By Rachel Skinner
Children and parents from schools across Belfast had an unusual sleepover at the Ulster Museum last week.
Belfast Education and Library Board received £10,000 through Big Lottery Fund’s Awards for All programme to run five nights at the Ulster Museum for parents and pupils from 12 schools across Belfast to come together, take part in activities and sleepover at the museum.
I joined in the activities last Friday night to see first-hand how the P5-7 pupils from Cliftonville Integrated Primary School, Springhill Primary School and Taughmonagh Primary School enjoyed the experience.
The night started at 7pm as 80 children and their parents arrived at the museum. And the fact that it was many of the families’ first time at the Ulster museum just added to the air of excitement. Carrying their sleeping bags and supplies for the night they got settled and split into three teams – Triceratops, Edmontosaursus, T Rex.
I joined the Edmontosaursus group. We were the first team to be introduced to a crime scene and taken on a torch lit tour to find artefacts to help solve the mystery.
Some of the children found clues that led us to the museum’s famous mummy, Takabuti. Louis Summerville, 9, from Taughmonagh Primary School said: “I found some of the bandages. It was really good.” Louis and the rest of the team followed the trail that led us to Takabuti who lived in Egypt around 2,500 years ago. Some children were very glad their parents were there as they investigated the mummy by torch light and heard Takabuti’s story.
Joanne Rainey whose daughter Hollie is from Springhill Primary School said: “I have three kids so getting time like this to spend one on one with Hollie is great. The torch lit tour allowed us to see parts of the museum we wouldn’t normally have gone to but we’ll be back to see them in more detail next time and bring my other kids too.”
After refuelling and swapping stories with other teams we went on to learn about the Mars Rover and were tasked with making parachutes. Using plastic cups, straws and balloons the parachute needed to safely deliver an egg being dropped from the fourth to the ground floor without breaking. We then visited the Nature Zone to make collages from natural materials.
At midnight it was bedtime as everyone snuggled into their sleeping bags and there were lots of whispers about the Night at the Museum films as the children’s imaginations ran wild.
The next morning, after a much needed breakfast, all the teams came together to learn about reptiles and handle snakes before heading home at 10am.
Marian McKinney, from Belfast Education and Library Board, who organised the night, said: “Activities like these help to present school as a positive place, break down barriers between parents and teachers and give parents more confidence to get involved in their child’s learning.
“The children that are taking part from the three schools wouldn’t normally meet each other and have that shared experience. It also gives parents quality time to spend with their child.
“A lot of the families would say ‘museums aren’t for us or ‘we don’t belong there’ so the project helps to show that museums are for everyone and encourages families to return to the museum to continue to learn together.”