On Saturday 15 November we arrived at the Natural History Museum in London to meet lots of excited children and slightly nervous parents. There was a big buzz on the street with everyone laden down with sleeping bags, favourite teddies and most importantly midnight snacks. We were all relieved to get inside and away from the main crowds to find our camp for the night. The parents helped set up the sleeping quarters before saying goodbye. There were a few tearful Mums and Dads but once they could see their children were happily settling in and making friends they left for the evening. This was a big step and new adventure for many of the children who had not stayed away from home before.
Our first activity was a science talk, so with talk of adventures we led the children through the museum to the lecture hall. We arrived before the other groups which allowed our excited VICTA explorers to go in first and sit in the front row. The speakers brought out a tiger shark’s jaw and allowed the children to touch it and feel the very sharp teeth. When the other groups arrived they began the talk ‘Monsters of the Deep’ – with lots of weird and wonderful facts about the strange creatures that live in the depths of the ocean. One of our group Alex had his enthusiasm rewarded when he was selected to go up on stage to feel inside a bag. He was asked to describe to the audience what he could feel which was then revealed to be a tentacle from a giant squid. The VICTA group joined in really well and were eagerly putting their hands up and answering questions. The gory facts about different species of shark went down well, particularly with the boys.
After the talk, we walked back through the museum to the snack hall. The children were really excited to be reunited with the goodies they had packed. The grown-ups were offered a well needed cup of coffee! This gave the children a nice chance to all chat to each other and provided them with an energy boost for the night ahead.
We were then led to the investigation room which was full of interesting artefacts such as fossils, bones, stuffed animals and shells. We sat down and listened how to explore the room like scientists using all our senses. We were then free to investigate and ask questions about what we found. Some of the children drew, measured and weighed objects, while filling out investigation sheets. There were several drawers full of objects – they loved being able to pull these out and explore what was in them. There were microscopes and computers for finding further information. Perhaps most popular were the swordfish nose, dinosaur bone and huge snakeskin.
After a quick refreshment break we headed back to the room to make fossil casts. This was a hands-on activity with the chance to get a bit messy (some more than others!). Everyone was given a piece of plasticine from which they made a bowl shape to press their chosen fossil into. They then helped mix the plaster, pour it into their bowls and stick on their labels. These dried over-night to form a fossil cast and a nice keep-sake to take home from their adventure.
This took us to midnight – both kids and adults were truly worn out by this point and were ready for lights out. Despite the talk of staying up all night, once teeth were brushed and heads hit the pillow, there was almost an instant sound of silence! Waking up in the whale room, surrounded by mammals and suspended skeletons above our heads was quite an experience. Some of the group needed an extra nudge to get up for the 7am wakeup call but all were in good spirits.
Sunday morning was a special encounter with the ‘Animal Man’. We did this separately from the main group so we were up close and personal with the animals. Everyone joined in and stroked the animals – a chinchilla, hedgehog, bearded dragon, meerkat, millipede, skunk and a giant snail. Cameron and Reeah were the bravest of all holding a tarantula. The boys delighted in telling us afterwards all the gory things tarantulas can do to you – despite the Animal Man reassuring us a bite would be no worse than a bee sting!
Breakfast was juice, a muffin and a yogurt and another chance to chat before going back to camp to pack up. We all wondered how on earth our sleeping bags ever fitted in their cases but got there in the end. The children and parents were excited to be reunited with each other – hopefully with lots of stories of their adventures to share. There were definitely a few tall tales about how much sleep they actually had!
“I can’t tell you how great the Dino Snores was, when I asked Reeah if she wanted to do it again she replied yes straightaway. Reeah had such a fantastic time and she can’t stop talking about it. Its amazing how the whole experience gave her such big boost of confidence. She felt so much part of the Dino Snores as everyone in the group were visually impaired rather than her being the only one. She enjoyed making the fossil the most. A big huge thank you to all the people from Victa and NHM to make it such a success and for looking after our precious little ones so well. I would like to thank Tracie for texting me to let me know that Reeah was fine as it was her first night away from home. “ – Ashwina Seewoosurrun