The movie hit, A Night At The Museum, became a reality for 25 children aged 8-10 years from St Mary’s Episcopal School, Dunblane. A really excited party of children and parents arrived at The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum on Thursday night to create Museum History by being the first children to actually sleep overnight in the 141 year old galleries. The idea came when the whole school were planning a term of historical studies.
The P1/2 children are studying jobs of the past and were able to find out more about everyone from coal miners to glove makers. The P3/4 children looked at Invaders which opened up learning about Romans and Vikings as well as the Wars of Independence. The P5/6 classes studied famous and interesting characters of our local past, giving opportunities like, Bruce, Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Burns… but also many others like the executioner who cut off the heads of young Baird and Hardie in 1820 in Stirling, the last such public beheading ever in Britain.
“It was St Mary’s Head Teacher, Heather White who first approached me early in the year about such a bold idea,” explained Stirling Smith Learning Officer, David Smith. “Dr. Elspeth King, Director of the Museum gave us the go-ahead, but I guess she was secretly wary of how this would work! We had to have many rules and safety plans both for the children and for our valuable artefacts! One of the promises that we made was that I would also spend the night in the museum!”
“The families and children were so grateful to The Stirling Smith for agreeing and supporting us in the complex programme we devised,” said head teacher Heather White. “The children were all unbelievably excited about the idea and so actually sleeping looked like the last thing they might get down to.”
However, the school devised a packed programme for Thursday night. Initially around 50 children arrived at the beginning, but by agreement around half of the younger participants were collected by parents by 9pm. In small teams the children had very specific research tasks set as they explored the museum. After a picnic tea, they all gathered in the theatre and the different groups presented what they had found in diverse ways ranging from mini illustrated talks to raps and dramas. Then the theatre became a cinema as everyone settled down to popcorn and viewing the Movie A Night At The Museum.
There were 6 adults supervising as the children selected where they would actually bed down for night with mats and sleeping bags. A late evening torch light treasure trail was designed to get everyone sleepy, but to no avail. An even bigger challenge to slumber was the chiming of 5 grandfather clocks!
Some very sleepy heads in the morning agreed over a cereal, fruit and toast breakfast that it was an amazing experience. Whilst some adults and many children were now looking forward to a good night’s sleep at home two children claimed they slept better than ever had in their own beds!
Historical note: Hundreds of young soldier recruits slept in the galleries in both World Wars, causing lots of damage. Curators and families lived in an internal four-bedroomed house, now converted into upstairs offices. The last people likely to have slept in the museum were a caretaker family in the 1960s.