If you missed yesterday's Ghent article, you'd have missed the chance to see us explore Ghent's stunning historical centre (but you can read it by clicking here) However today was all about trying out Ghent's family friendly series of museums.
All free with the useful 'Ghent Card' which has easily paid for itself after 2 full days exploring this fascinating city (including free public transport too). So if your kids also love interactive, imaginative and most importantly fun museums, then you might want to read on!
Ghent is easily accessible by rail from the UK (via Eurostar) and has been described as 'a wonderful mix of a living city and a vibrant past'. So where better to get a feel for the city's history than St Peter's Abbey with it's wonderfully, evocative ' War in Shorts'. It really is an enthralling series of 7 tales about World War 1. All seen through the eyes of children with brilliant displays and audio guides. Each of the 7 children recount their stories via huge TV screens, whilst you are surrounded by memories of the war (from a children's perspective). The metallic artwork statues are amazing, but so are the heart wrenching stories!
Having taken the decision we wanted to educate our girls by giving them first hand experiences (like taking them to the trenches of the Somme). This type of interactive, personal account brings home just how tough war must have been for the children of the war. It also highlighted just how varied the experience of children were. From British children to Armenian children the accounts varied hugely, but perhaps the most emotional stories came from those who were most directly affected by occupation. The French / Belgium & German children gave accounts that made you feel as is you were living the war with them. It really is a brilliant experience that we can continue at home (as they provide you with wonderful 'War in Short Pants' diary/workbook to take home too... It certainly added another level of detail onto the girl's understanding following trips to the Flanders Field Museum and perhaps matches the child centred focus that we also found at Juno Beach (scene of the WW2 Normandy landings)
Heading across Ghent towards the STAM Museum on foot (roughly 10mins walk) we discussed with the girls what their favourite aspect of Ghent has been so far. Lottie loves the fact the city is so easily accessible by trams (Numbers 1,4) whereas Libby loved the chance to see it from so many different methods (bus, boat, water tram, tram or by bike!). So transport is clearly a winner here in Ghent! (like Bordeaux which would be one of only a few cities we've seen that can match Ghent)
The STAM museum was recommended by the excellent tourism office near the Old Fishmarket. So we weren't surprised to see it was clearly jam packed with students and other visitors. Always good sign! So we headed into the STAM (using the Ghent Card again) and straight to the 'Dragon / Draken' exhibition.
It would be fair to say that this soon became a real favourite for both girls. Was it due to the interactive displays or the chance for them to see dragons/snakes and lizards dating back to the early 1800's. Or perhaps it was the chance to create a dragon scales mosaic and navigate their way through the 30ft dragon maze (all within the normal building walls). It's clearly a museum with a brilliant designer. Someone who can create temporary exhibits (this finishes in May) through the use of nordic pine 'theatre sets'. It's really is something to be seen!
Oh!! Perhaps the other reason they loved it was the clever use of computer games to show how things have changed in terms of technology... as Sega, Nintendo, Playstations and XBoxs have brought the story of dragons to kids over the past 3 decades! It was a neat trick that really inspired the girls to go and create their own 'super dragon'!
Again, a well laid out room with plenty of craft and design options... from origami paper folding to papier-mâché creations! And you even get the chance to display yours on the walls around you! Simple, but really effective but it also gave the girls a chance to sit down for a second too.. Crucial when spending a day around a cities historical sites/musuems (like our recent visits to London, Exeter or Lincoln in the UK).
But the STAM museum is far more than just the 'Dragon Experience', it's actually quite a thought provoking place. With exhibitions on just how current city planning takes place. The girls were really interested in how they involved communities to get their ideas for building plans or even plans for neighbourhoods. There's practical 'lego building' or fantastic rooms full of boxes and stairs to nowhere... all designed to make the journey through the museum that little more interesting. Both girls loved this clever attention to detail and we'd say it could easily make it into our next list of our 'Top 5 Roadschooling Experiences across Europe'.
Close to St Peter's Abbey is 'The World of Kina' Museum. Perhaps the girl's favourite museum of the entire European Trip. That's high praise as we've taken them to over 170+ museums over the last 500 days taking our motorhome across Europe on our Family Roadschooling Adventure.(click here for an article about that journey) But this museum has a little of everything! Natural History, Child Friendly Zones, Interactive displays & activities that really did inspire both girls to want to learn more. In our humble opinion, every museum should be striving to make people want to learn more!
So why did the girls love it so much? Well it started from the first step.... as the entrance opens up to offer an area that gives kids the chance to run off and explore... We'll leave it to the pictures (above and below) to give you an idea of what we mean.
The well laid out activities gave our girls plenty of space, but also offer plenty of simple touches to make the experiences appear fun... like watching simple, short 'David Attenborough' videos in a caravan. It's bright, colourful and hugely interactive. It really does give a brilliant start which was only to get better as we moved through the rest of the museum.
As you move out of the prehistoric, natural history areas... you move onto the structure of the earth. From exploring rocks and their structure, through to plate tectonics... every exhibit is interactive and despite having limited 'English information boards'... it really didn't matter. It's just so visual and certainly grabs your attention!
From grabbing microscopes to see the difference between hexagonal or cuboid rock crystals to building your own exploding volcano.... it's just so interactive! Libby loved the volcano building whilst Lottie certainly got a real shock in the earthquake room!!!
We spent easily an hour per floor as the girls were utterly absorbed in the displays, so it was nice to see the relaxing top floor with plenty more natural history on offer... from detecting different bird or animal calls, through to a working model of Ghent (over 25ft in size!)
To finish the visit, we headed towards the 'Human Heart & Body' section which caused much laughter and fun as both girls ran through the doors representing skeleton, lungs and heart.... but as ever there was just so much to see... we'll need to return on a future visit!
Perhaps the best example of how good Ghent's museums are, comes from the fact that we had to literally drag the girls out of the museums each time! With only the promise of a chance to sample one of Belgiums Friteries.... Next stop is Cologne or Antwerp... I wonder which it will be? We'll just have to wait until tomorrow to make that decision, but rest assured Ghent is now firmly in the 'Top 10 Cities' we've experienced across Europe (see some of our other favourites below)
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