Children’s Season takes place from the 18th May to 30 June 2013, to coincide with the June school holidays. Jointly presented by the National Heritage Board and Museum Roundtable, it consists of exhibitions and programmes designed for children taking place in the 19 museums island-wide.
Previously, we had visited Art Garden at the Singapore Art Museum. On Monday, since I was on leave, I decided to bring C on a solo date to the National Museum while G went to child-care.
This year, Children’s Season at the National Museum is titled Island Adventures 2013. The exhibition explores Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-cultural society through the themes of Food, Film & Wayang, Fashion, and Photography.
At the concourse, we were greeted by a giant wall mural with a familiar dragon-shaped structure. I felt a pang of nostalgia: I used climb on such a structure during my childhood days! Now, most of the playgrounds have been replaced with modern gyms, so C has not seen the dragon before. I made a mental note to myself to bring her to Toa Payoh to play on one of the last dragon play-gyms left in Singapore, before it got torn down.
This mural turned out to be a large magnetic panel too. Colourful magnetic shapes were available in a basket to allow children to decorate the playground according to their creativity. Simple concept, but C enjoyed herself trying to get the pieces as high as she could manage.
As part of Children’s Season activities, C got a complimentary activity book, and I paid an additional $5 for a craft pack, which consisted of a packet of play-doh, two pieces of coloured paper, a paper wayang headgear and decorative material for the headgear.
There were plenty of hands-on activities for the children, in line with this year’s theme. C got to learn about different types of local food like char kway teow (chinese fried rice noodles), nasi lemak (a malay rice dish cooked with coconut and pandan) and mee goreng (fried noodles). There were pretend play stalls where she could pretend to be a hawker cooking her own dishes using magnetic pieces. Using the playdoh from the craft kit, she also made an ang ku kueh (literally translated as red tortoise cake), a traditional chinese pastry with soft sticky glutinous rice flour skin wrapped around a sweet filling in the centre.
She got to “try on” different traditional costumes from each of the major ethnic groups in Singapore (her favourite was the sarong kebaya!). Panels of traditional fabrics were also on display. I explained that tailors were common in the past, and her grandmother used to be a seamstress, and sewed many pretty clothes for myself and my brothers.
There was a small section dedicated to Chinese opera (wayang), where little booths with peepholes were found. Looking through the peep-holes, we saw snapshots taken from shows in the past. C got to decorate her own opera headgear (of a princess), which she insisted on trying on and taking a picture for her daddy who was at work. She had watched Chinese opera on a stage and on tv (both grandparents enjoyed it), but had found difficulty understanding the dialects spoken. I explained that different characters had different types of makeup to differentiate them, and the headgear was different – she could try identifying them on stage now!
One of the most interesting booths featured an activity where she learnt how photo studios used to produce coloured prints in the 1950s and 60s. She was astonished to know that we had to wait for photos to be developed before we knew how the pictures turned out, that there were only black and white photos in the past (colour had to be hand-painted).
After the children’s activities, we made our way to the 2nd level, where there the Singapore Living Galleries were. We only visited the Fashion and Film exhibits, but C didn’t like it much as the galleries were rather dark. She did get to listen to pop music from her grandmother’s era though!
We also made a quick visit to the Singapore History Gallery. I’ve not been to the National Museum for a long time, and I was pretty impressed at how high tech the exhibits had become – multimedia handheld devices (called the Companion) were distributed for all aged 7 and above (so C had to share mine) and we could punch in the codes to listen to the commentary as we made our way through the gallery.
There were several “movies” along the route, and we stopped to watch some of them. C was particularly interested by the show on olden Singapore, back when we were a fishing village. “Are they very poor people?” she asked.
We talked a little about the discovery of Singapore, and the development from a little fishing village to modern Singapore. I think she is still a little confused about the history though – I will need to borrow a bit more books on Singapore’s history.
The Japanese occupation exhibits triggered quite a bit of questions – “What does occupation mean? What is war? Why are the people so thin?”. Hmm… how do you explain the concept of war to a 6-year old?
There were several other exhibits that interested C – one of them was a rickshaw. I explained that her grandmother used to ride in these when she was younger, and they were pulled by people. Her eyes opened wide: “The person must be really strong!”
Near the end of the gallery, we came upon some exhibits from the 1970s and 1980s (I remember some of them from my childhood!) This picture was taken for C’s grandmother:
I had expected C to be bored by the exhibits at the National Museum, but she told me that she enjoyed it more compared to the Art Garden(!) I suppose it was because there were more hands-on activities, and interactive exhibits. I definitely benefited from the trip – there were interesting bits of history that I didn’t know about.
We will definitely be back for another visit!
Have you visited the museum recently?
National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road S(178897)
Singapore History Gallery: Daily from 10am to 6pm (last admission at 5.30pm)
Singapore Living Galleries: Daily from 10am to 8pm (free admission from 6pm to 8pm, last admission at 7.30pm)
Admission is free for Singapore Citizens & Permanent Residents to the Singapore History and Singapore Living Galleries, Goh Seng Choo Gallery and Stamford Gallery