Children must be allowed to “play” in a world where they are heavily tested at school and distracted at home by the iPad, the head of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) has said.
The world-famous institution is planning a £13 million redevelopment of its Museum Of Childhood.
Mary Poppins’ umbrella, objects displayed at toddlers’ height, and rooms inspired by Alice in Wonderland will be among the highlights of the venue, due to reopen in 2022.
But V&A director Tristram Hunt said that, with art and other creative subjects being squeezed by the curriculum, having the time to play has never been so important.
“Children growing up in England today are among the most tested in the world,” he told the PA news agency, “whilst, at home, iPhones and iPads have come to the detriment of many of the crucial skills which play offers – such as the opportunity to problem-solve, physically explore and imagine.
“With art, design and music under pressure in the school curriculum, we believe championing creativity and the transformational power of play is more important than ever.”
He said the redevelopment aims to “prise young eyes away from their screens and offer an escape from the timetables, Kumon (a maths and English study programme) and cramming”.
The museum will “trace the myths, fables and inspirations” behind characters such as Paddington Bear and Pokemon’s Pikachu as well as the Loch Ness Monster.
Some 2,000 objects from the V&A’s collections will go on display at the V&A Museum Of Childhood, in east London’s Bethnal Green.
It will also be home to Beatrix Potter’s illustrations from the world of Peter Rabbit and the life-size West End War Horse puppet, Joey.
The original Superman costume and Frankenstein’s Monster will also be on show against a backdrop of theatrical displays “to inspire the next generation of screenwriters, authors and story-tellers”.
The museum wants to “nurture the potential of future generations and become a global champion of children’s creativity”, Mr Hunt said.
“We want to empower children to realise that every act of creativity is wondrous, whether it’s self-expression through their clothes, building a world on Minecraft, or launching a school climate strike.”
The museum will be home to dressing-up boxes, new spaces for hands-on making, a large-scale alphabet display, and sandpits – as well as landscape and weather prints by David Hockney.
Its new design will include a “town square” and a 125-person-capacity performance space for children to put on their own shows.
A “model town” of miniature worlds will include the museum’s national collection of dolls’ houses and a Star Wars spaceship.
The V&A said fundraising for the project is ongoing and it is seeking individual, trust and foundation support.
It added that it has secured pledges from several donors.
The museum will close on May 11 this year for development and reopen in 2022.