Seeing the museum through the eyes of our youngest learners

Seeing the museum through the eyes of our youngest learners

Museums can sometimes feel like alien spaces for young learners, a place where words like ‘play’ and ‘explore’ might not always be an immediate association. But for educator Martin Langdon, these are the key drivers he keeps in mind when designing learning programmes aimed at learners under 5-years-old.

I must admit I’m very fortunate to work in a museum that both holds an exceptional range of taonga including Mātauranga Māori, Pacific cultures, NZ History, Science collections and spaces designed with many interactive elements.

Te Papa already provides the ingredients for an awe inspiring and fun experience that most tamariki love.

Class resources, 2019. Photo by Martin Langdon. Te Papa
Ferns in Bush City, 2019. Photo by Martin Langdon. Te Papa

Making connections

My job when designing a programme as the designated ECE educator is to help take our Tamariki on an engaging journey into exhibitions, with a focus of helping each person find ways of connecting to our amazing taonga.

The hope is to create pathways for understanding ‘what makes us’, the ‘taonga’ and our place unique and how important these all are to the narrative of Aotearoa.

In my experience, our tamariki naturally learn through play and I’m forever in awe of their ability to make connections/associations to their own worlds of understanding, and then create leaps between ideas, objects, and actions.

Making these connections is key to helping them solidify new knowledge.


I always aim to provide chances where we share as a group, and I remain mindful in sessions to allow all voices to be heard or have multiple opportunities to express themselves.

Each voice and perspective is important to a shared learning experience.

Child in the Curious Creatures and Marvellous Monsters exhibition with artwork by Gregor Kregar, Anthropocene Shelter, 2018, mylar, recycled timber, neon. Site-specific artist project, 2018. Te Papa


The range of subjects I work with varies from contemporary art to natural sciences, and Matariki to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Some exhibitions can be long-term with only slight changes over time. Other exhibitions can be short-term and exciting, but as a result can disappear before whānau or ECE groups find the time to attend.

Nonetheless, Te Papa always offers exhibitions to delight all ages and each experience is a chance to find hidden gems.

View of 'Bush City'
Bush City, 2019. Photos by Martin Langdon. Te Papa

New programme, old exhibit

Education programmes can help explore new ways of seeing our taonga and discovering new favourites.

One such exhibition I recently sought to design an ECE programme for, was our very own living, breathing, and growing exhibition Bush City.

There are so many elements on offer:

  • a waterfall,
  • a pond
  • various types of stones,
  • native flora (spanning the scrubby desert to the dense bush interior –
  • caves with artificial glow worms
  • a replica fossil dinosaur in a ‘dig pit’
  • and birds and insects that make their homes in Bush City.

You might think there is no way a guided visit could add value to, or enhance, the already active and interesting exhibition.

But I love a creative challenge! So I created the programme Bush, bugs and bones. I felt with the closure of Mountains to Sea and Awesome Forces, and with the new iteration Te Taiao | Nature exhibition on the horizon, it was key that we still maintain our programme offer to encompass natural sciences, vertebrates, invertebrates, and geology.

Bush City and this summer weather provide the perfect environment to continue these explorations.

We now also have newly designed flora ‘discovery pouches’, touch objects including ‘resin block bugs’, ‘bone samples’, and tools for excavating dinosaurs.

I have a feeling we are going to have a lot of fun learning at Te Papa.

photograph by Martin Langdon , Te Papa 2019
Views of Bush City
Views of Bush City, 2019. Photos by Martin Langdon. Te Papa


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