Adam Bird

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Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Secret Testers

Secret Testers

As a child was it just me who used to devise imaginary play areas and build the world longest slide and the highest swing ever known to man? Did others dream as I did about being offered a job as a toy tester like Tom Hanks’s character did in the movie Big? No, you did too? Oh good, I’m glad about that, as that is exactly what happened to us last week!

When an old friend sent me a message via Facebook wanting to know if I was interested in taking the kids to Greenwich to test elements of a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum I jumped at the chance. As a family we love spending time in Greenwich, there is so much to do -  we didn’t need asking twice! Besides the park, which is a global treat, you have the iconic Cutty Sark and masses of Maritime History. The Old Royal Naval College is a must see, particular for us as my Grandfather used to school there.

Also, as it was Saturday and with the wife working I invited my mother along, her foster child and for good measure my niece and nephew for company!

The mission was a simple one. The National Maritime Museum have drawn up plans for a new exhibit aimed at children under seven. They wish to spend their money wisely and so needed a group of volunteers to see some of the ideas, have a play with some prototypes and be observed on how they used them and to provide feedback as and when necessary.

For a family that like to get out and about this was very new territory for us, none of us knew what to expect. The kids, being kids and no older than seven were none the wiser and went with the moment, whilst I sat wide mouthed as the realisation that people are living out my childhood fantasy on a daily basis - and getting paid for the pleasure!

We were directed to a side room off of the main entrance to the museum and met by a lovely group of people who kindly thanked us for our time and participation. They explained to the children (and the grown-ups) the order of the day and invited us all to watch a digital fly-through of the plans for the new exhibit. Think big boats, huge shipping containers, naval history and pirates, (shiver me timbers!). Even the big kid in me couldn’t help but get excited about the ideas that have been lovingly put into place.

The video presentation was deliberately brief, young children want to play and off we went to do just that! In the next room an assortment of contraptions, presentations and tables were laid out. The girls went straight to the cooking pots and pans whilst the boys also reverted to type and headed for the cannon! The idea in mind is that part of the centerpiece of the exhibition is a pirate ship where children can fire foam balls at other pirates (not real ones of course!) and the test was to see how children managed the mechanism and how they used it. Maybe not like our children, who stuffed as many balls into the cannon as they possibly could and fired them at each others head - glady not all children are as viciously minded as ours were!

From time to time I found myself on tenterhooks as the children did childreny things. Slowly dissecting each of the exhibits into their component pieces and devising weird and wonderful alternatives of their own choosing. I found myself quietly apologising on the children’s behalf but found myself being rebuked in turn “You should be proud of having children with such wonderful imaginations” they said, which I’m certainly no stranger to myself. But I didn't have time to feel guilty, after an action packed hour it was time to walk the plank!

A sure fire test for measuring any success or failure is telling children that it is home time. If you are greeted with tears and tantrums you know you are on to a winner and with the National Maritime Museum that is exactly what it would seem.

In fact we are all desperately looking forward to returning next spring regardless and the promise of changes we might have affected is an additional draw. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some complimentary face protectors next the cannon, or warning signs to the contrary. But whatever happens the plans that are currently under development promise to surprise and delight and as it has been tried and tested by the experts it can't fail to live up to expectations.

In the mean time, I’m off to update my CV “Attraction tester” - looks so much fun!


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