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Need a lie down?

What is it that makes some museums so exhausting? Me and my sister took her children to the Science Museum recently and we were so tired that we were begging the children to leave within an hour. Once we’d left, we felt fine – if a bit guilty about refusing to let them learn anything else.

My sister wisely identified the problem by listing things that were happening: buttons flashing, announcements sounding, text moving, films starting, guides talking. If you’re in the East Hall you can see through to at least three other exhibitions while you’re looking round the one you’re in. It’s like being inside a film, a website, three books and two theatres all at once. With hundreds of shouting children milling between them in different directions, like panicking bees.

I’m feeling tired again.

According to learning theory, we need sensory stimulation to learn but I’m not convinced that the maximalist approach to this works. If someone’s wafting a smell under your nose, talking to you, playing you music, showing you a film and flashing lights under your eyes all at the same time, you don’t feel stimulated, you feel cross and confused.