ANNIVERSARY – Today stretched over 5000 m2 and exported worldwide, the Cité des Enfants has seen 15 million young visitors. Its success is based on a simple recipe: Make the little ones familiar with science while having fun.
At the entrance to the City of Science and Industry, Porte de la Villette, in Paris, a huge cat wearing whipped cream and candles welcomes. A symbol of the Cité des Enfants, the cat is celebrating the 30th anniversary of this 5,000-meter space this year.2exclusively dedicated to 2-12 year olds.
Born in the head of the physicist Maurice Lévy in 1979, when the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie was established, the Cité des Enfants has become a “memory machine” but also a reference in museography for children.
“Play is a child’s job”
Today, one of the most visited areas in the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie with 700,000 visitors a year, the Cité des Enfants has seen more than 15 million young visitors pass through its walls with their accompanying persons. . Two pavilions divided into thematic spaces and no defined route: this space is based on a simple will, summarized by Professor Marcel Rufo, child psychiatrist and professor at APHM Aix-Marseille University: “Playing is a child’s job, but it’s also a pleasure that proves his huge appetite for learning.” La Cité des Enfants uses children’s curious and autonomous minds from 2 to 12 years to discover their bodies, their emotions, the elements, etc. and give them a first contact with the world of science.
During the 240 exhibitions and daily activities offered by the museum team, they learn to find their way in space thanks to the maze, to manipulate objects in the “special vessel” and even to present the weather forecast in the TV studio.
In the pavilion for 2-7 year olds an amazing sight. Dozens of small workers wearing construction helmets and wearing safety vests are as busy as an anthill. To develop their spirit of cooperation, the museum teams, in collaboration with a scientific committee consisting of childhood specialists, have imagined two places, one for the little ones, one for the elderly, where the children have to communicate and learn. to build houses with foam stone.
Another anthill, very real this time, is one of the oldest and most popular installations in the Cité des Enfants. The anthill and its glass plates are located in the space dedicated to 5-12-year-olds, and allow children to discover the organization of an ant colony. Steps away, in the tropical greenhouse, the colorful butterflies are the object of fascination for both children and adults. This space, called the garden, gives children a first awareness of their environment and its fragility.
In each of the two rooms, the water games that have been present since the opening of the room in 1992 are also a great success with children. Especially in these hot weather. Vortex, force, motion, density, flow … As they splash around, children discover the properties of water, the motion of water, and the scientific phenomena attributed to it.
Emotions and awareness of the living world
To develop each of the museum’s activities, a scientific committee of experts is set up. It is also a way of adapting to the needs of the children, which changes from year to year. “Every time we try to find techniques, a vocabulary, an environment, a statement that allows us to address certain age groups in the best possible way and accompany children through their lives towards adulthood”, explains one of the leaders of the Cité des enfants.
If Bruno Maquart, president of Universcience, a company that brings together the Palais de la Découverte and the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, says he does not know what the Cité des Enfants will look like in 30 years, he seems convinced that it will adapt. Already addressed in the pavilion for 2-7 year olds, the child’s feelings, as well as its relationship to others, living it together, the difference, should in the future be the subject of new installations and exhibitions, he explains..“For 30 years “child science” has evolved, although there has not been a major revolution, recent trends show the importance of emotions in learning ”, he develops. Already through the exhibition of the Petits Curieux line called Crazy!on the first floor of the Cité des Sciences until January 8, 2023, and the story of Roky the Pebble, Windy the Balloon, Iggy the Egg, Folia the sheet of paper, Glitch the soap, and Plot the ball of wool children “drawn into adventures that make them experience fragility” and thus discover resilience.
Another theme should also be explored during the renovation of the Cité des Enfants in 2024 and 2025. Through outdoor spaces, and especially a terrace for babies, Bruno Maquart maintains that he wants to “place more emphasis on raising awareness of the living world and the relationship man has to his environment”. By the same token, the Cité des Enfants calls for a certain kind of sobriety. “Neither technophile nor technophobic”is the company’s policy to use digital “when it encourages creativity and activity” explains the President of Universcience.
At the Cité des Bébés, which is so far in the testing phase under the name “Lab of the City of Babys” and which will be made permanent in 2023, screens are even banned. Based on recommendations from early childhood specialists, the museum asks attendants to leave cell phones outside the room. A measure that also responds to the Cité des Enfants’ desire to make the visit to these spaces a moment of “co-education” where the adult can interact “weak or strong depending on the moment, according to their wishes, according to the wishes of the child”explains Bruno Maquart.
A timeless and universal recipe
If it has grown well since the opening (from 1850 m2 at 5000 m2), the Cité des Enfants has kept several exhibitions such as the water games, the construction site, the ball machines, the gears, but above all the same recipe. In this spirit of playful learning, the museum is constantly developing more activities to illuminate children’s eyes and minds. During the first incarceration, from April, the dissemination teams doubled their ingenuity to propose activities related to the museum’s thematic spaces to be carried out. “home”. By putting their own footprint in models, doing a shadow theater or even learning to listen to their heartbeat, the children could wait calmly before the reopening of the museum and can now enjoy about fifteen experiences at a distance. “There is a demand, a gigantic need for activities of the type we offer to children”comments Bruno Maquart.
Like all good recipes, it can be exported from the Cité des Enfants, within and outside the borders. Located as one of the major specialists in museography for children, the establishment shares its expertise, and several cultural institutions for children have emerged according to the same model as the Cité des Enfants, with the image of a room of 1000 m.2in Lille, in the Lillenium shopping mall, designed by the Universcience teams, or in Hong Kong, in the Science Museum.
Bruno Maquart also tells of having been “beaten” to see when he came to inaugurate this new space dedicated to children that young Hong Kongers had “seize what was offered to them in the same way that children play” in the City of Children in Paris. “It’s the same because I think we’ve developed a universal language that does not suffer from cultural barriers and that allows us to speak to all children regardless of their culture, their mental universe … And that is very valuable. We know that wherever we go, children will love it. ” he analyzes.
Porte de la Villette at least, the memory machine that is the Cité des Enfants is well oiled. For its 30th anniversary, the museum teams for the occasion have doubled their ingenuity to make it a big party. During the year, a call to testify to share your oldest memories of the Cité des Enfants, but also surprises and new activities, with a highlight being an anniversary weekend on 10 and 11 September, where children will be able to take over the entire Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, as well as a symposium for children’s professionals who will question the child’s practice and place inside and outside the framework museum. “Thirty years is a moment of great joy. We are very happy to give the keys to the Cité des Sciences to children for a whole weekend”, Bruno Maquart is already impatient, like a child who has been promised a visit to the Cité des Enfants. Before I quit, happy: “It’s going to be a big thing.”