Singapore’s Museums Bring the Past Alive for Today’s Youngest Travelers

At their core, museums are carefully arranged storehouses for relics, art and documents chronicling a location’s past … which is why kids may roll their eyes at the thought of spending a day wandering through countless halls of objects accompanied by placards written for older visitors — especially when a place like Singapore is concerned, with Orchard Road’s flashy shopping, Sentosa Island’s beaches and theme parks, and its world-renowned Singapore Botanic Garden.

With such lively diversions, however, it should not be surprising some of Singapore’s museums and cultural highlights are powered by teams of directors and curators who go out of their way to make a visit feel far more exciting than a school field trip. With interactive displays and weekend programs, the history and art institutions prove interactivity doesn’t have to be the exclusive domain of science and tech museums. Beyond the permanent and special exhibits, Singapore’s museums excel in weekend programs specially designed for families and kids of different age groups, while making it possible for visiting kids to talk and play with local kids their age about what they are taking in.

National Gallery Singapore Art

National Gallery Singapore Art. Photo: Elyse Glickman

The National Museum of Singapore, established in 1887, is the nation’s oldest museum and originally opened as the Raffles Library and Museum. The glass rotunda on the top floor features the start of the dazzling multimedia “Story of the Forest,” which spirals its way down through the lower floors. Themed galleries on the second floor tell the story of Singapore by the decades. The “Singapore History Gallery” covers its evolution as a trade hub, while “Modern Colony” showcases the gracious and comfortable years of the 1920s and 1930s. “Surviving Syonan,” in sharp contrast, documents the harrowing years of the Japanese Occupation and World War II.

Popular culture and more international influences find their way to the galleries covering the 1950s and 1960s (“Growing Up”), and 1970s and 1980s (“Voices of Singapore,” whose setting blends an arcade and a drive-in theater). Both weave in the political, social and cultural watersheds leading to Singapore’s establishment as sovereign nation in 1965. Even with a busy and engaging interactive setup throughout the building, the museum offers services for special needs one can visit to set accommodations up in advance.

The National Gallery of Singapore, set up inside what used to be the city-state’s courthouse for its Supreme Court, presents the history of Singapore and other parts of Asia in painting, sculpture and other media. Even with many colorful pieces to view and discuss, several changing “drop-in” activities (free for kids 4 and older with paying adults) on weekends and public holidays add context and creativity to the permanent and temporary exhibits.

National Gallery Singapore Museums

National Gallery Singapore Museums. Photo: Elyse Glickman

There are also numerous regularly scheduled weekend activities. Every second weekend of the month, the museum schedules its free “Art Explorers” tour for future art aficionados aged 5–8. The half-hour sessions introduce participants to some of the museum’s treasures and how the artists brought them to life. “Stories in Art,” presented by professional storytellers every second weekend, bring individual pieces to life for kids 4–8.

For a fee, there are workshops every second Saturday of the month from 1:30–3 p.m., meanwhile, enabling parents with kids between 7 and 12 to create memories and original souvenirs inspired by the museum’s masterpieces under the tutelage of professional artists. Three-hour “Tween Workshops” on select Saturdays in June, November, and December 2019 present middle school- and high school-aged kids the opportunity to dive deeper into the stories behind artwork and installations in one of the temporary exhibitions as well as learn art-making techniques from artists and educators to create a one-of-a-kind souvenir.

Other destinations fusing art, culture, science and design include the Art Science Museum and Red Dot Design Museum, both inside the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, occupying one of the skyline’s most distinctive buildings). The Art Science Museum features a regular lineup of interactive and immersive exhibits, while Red Dot showcases innovative consumer product design.