Extra Pair of Hands (or, as I like to call it, EPOH) is unique in the UK. There you are, a busy parent outnumbered by your children and trying to come up with an enjoyable, playful learning activity. To make life more difficult, one little darling likes indoors stuff and another wants to let off steam outside. Where can you go so that everyone’s happy? (including you!) That’s easy – Eureka!
But for a family with a disabled child, the next round of questions is just beginning. Your child uses a wheelchair, and has a hearing impairment. They are highly sensitive to flashing lights – and crowds! You’re not convinced you’ll be able to get them through the door, and once you do, will they be able to play with the exhibits along with their siblings? Can they get round all the galleries? Are there changing facilities? A quiet space to go if it all gets too much? If only you could talk beforehand to someone who really knows the museum, who can answer your questions, maybe even give you a hand on the day.
Well now you can! Families book their Extra Pair of Hands visit two weeks in advance, and the EPOH Enabler (Enablers are the amazing team that work here in the museum – enabling play!) not only gets in touch to answer all those questions, but will give them a hand for two hours on the day of their visit.
It seems such an obvious and simple idea that you might wonder what the catch is. Well, having spent March and April piloting the service with Enablers and parents, I can report that I haven’t found one yet!
One family visited with a little boy, we’ll call him Henry, who has a severe visual impairment. Henry has visited Eureka! a couple of times before with his sister, but they never went in together – he would only play in the outside space. He could sense a lot of activity and noise inside, but not being able to see past the highly reflective windows and doors caused him a great deal of anxiety. That meant that his sister – we’ll call her Emma – had only ever visited Eureka! with one of her parents – the other always had to stay with Henry. Henry and Emma had never played inside Eureka! together.
Our EPOH Enabler, Becky, spoke to Henry’s mum beforehand and together they planned the visit. Becky met the family at the start of Eureka!’s yellow brick road, armed with stickers and a smile. The first 15 minutes was spent in the outside space – Becky, Henry and his sister had great fun running round the sensory garden, sniffing the herbs and following the sound of the wind chimes. Becky built up Henry’s confidence so that he was happy then to go inside Eureka! for the first time.
Becky’s expert knowledge of the museum, our resources, the way children learn through play, and her previous conversation with Henry and Emma’s mum, meant that she could steer the family away from areas that might have caused anxiety, as well as capitalise on those the children particularly enjoyed. When she saw how much Henry liked playing in our Sound Space gallery, she brought out a set of drums for the two children to play with, which kept them thoroughly entertained for ages.
In the family’s words, they “had an absolutely brilliant time, and we’ll definitely be coming back”. Becky got a real buzz out of being able to work so closely with Henry and Emma and help the whole family enjoy their visit. In fact all the EPOH Enablers who did the pilot have requested to be first in line for families booking the service.
Other lovely things that the pilot families said:
- “Our Enabler showed us things in Eureka! we’d never seen before – we were blown away!”
- “Our EPOH gave ten times the value to a normal visit”
- “My (autistic) son can’t wait to go back again, normally he doesn’t like anywhere new”
So what was it that Becky (and Karys and Ross, our other EPOH Enablers) did to make their time at Eureka! so enjoyable? They asked questions, listened to the answers and made suggestions. Parents know their children’s needs best, but they might not know all the ways that Eureka! can offer a playful learning experience. The Enablers’ training and expertise meant they can help families plan a visit that brings the two together.
Suggestions don’t have to be costly
The Enablers offered small, practical solutions – stickers to help Henry think of Eureka! as a happy place to be; ear defenders for the autistic child who was sensitive to sound; meeting the family of a wheelchair-using child at the car to help them into the museum. Suggestions which cost nothing more than thought and time.
Try before you buy
Families who already have an annual pass can book two EPOH visits per year, but here’s the other unique thing about the service – if you don’t have an annual pass and you’re really not sure about laying out a load of dosh to visit somewhere you’ll never go back to – you can still try out our Extra Pair of Hands service. Just ring and book your visit two weeks in advance and, on the day, your visit will be free. We are confident that you will have had such a good time that you will want to return – and then you can buy an annual pass and book your second EPOH visit!
Word is spreading fast about Extra Pair of Hands and we’re taking bookings now. Initial feedback is very positive, and I am sure this unique service is going to be very popular with families of disabled children. I am looking forward to telling you lots of lovely EPOH stories and bringing you lots of pictures in my next blog!
Trizia Wells – Helping Hands Project Lead
The Extra Pair of Hands Service is part of Eureka’s Helping Hands Project, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.