families, education and community organisations were involved in all aspects of design from the developing the content and layout of the toilets, café and gallery zones, to the focus of the learning and events programming. The project team also drew on expertise from academics, STEM providers, teachers, parents, health and community workers.

When MiniBrum opened to the public in May 2019 it was an immediate hit with families, schools and children’s groups. Throughout lockdown BMT continued co-production work online, on and offsite with children, schools and community groups to develop further elements including the Jewellery Factory exhibition, early years planetarium show and multi-sensory family activities.

Observing the galleries and activities today, it’s a delight to see how confidently babies, infants and young children use the spaces playfully and imaginatively to explore STEM in the world around them.

The following 2 pdf guides were created at the end of the project to provide 9 top tips to co-production with this challenging and inspiring age-group. Feel free to download and share with your colleagues!

Note that I will be discussing the project evaluation at the Visitor Studies Group annual conference on 13 May 2022

Minibrum was supported by a grant from the Inspiring Science Fund, a partnership between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome.  Between 2017 and 2021, 16 nurseries and primary schools, 6 community organisations and 3 universities took part in MiniBrum co-production activity.