Play in a socially distanced world

Play in a socially distanced world

PK Porthcurno selected to take part in Kids in Museums mentoring project

At PK Porthcurno we were pleased to be selected to take part in a mentoring project that explored ways in which play could continue in museums, in a socially distanced way. This initiative, was driven and supported by Kids in Museums – a charity that works with heritage sites and family friendly organisations all over England and Wales through a range of simple, but powerful programmes.

For this project, Kids in Museums partnered with Charlotte Derry (Playful Places) and Penny Wilson (Play KX) and offered 11 museums across the country mentoring and support to develop and evolve socially distanced playful offerings inside their venues. The aim was to enhance visits for families making them more fun, engaging, and enjoyable.

At PK, with the advent of new restrictions on socially distancing, we were saddened to have to remove or close off our much-loved free playful museum resources for our visitors. Our Victorian costumes, paper-based coding activity stations, early years toys and books were stored away out of reach to make way for a Covid safe reopening in early September 2020.

Looking for new ways for children to play in a socially distanced way, even if only as small temporary interventions, became a top priority!

The mentoring

The project hit the ground running with two initial remote group meetings with all the mentees in September. Charlotte and Penny supported us by bringing a calming warmth and a great sensitivity to understanding the challenges that all our venues were facing together. It was fascinating to hear peers from other museums across the country all struggling with similar fears and frustrations thinking around playful things to do in museums and galleries in a socially distanced way.

The artists drove our project pilot planning by sharing resources which included playful prompts, a risk benefit assessment template, a play statement, and they had created a fantastic Play Scrap Book full of playful ideas to inspire us all. We were encouraged to be courageous and outrageous but be realistic and think about was achievable for our team.

We had a one-to-one Zoom meeting with Penny and Charlotte with advice and feedback on our project pilot. A final remote group meeting took place before the project concluded with a remote Kids in Museums Training Event that took place in November via Zoom, 60 delegates attended, and each venue was asked to write a case study afterwards.

What did we do at PK?  

We used our first Tiny Fun Palace event as a play pilot at the museum on Saturday 3 October. The event included small playful games and interventions including semaphore gaming, takeaway coding packs, mirror reflective fun, hopscotch, and bubbles!

We revisited existing resources and used them in a new way, allowing us and our visitors to be more playful with spaces in and around our museum. For example, we filled our awkward empty costume wardrobes with mirrored reflective shapes, used previously for school workshops, in our main displays to allow for experimental moments of playfulness, even if only fleeting.

‘the mirrors were really interesting to look at, I tried shining my phone torch onto some of them to get different refractions which worked well’. Young Curator feedback.

We shared 5 playful prompts on social media and our website over October half term, this was a new way for us of providing prompts for play at home. Go to Play at Home | PK Porthcurno to see our play at home resources.

Fun was also piloted as part of our working day and we introduced playfulness to colleagues at the start of meetings. Learning peers had a go at tearing a Covid shape out of paper in under 2 minutes via Zoom, and our in-house staff team meet we played giant ‘Pick Up Sticks.
Love the idea of playing with your team to introduce the importance of play to them’ Training event attendee comment.

Our learning

At a low cost we were able to run with ideas quickly by reinventing with our existing resources and spaces. Using quick and snappy ideas helped to reduce dwell time of family bubbles in spaces, and keep the visitor flow moving. Reflective play intrigues all ages and fills awkward empty spaces!

Takeaway packs are self-sufficient and easy for families to pick up and use in their own independent time and pace and chalked Hopscotch, of course, remains in place for longer when undercover and away from the rain!

The colourful flag semaphore game hung between trees in our gardens attracted passersby- The museum is now closed again but there is still something to see and do outside the building.

Playful prompts are a way to share play remotely, especially online, although interaction on social media is a challenge. Zoom and team meetings are more fun when you have a laugh!
Special thanks to Kay for giving us all a laugh with our paper-tearing!’’ Engagement lead feedback

This mentoring project was the start of an exciting point of change- it brought us a new confidence in providing playful things to do at the museum and online. It gave us ‘permission’ to let go of the need for a learning outcome and the same old ways of doing things pre Covid and simply allow for play.

Going forward we will embed more playfulness in and around our museum and our own working days – the project outcome is play!

To see all the different things that the venues achieved through the project and continue to do follow #playfulmuseums

Project case studies will be available on the Kids in Museums website.

PK Top Tips for play in a socially distanced way:

  1. Reinvent with existing materials and resources

  2. Use playful prompts and takeaway packs

  3. Be bright, bold and colourful outdoors

  4. Be experimental, realistic and consider weather elements

  5. Trial ideas and observe visitors/peers from a safe distance

  6. Play is for us all

  7. Work with artists and Kids in Museums!


Kay Dalton
Engagement Curator
Email Kay if you are interested in learning more about this project

Photography: Maeve Cushla and Kay Dalton

Further information:

Charlotte Derry (Playful Places) works with the Happy Museum in the U.K and is a consultant for museums, galleries, schools and heritage sites – supporting and developing their capacity for play. She is the author of Rules for a Playful Museum and worked in the museum sector for over ten years before becoming a play trainer and consultant. @lottiederry

Penny Wilson (Play KX – @playkx ) is a playworker in London’s adventure playgrounds. Play is her work and is at the heart of her life. Her specialty is supporting children with disabilities as they play with their siblings and peers. For years she ran the Chelsea Adventure Playground in London, where children of all abilities played freely together. @pennywilson

For more information about Kids in Museums visit

PK Porthcurno has signed up to the Kids in Museums Manifesto and will continue to seek and encourage play in the museum and engage with younger audiences at all opportunities.

Play in a socially distanced world
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