How The Young V&A Is Enriching Children’s Learning – Interview with Catherine Ritman-Smith

By Anoop Bhuller

11 months ago

The Young V&A is set to open on July 1. From interactive Minecraft installations to murals by street artists, there is so many new and exciting things to see. Children can engage with historical objects and learn in a hands-on environment. We spoke with Catherine Ritman-Smith, Head of Learning and Engagement at the Young V&A, to discuss how the museum will benefit children’s learning experiences.

Interview: Catherine Ritman-Smith On Learning At The Young V&A

Child playing outside

Young V&A’s free Summer Festival will take place on 8th and 9th July

How will a visit to the Young V&A enrich a child’s learning?

The museum has focussed on creating physical and social opportunities for children. 

Catherine said: ‘In our play gallery we have some giant building blocks, called the Imagination Playground, and it will give children challenges. They will need to work in teams, communicate with each other and collaborate.’ 

Engagement with objects is a different method of learning and one that children respond to. It has been created to complement teaching in the classroom.

The museum has around 2,000 objects on display, all of which provide a enriched way of learning.

They also offer a handling collection, where children can get hands on with creativity and historic items. 

What items have been highlighted to look out for?

In the Imagine gallery there is an area called Adventure. Here you can find a quarter of the museum’s objects, which are there to inspire the children. For example, the War Horse puppet from Michael Morpurgo’s story adapted for the National Theatre.

Puppet from the National Theatre's adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse

Puppet from the National Theatre’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (Given by Handspring Puppet Company © Jamie Stoker courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Located on the top floor is the design gallery, which has been created with 10-14 year olds in mind. The Hero Arm is featured in this area- a technological design and a medical aid for people with limb difference. Demonstrating to children that objects can be designed to meet human needs and solve problems. 

Why was Japan: Myths to Manga chosen as the first exhibition?

‘We are very aware that children’s lives are now very global in perspective, we know that Japanese culture is quite distinctive in the way it celebrates childhood and resonates with young people.’

Many children have been influenced by the word ‘Manga’ and taken an interest in Japanese culture and anime. 

The exhibition explores different landscapes, stories and myths in culture. 

Image of My Neighbour Toronto - Young V&A Interview

The first exhibition will be Myths of Manga (Image: My Neighbour Totoro. © 1988 Studio Ghibli)

How long will this exhibition be open for?

It opens on October 14 and will close August 2024.

Why are the galleries named Imagine, Play and Design?

‘We wanted to do something very inclusive and child-centered with the whole of the V&A’s collection. As a museum our specialism is in art, design and performance so those are the collections we have built through the history of the museum. We felt that there was an opportunity for us to deliver something very significant to children’s lives by thinking about how they might engage with those subject matters.’ 

Playing is how many artists and designers come up with their creations. It’s important for children, likewise, to play with ideas and feel free to express themselves through play. The play gallery demonstrates the importance of play in children’s lives and as building block of creativity.

The Imagine gallery is about coming up with ideas, teaching children that you can perform these ideas.

Design is about empowering children and connecting with the real world. Children can solve problems through design and express their inner creativity.

Will there be any workshops in the future? 

Yes! The Young V&A has an expert learning team and in the future they will offer workshops for Early Years all the way up to Key Stage 3. 

These workshops will be related to the Art, Design, Technology, Drama and Literacy curriculum.

Will there be collaboration opportunities for schools?


‘Collaboration has been at the heart of this museum. It has been so rewarding to us, to work with professionals so closely and with our target audiences and parents/carers.’

The Ursuline Academy Ilford were involved in co-creation with the curatorial team. It helped the team ensure the piece would be engaging for their target audience but also allowed the children to work with curators and get an understanding of the process.