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Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood: Where Imagination and Happiness Meet

So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!

- Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

For this week’s post, we must heed the words of Peter Pan because we are going to explore Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood. It is a very special museum that celebrates the wonders of childhood past and present. So, lets sprinkle some fairy dust and ‘think of lovely wonderful thoughts’ as we fly over to the Museum of Childhood.

Located on the iconic Royal Mile, the Museum is a wonderful place for adults to reminisce and remember the joys of childhood. It also provides an excellent opportunity to help younger visitors see how other children have experienced childhood over the years. It first opened in 1957 and, according to the Museum, their collection now consists of “over 60,000 items covering all aspects of childhood and growing up. It includes toys, games, books, dolls, clothes, and household objects”. Entry is free, but donations are welcome as the money helps keep the Museum running and ensures the collection will be around for future generations.

The Museum has five levels of galleries, and they have an incredible number of artefacts and items that, in their words, “spark memories and emotion connections”. For example, when we went through the ground level gallery, I came across the classic Fisher-Price phone toy pictured. I had that toy as a child and loved it! Yet, such a toy can become a teachable moment as many children of today’s generation have never seen a phone like that and only know of mobile phones. Exploring a little further in the same gallery, there is an area where kids can dress up and read books (now that brings me back to the countless fun I had as a child playing dress up and reading). Therefore, a nice feature for families visiting the Museum of Childhood is that it is interactive; kids are encouraged to be kids while still learning.

One of the more impressive sections in the Museum can be found in Gallery 3 which consists of dolls from Scotland, the rest of the UK, and around the world. For example, you can find the famous Paddington Bear on display alongside dolls from Egypt and Newfoundland, Canada! They also have many costume and character dolls. Overall, the diversity of the collection is amazing.

Doll from Newfoundland, Canada

Heading up to Gallery 4, you find items related to ‘Games and Hobbies’. There is quite a vast array of memorabilia ranging from outdoor sporting equipment, to a beautiful antique skittles set (for those of you who may not know what that game is- you can read more about it here), as well as books on display and to be read. As a related aside, it is wonderful how many Scottish writers have been able to capture the magic of childhood. Of course, J.M. Barrie most famously wrote about the idea of never growing up in his play, Peter Pan. Our long-time blog friend, Robert Louis Stevenson (for more on RLS, read this and this), truly understood the importance of being a child and using imagination. And while not Scottish by birth, I want to mention JK Rowling who has been a long-term resident here. Edinburgh is the birthplace of Harry Potter and the books have captivated both children and adults worldwide. The power of books is strong, and I am thrilled that the Museum honours their significant place in childhood.

Gallery 5 is the top level of the Museum and is quite intriguing. Here you can find displays that highlight some of the fascinating historical aspects of childhood. One tableau is of a children's nursery. The mannequins are wearing antique clothes from the beginning of the 1900s; the rocking horse dates to about 1850. In another exhibit you see children playing marbles.

They have also created an old store front with a window display of antique children’s clothes, shoes, and accessories. Part of the ‘street scene’ is an old piano. However, it isn’t just any piano. According to the Museum, “Mrs. Mary Dunlop played this piano in the streets of Edinburgh from the 1930s to 1966. Local children danced in the streets to its music. Smokey, a white Shetland pony, pulled the cart…The keys are activated via a handle that turns a heavy wooden barrel set with pins inside the piano”. It’s fun to close your eyes and imagine Mrs. Dunlop and Smokey rambling through the streets of Edinburgh bringing music and joy to the children.

Well, the pixie dust supply seems to be getting low and it is time for us to leave the realm of childhood. If you would like more information on how to plan your visit to Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, please head over to their website. They are part of the Museums and Galleries Edinburgh group that we champion, advocate for, and recommend daily. Please be sure to check out our articles on their other locations- The Writers’ Museum, Scott Monument, and the Museum of Edinburgh.

As we part, please take the following wise words of J.M. Barrie with you - “It is not in doing what you like, but in liking what you do that is the secret of happiness.” We here at Wee Walking Tours are passionate about telling stories. I love to tell them with this blog, and Sami is thrilled to bring the fascinating stories about Edinburgh to life on our walking tours. So, after you visit the Museum of Childhood, be sure that you have enough pixie dust left to book one of our walking tours. Don’t worry, Sami and Sawyer (our Golden Retriever tour guide) can help to replenish your pixie dust supply. They would be happy to help you return to the land of imagination, childlike wonder, and magic on the streets of Edinburgh.

Remember- “All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” (J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan).

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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