What was your play pilot?

We created sets of play prompts for HMS Victory and Fleet Air Arm Museum to support playful interactions for our visitors, increase confidence of staff and volunteers and offer a new way to experience a visit.

The play prompts were designed to encourage different types of play and playful behaviour, including sensory, movement, imagination, new perspectives and just being silly! As it was close to Halloween, we chose a spooky theme.

We decided to pilot them on board one ship and in one museum in order to gain a greater understanding of the impact across our different sites.

HMS Victory

We set out to both understand the potential for play on board the ship and to try out the play prompts.

Firstly we observed visitors to evaluate whether they played spontaneously and what inspired that play. We observed 152 adults and children and of those 21 engaged in some sort of unprompted play. They did things like banging drums and barrels to make music, imagining ropes were a cat of nine tails, pretending to fire the guns and swinging on the ropes.

Next we piloted the prompts. They were available both directly from members of the learning team and to download onto visitors phones via a QR code. We engaged with 40 people to try out the prompts. Visitors did things like pretending to be rats, balancing on deck planks and looking for places to take smelly selfies.

The activities were aimed at families and created for them to be used together rather than just being aimed at the children in order to encourage intergenerational play. The children who took part were mostly aged 6-9.

We also created a version of the play prompts to be used at home to support people who couldn’t visit the ship. They were shared to our mailing list, over Facebook and on Twitter. The posts reached 2,387 people on Facebook with 41 engagements and 56 clicks and were viewed by 325 people on Twitter with 58 engagements.

Fleet Air Arm Museum

At the Fleet Air Arm Museum (FAAM), we took a different approach as we were bringing back our engagement volunteers for October half term.

Within the retraining process, we created play prompts specific to the FAAM collection which we asked the volunteers to incorporate into their engagement with the general public. We asked them to do things like lie under Concorde and look up, told yucky stories about the aircraft, and challenged them to walk like a walrus.

We also asked the volunteers to observe how families played in the museum and what they were drawn to, as a large proportion of the objects that would normally be focused on, such as dressing up, were withdrawn due to COVID-19.

What would you consider your level of experience in creating playful interventions in museums prior to the project (1 being the least experienced and 5 being the most)?


Why did your organisation choose to take part?

As a result of COVID-19, we felt there was a risk that visits could feel sanitised and children may find it less engaging without the normal sensory and fun resources we provide. We felt that by focusing on play we could offer new ways to experience our sites.

We are also embarking upon a transformation of our programming embracing cross site collaboration, digital content and new methods of engagement and felt that taking part in this project would support this new approach.

What did you achieve?

This project has been hugely beneficial with the following outcomes:

  • two sets of play prompts which can be adapted and used across all our sites
  • new insights into our museums, ships and outside spaces that will inform future programming
  • new ways of engaging with families digitally
  • links with other museums
  • greater knowledge and understanding of play
  • collaboration between teams and sites.


Claire Hargreaves says:

“On a personal level this project has given me a fresh perspective on our museums and ships and has encouraged me to consider more carefully the methods we choose to engage with people.”

Lessons learnt

HMS Victory

One of the things I struggled with most was focusing on play as an end result rather than creating playful ways to learn. It involved a change in my mindset which has actually been challenging at times but also incredibly refreshing and inspiring.

HMS Victory is an inspiring and exciting place to visit, but it also has sensory and physical challenges to overcome when you want to encourage play, such as space, light and narrow staircases. The key was to embrace these challenges and turn them into a positive such as encouraging people to make shadow puppets in the dark or look for hidey holes.

One of the main issues we faced was people being engrossed in the audio tour. The adults were keen to carry on listening and the children were looking for the next trigger point. We are going to react to that in future planning by looking at creating a special play tour and also seeing if we can link playful activities to the location of the triggers.

Wearing face coverings and social distancing are challenges when it comes to engaging with people and getting their attention. In the future we will think more carefully about alternative ways to make a connection and get people involved.

Fleet Air Arm Museum

Volunteers were reluctant to engage in certain ways, largely due to them being quite a ‘formal’ group and used to more of a formal way of doing things.

Restrictions on mobility, often due to age, meant that some things couldn’t be scaffolded by them  – for example, lying under Concorde.

Top tips

  • Take time to observe and reflect on where play is already happening spontaneously – you might be surprised and inspired with what children use to spark their play.
  • Remember access. Our play activities should be inclusive and accessible to all visitors.
  • Adults like to play too! They might just need slightly different methods of encouragement and provocation to feel confident to take part.
  • Don’t forget your outside spaces. They are often neglected and can offer different and exciting play opportunities.
  • Keep it simple!
  • Get your whole team involved where possible. This may involve training and support but it will be worth it.