[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

Previous Next
of 41 items

Muddy Bees is back

With our outdoor play session returning Wednesday 5 July and Tuesday 26 September, volunteer Gemma Murray provides us with some great ideas how you can have some messy but manageable fun at home.

Muddy Bees is an outdoor play session for under 5s run by the Horniman throughout the summer months and there are two more sessions left for this year: Wednesday 5 July and Tuesday 26 September.

Since we are lucky enough to have our wonderful Gardens at the Horniman Muddy Bees takes place on a grand scale. With a massive water butt, several tables, and tonnes of pots and pans, we can offer you sand, water, mud pie making, and lots of messy fun.

However, often parents will ask us for ways to replicate our games in the more confined spaces of their own homes and gardens. So here are my top five outdoor game ideas, be warned though, there's always bound to be a little mess.

Plant Sprayer Shootout

Set up a series of targets around your garden, this could be anything from plastic cups and bottles to something as simple as a sheet of paper with a target drawn on it. Arm each child with a plant sprayer and see if they can hit the targets. Older kids will have to stand further back than younger ones in the interest of fairness. Watch out, there's a high chance that this could spill over to a fully fledged water fight.

Water Drawing

Another one that makes use of plant sprayers, but a clean set of paint brushes and a pot of water works just as well. This one couldn't be simpler, just let your little ones loose on whatever surface they can find. Fences, patios, and walls will all become blank canvases for them to express themselves on, and you could end up with a clean patio for their troubles too.


Chalk can look rather tasty so make sure nothing ends up in your kids' mouths, but, like water, chalk offers a chance for children to express their artistic sides with minimal cleanup so drawing on pretty much anything goes. 

Water Trays

Make your own paddling pools with just a tub of water. This works very well with babies but big brothers and sisters will probably want a piece of the action too. Adding food colouring to the water can prove an interesting experiment for older kids who want to see what colours they can mix together but can lead to bright blue fingers leaving their mark. 


Gather up ingredients to brew a 'magic' potion in any waterproof container you can find. Sticks, mud, leaves, petals, stones, or whatever your kids can get their hands on are sure to result in something as magical as it is messy. Last year, my kids were delighted to discover that their concoction made in a chocolate tin has transformed into a viable pond full of growing grass and little wriggly things. I was a little less thrilled when it came time to clean up.

The bees are back

Engage Volunteer Shelagh is celebrating the return of the bees to the Nature Base.

If you go down to the bees today, you're sure of a big surprise.

We are so pleased to see the new colony of bees in the Nature Base, and the great thing about a young colony is that, because there are fewer bees, you can really see what's going on. We have been able to watch lots of key moments in the bees' world.

We've seen young workers actually hatching out. First, you notice a tiny hole in the top of some of the wax caps in the brood frame. Then, as the wax is chewed away from the inside, a young bee starts to emerge head first.

  • Young workers actually hatching out, A young worker bee hatching out, Barbara Hornik
    A young worker bee hatching out, Barbara Hornik

Sometimes, an older worker comes to communicate with the emerging young bee - seeming to 'wipe' its face with antennae. One hatchling seemed to be 'stuck' for ages, with a 'collar' of wax round its neck. We were waiting for an older bee to come and help!

We also noticed two or three 'premature' white hatchlings that seemed to have been pulled out of their cells, and were being carried around by older bees. Had they decided that perhaps these young were not viable? How could they tell? Presumably, these would be consumed by other hive-members, so as not to waste any of that precious protein. Yet more bee questions for us to ponder.

  • Bees in the Nature Base, Bees in the Nature Base, Connie Churcher
    Bees in the Nature Base, Connie Churcher

As it was windy and raining outside, it was not surprising that there weren't any bees coming back into the hive with full pollen baskets on their legs. But there was plenty of activity inside the hive - evidenced by what seemed to be a warmer than usual feel to the surface of the glass when you put the back of your hand against it. Bees in the upper frame were working hard on building new wax cells.

All this was very exciting for visitors and volunteers to witness. A Polish visitor with her daughter said her dad was a beekeeper, so she grew up with bees. She told us about a project in Poland called Pszczelarium which helps people living in cities to set up and look after their own beehives.

Before they go, a great question we ask visitors is:

If bees were paid the minimum wage, how much do you think a jar of honey would cost?

The answer is...




£143,000, which works out as roughly $182,000 or €166,330!

This great bee-fact comes from a brilliant little book called Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker. It makes you think about all the bee-hours takes for one jar of honey, and how we take for granted their "free" labour. Respect!

Farewell Armadillo

Our Engage Volunteer, Gemma, is reflecting on one of the objects she has enjoyed working with over the last few months.

One thing working on the Engage table has shown me time and time again is that there is always more than one way of looking at things.

As of 29 April there have been new objects to handle out in the Museum at the trolley next to the Natural History Gallery. While I am really looking forward to working with them, I’ll be sad to see the back of the things we have been using for the last couple of months.

All the most recent batch of items had bags of personality.

The python skin has been a real winner. Kids and adults alike never seem to tire of unrolling its massive 4m length - so I’m sure it will be back! The duiker has been stroked and petted as we’ve cooed over the idea of tiny antelopes the size of bunny rabbits.

The wonky turtle has kept us guessing about the life it led before ending up at the Horniman and, fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how keen you are to meet one), I never did come across a single visitor who had seen a longhorn beetle in the UK.

There was also an armadillo carapace.

The handling has darkened it a bit, but it was not particularly well preserved in the first place having been badly bent and stuffed with bits of newspaper. The old newspaper kept the Engage team entertained as it has fallen out piece by piece providing snippets of news about a driving ban, the number 1870 and some sort of warning about German girls (I have no idea what they are alleged to have done).

The carapace has great links to the rest of the Horniman. Armadillos have traditionally been used in the Andes to make music. With its lumps and ridges, I’d pictured something like a guiro – a percussion instrument which you would rub with a stick or brush, but apparently it’s usually made into a stringed instrument called a charango. Sort of like a lute.

As a lovely example of animal adaption, it makes a good introduction to The Robot Zoo exhibition. There are also a couple of armadillos in the Natural History Gallery, but actually, one of those is not all it seems…

One of the things the Engage staff were told about armadillos is that only the three banded armadillo can curl completely into a ball. However, at the far end of the Natural History Gallery, there is another armadillo carapace. It’s a nine banded armadillo like the one on the trolley. It is very much curled into a ball.

According to the Curator, this may have been the work of an over-enthusiastic Victorian and is not a fully accurate reflection of the abilities of nine banded armadillos. Then again, when most of your audience wouldn’t have seen an armadillo in action, it gets the point across that they are bendy when they need to defend themselves and is no more misleading than our much loved (but very overstuffed) walrus.

As anyone who was around in the 1990s will tell you, the armadillo has links to the café too. Anyone for a certain smooth on the outside and crunchy in the middle chocolate snack? Or you can just eat it. I am told it tastes like pork.

So goodbye to our lovely, intriguing armadillo with all its great uses and links.

Or, as one American visitor said to me lately, "yuck, it’s just road kill."

A look back on Volunteering

Volunteer Andressa looks back on her time spent at the Horniman, sparking curiousity.

  • Volunteer cross-pollination with The Hive, Sandra Bogdanova
    , Sandra Bogdanova

After completing a year of volunteering at Horniman Museum and Gardens and starting a new chapter of my life, I thought it would be a good time to share my wonderful experience as an Engage Volunteer.

Looking back, I still can't believe that time has passed so quickly. I still remember the first time I visited the Horniman at the beginning of 2016, and how much I loved the African galleries and the Horniman's vibe – full of families and friendly faces. In fact, I loved it so much that by the time I got home, I had visited the website and seen that they were recruiting for new volunteers. It didn't take me more than a few minutes looking at the programme to decide that I wanted to be part of it!

At the time, I was finishing my masters in Museum Studies and was looking for opportunities to get involved but also to develop my skills. Having migrated to the UK from Brazil, I wanted to develop confidence speaking to the public in my second language, while also building practical experience. Fortunately, volunteering at Horniman has not only allowed me to gain confidence but also to learn a lot about the collection – how to handle it and engage people – plus a range of exclusive opportunities such as training, talks with Curators and the Conservation Team, Horniman newsletters and a team-building trip to Kew Gardens! 

Besides all the good things mentioned above, what really made the difference in my volunteering was how friendly and welcoming the Horniman was. From my very first day as a volunteer, I felt part of the team and I was lucky enough to meet wonderful people every Wednesday - my usual volunteering day - and make new friends!

I would definitely recommend volunteering at Horniman Museum and Gardens to anyone interested in museums and their work. I shall greatly miss my time as a volunteer!

Andressa's post was originally published on her own blog: Fish & Chips com farofa.

A source of arty inspiration

Our Engage Volunteer, Sam, tells us about how our collections have inspired her artwork. 

Even before becoming an Engage Volunteer I was inspired by the fantastic collections at the Horniman. 

The artefacts in what was the African Worlds Gallery have provided an especially rich source of material for my sketches and sculpture I’ve produced over the years.

Since becoming an Engage volunteer I can get up really close and personal with the actual objects themselves and I love to share my enthusiasm with the public too!

  • Project Morrinho at the Horniman , A colourful sketch of the Horniman Clocktower
    A colourful sketch of the Horniman Clocktower

My work mainly focuses on memory. Do objects have a memory? Do they provoke a memory of your own? Or do they serve as a collective memory for a group of people?

I often combine my own memories of travelling and the experiences I’ve had into my work and the materials I use.

  • Portal, Portal

I have always had a fascination with masks. I have collected and sketched them on my travels around Mexico and Africa. Beautiful, ugly, mysterious and powerful, they hook my imagination and keep drawing me back.

  • Sky Earth Kanaga Mask, Sky Earth Kanaga Mask
    Sky Earth Kanaga Mask

In River Memory Mask the wood itself forms the contours of the map of a face, with the river flowing through it linking the future to the past. The mirrored eye and stones with holes also ward off evil as seen in masks and amulets at the Horniman, like this African Nkisi, this Kurdish charm or this English protective charm. I’m spoilt for choice of inspiration!

  • River Memory Mask  , River Memory Mask
    River Memory Mask

The Anthropology blogs are a great way to find out about how the Anthropology Collections are being re-displayed. I can’t wait until the work is finished and the new World Gallery opens next year!

Have any of the objects at the Horniman sparked memories for you? 

Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using #horniman. 

A fond farewell

Our Volunteering and Engagement Coordinator, Kate Cooling, is leaving to go travelling around the world. Here, she talks about her time with the Horniman Learning and Volunteering team. 

'When I was a primary school teacher, I was looking for a way to gain experience in museums and have fun in my school holidays, so joined the Engage team as a Volunteer. I was part of that team for more than two years between 2012 and 2014 and had a great time, meeting new people, sharing my love of museums and finding out more about a career that I thought could be the one for me.

After two fantastic roles in Museum Education elsewhere, when the role of Volunteering and Engagement Coordinator was advertised in December 2015 I jumped at the chance to get back to the Horniman… and the rest, as they say, is history!

  • A fond farewell, Kate on a volunteer visit to Kew Gardens and The Hive
    Kate on a volunteer visit to Kew Gardens and The Hive

From day one, the team here have made me feel welcome and included me in many exciting opportunities. Some of my favourites have been our Volunteers Week celebrations in June, getting to know more about our incredible Handling Collection, spending time in the beautiful Gardens and volunteering at our Museum Lates and Summer Festival.

  • A fond farewell, Kate stewarding the Horniman Carnival 2016
    Kate stewarding the Horniman Carnival 2016

I have loved collaborating with my wonderful colleagues and of course our incredible Volunteer team – such a diverse, talented, fun and friendly group of people!

Although managing museum volunteers was fairly new to me when I joined the team here, I have enjoyed every minute of it. Supporting our volunteers to find new opportunities in a range of roles has been a real pleasure. I hope they enjoy their time at the Horniman and understand how integral and valued they are here.

  • A fond farewell, Kate (far left) with volunteers at the London Volunteers in Museums Awards ceremony 2016
    Kate (far left) with volunteers at the London Volunteers in Museums Awards ceremony 2016

As I head off on my travels, I am looking forward to hearing how the Volunteer team goes from strength to strength with the new opportunities that arise from our Gallery redevelopments and Butterfly House. I will be one of the Horniman’s most avid followers and plan on visiting the new Galleries as soon as my feet are back on English soil next year!

Thank you for a wonderful year and for a chance to be part of the Learning and Volunteering team.'

Discover more about volunteering at the Horniman.

A Calm Visit to the Horniman

Want to find a quite and peaceful spot in our Museum? Engage Volunteer, Anahita Harding, has just the ticket. Here, she tells us her favourite calm spots and the best times to visit them. 

'Sometimes the Museum can feel quite busy and hectic but for those in the know, there are some places that are a bit quieter where you can get find some peace.

The Gardens are a lovely place to go when a quiet spot is needed but on a rainy day this isn’t always ideal. If you ever need a quiet spot to think and be calm, here are some indoor spaces I like to go to during my breaks.

Nature Base

If you want to see the harvest mice, come to the Nature Base in the morning, as this is the best time to see them running and climbing! The harvest mice are crepuscular, which means that they are most active in the mornings and in the evenings.

The quietest time tends to be in the morning when the Museum has just opened but the Nature Base can get busy during other times of the day.

  • A calm visit to the Horniman, The harvest mice in the Nature Base are best seen in the morning.
    The harvest mice in the Nature Base are best seen in the morning.

The Natural History Gallery balcony

The Natural History Gallery balcony has a variety of cases with interesting specimens in them. There is also a nice space here to read stories and books. A grand clock is near the staircase, and it gently chimes every fifteen minutes. It is called the Apostle Clock and was made during the 19th century in Germany.

Usually, the balcony is very quiet and is a nice space to learn while watching everyone in the gallery below. There is also a good view of the walrus!

  • A calm visit to the Horniman, The apostle clock is on the Natural History Gallery balcony
    The apostle clock is on the Natural History Gallery balcony

The Aquarium

Have you seen the jellyfish in the Aquarium? As you enter the Aquarium you will see a space lit up with a calming blue light, and jellyfish gently moving through their tank. It is lovely to watch them move. Above, you will see a large turtle hanging from the ceiling, can you find it? This is one of my favourite spots, and I hope you enjoy it too.'

  • A calm visit to the Horniman, Watching the jellyfish can be very calming
    Watching the jellyfish can be very calming

The Museum is at it's quietest after 2.30pm on weekdays during term time. 

Share your favourite peaceful spots from the Museum and Gardens with us using #horniman.

Find out more about volunteering at the Horniman

Volunteer cross-pollination with The Hive

If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees, if in terms of 100 years, teach the people. Confucius

My name is Sandra Bogdanova and I have been a volunteer at the Horniman Museum and Gardens since March 2016. As January marks the start of a new year I am extremely happy to share the most memorable trip of our Engage Volunteer Team in December 2016.

  • Volunteer cross-pollination with The Hive, Horniman Museum and Gardens Engage Volunteer Team, Sandra Bogdanova
    Horniman Museum and Gardens Engage Volunteer Team, Sandra Bogdanova

We went to visit The Hive at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew to understand why plants matter and how The Hive tells the story of the crucial role played by bees. I come from Lithuania, where since time immemorial we have had a bee god called Bubilas and a goddess, Austėja. Growing up surrounded with great respect and mythology about bees made me especially happy about this trip.

Our relationship with the honey bee goes back thousands of years, to the dawn of human history. According to the Collins Beekeeper's Bible, bees represent vital principles and embody the soul. The bee also symbolises the soul that flies away from the body in the Siberian, central Asian and South American traditions. The bee to this day remains the symbol of immortality and eternity, diligence, wealth and kindness.

  • Volunteer cross-pollination with The Hive, Bumblebees at Kew. There are over 270 different types of bees. It is estimated that 90 percent of these bee species are solitary, like bumblebees, but honeybees are communal and live in hives, Sandra Bogdanova
    Bumblebees at Kew. There are over 270 different types of bees. It is estimated that 90 percent of these bee species are solitary, like bumblebees, but honeybees are communal and live in hives, Sandra Bogdanova

There are around 680 volunteers at Kew and 60 of them are volunteer tour guides. They have been given the Queen’s Award for their guiding and have undertaken over 1,600 tours since 1992 when the program started! Volunteer guide Leslie took us on a bee focused tour and he was incredibly patient and knowledgeable. Leslie talked to us about pollination and the two types from flowering plants and coniferous trees. He also told us how insects and birds see a different spectrum of colour to humans, so they notice plants differently to us. It also helps them to see which ones they have visited for pollen.

  • Volunteer cross-pollination with The Hive, Cross-pollination between the Kew and Horniman volunteers, Sandra Bogdanova
    Cross-pollination between the Kew and Horniman volunteers, Sandra Bogdanova

Kew Gardens is over 320 acres. The Broad Walk and The Hive are the two latest areas to be developed with more than 27,000 flowering plants, most relevant to our group because of their relation to bees. We started our tour in the Melon Yard, and then continued to the Alpine Nursery and Scientific Research Nursery. When we came to the wildflower meadow that surrounds The Hive, we got to know that it is made up of 30 different species all of which support honeybees. The meadow is part of the installation too.

Ever since 1851 and The Great Exhibition there have been Expos planned around the world to share knowledge. In 2015, there was an Expo in Milan focused on the theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for life. This spectacular 17m-tall sculpture formed the centerpiece of the multi-award-winning UK pavilion.

  • Volunteer cross-pollination with The Hive, The Hive was designed to look as though it could be a swarm of bees from afar, Sandra Bogdanova
    The Hive was designed to look as though it could be a swarm of bees from afar, Sandra Bogdanova

It all began when, in search of inspiration, the artist behind The Hive Wolfgang Buttress went to see Martin Bencsik at Nottingham Trent University, who undertakes research into how bees communicate. This planted a seed in Wolfgang’s mind for an installation that celebrated the bee, while immersing the visitor in a sensory experience.

  • Volunteer cross-pollination with The Hive, Horniman Volunteer Coordinator Kate Cooling listening to the vibrations of the Hive, Sandra Bogdanova
    Horniman Volunteer Coordinator Kate Cooling listening to the vibrations of the Hive, Sandra Bogdanova

Bee’s wings beat in a specific pattern (oscillation) which makes the note of C minor and this note is played in The Hive. The floor has hexagonal plates, which echo a real hive and and these vibrate too. There are lights on the walls of The Hive which are lit by the electricity generated from the vibrations.

  • Volunteer cross-pollination with The Hive, These hives at Kew give vibration to the Hive and can be felt on the base of the installation. For the Milan Expo in 2015, they had to run wires underneath the channel to transport the vibrations from the hives in England. The hives at Kew are only a few hundred meters away, so much easier, Sandra Bogdanova
    These hives at Kew give vibration to the Hive and can be felt on the base of the installation. For the Milan Expo in 2015, they had to run wires underneath the channel to transport the vibrations from the hives in England. The hives at Kew are only a few hundred meters away, so much easier, Sandra Bogdanova

The Hive will be at Kew until December 2017.

It goes without saying that it was creative and inspiring, yet unforgettable. As for myself, lately I got enrolled to a beekeeping course with Wimbledon Beekeeping Association and can not put down Steve Benbow‘s book The Urban Beekeeper. A Year of Bees in the City.  I invite you all to visit our Nature Base at the Horniman Museum and Gardens for a closer look at the world of bees.

Back to books!

One of our Volunteers, Chiara, tells us about her experience in the Horniman Library.

‘I’ve been working as a Librarian in a public library for ten years, back in Italy.

When I moved to London, I lost contact with what had meant so much to me: dealing with the public (especially kids, since I was mostly working in the library’s children section) handling books everyday (the smell of paper...and dust! How wonderful!) and being in daily touch with local communities. At the beginning of my time in London, I felt a little bit lost.

So when I had the opportunity to join the taster session for Volunteers at the Horniman, I was very excited. Somehow I felt I could be again part of something special.

  • Back to Books!, Discovering books in the Horniman Library
    Discovering books in the Horniman Library

I volunteered with Engage for some months and this reminded me of the brilliant curiosity of children. I also took part in the Half Term activities and I could breathe again the happy atmosphere of families playing and learning together. But there was still something missing for me.

Anytime I could, I started sneaking into the Library to help Helen, the librarian, mending the children’s books. When a volunteering role for a library project arose, I couldn’t resist applying. Then the magic happened, I was working again in a library in the reclassification project!

Now, anytime I go to the shelf, pick a book, browse through it and discuss with Helen the most suitable place for visitors to find it, I feel the ‘librarian thrill’ again.

When I handle the ancient books of the special collection, touching them very gently to respect their age and fragility, I feel again as if I was in one of the ancient libraries I used to attend in Rome.

  • Back to Books!, Examining books in the Horniman Library
    Examining books in the Horniman Library

I feel a little bit homesick, but also home again, because if home is where your heart is...well, my heart has always been beating for books.

I have had experience of various different volunteering roles at the Horniman, having also spent some weeks in administration. It has been amazing to experience different and sometimes surprising opportunities, but in the end I’m so very glad that this way took me back to books.

Find out more about volunteering at the Horniman.

If the shirt fits…

The Engage Volunteers’ distinctive polo shirt is a familiar sight at the Horniman. But how does it feel to wear one for the first time? New Volunteer Rory shares his experience.

'A bright flash of turquoise caught my eye. Not the exotic paradise tanager bird on display in the Natural History Gallery, but me as I walked past a mirror. That was when it hit home – I was now an Engage Volunteer.

  • If the shirt fits..., A Horniman Engage Volunteer shows objects from the Handling Collection to visitors,  Sophia Spring
    A Horniman Engage Volunteer shows objects from the Handling Collection to visitors,  Sophia Spring

Yes, I’d read all about volunteering on the Horniman’s website. And I’d been to a taster session. But now I had the shirt on, people were going to ask me things. And expect me to know the answers. Gulp.

Purely on a practical level, there’s a lot to learn as a volunteer. Where does this lift go? Do visitors need a ticket for the Aquarium? Where can people leave their buggies?

Then there is learning the names of all the people who make the Museum tick: Security Guards, Visitor Assistants, the Finance and Learning teams – the list goes on.

What concerned me most was the trickier questions I could face. How old is this? Is that real? Are you sure it’s Caribbean, not African?

But I needn’t have worried. A thorough orientation answered all my questions and introduced me to everyone I needed to know.

Then my fellow Volunteers explained exactly what I’d be doing and how to handle the more unusual questions that could come my way.

For most other things there are information sheets. These explain anything from the facts about the objects on the hands-on trolley to how to spot the elusive queen in the Nature Base beehive.

  • If the shirt fits..., Engage Volunteer helping visitors spot the queen bee in the Nature Base beehive ,  Sophia Spring
    Engage Volunteer helping visitors spot the queen bee in the Nature Base beehive ,  Sophia Spring

So what was it like to wear the volunteer shirt? When I first put it on I felt conspicuous. A turquoise target. But it didn’t take long for that to change.

As I spent the day chatting about the harvest mice in the Nature Base, explaining the finer points of a sperm whale’s eardrum and getting to know my fellow Volunteers better, I realised two things: it isn’t hard to help people get more from their visit to the Museum; and, far from singling me out, my shirt identified me as part of a team.

Before I knew it, my first day was over. By now I felt comfortable enough in my new shirt to walk home wearing it without a second thought.

Outside, I passed a boy who’d been in the Museum earlier. ‘Mum!’ his excited voice behind me said, "Did you see that man’s shirt? I want one!"

I carried on with even more of a spring in my step. Because now I knew that if my shirt made me a target of anything, it was admiration.'

Want to know what happens when you wear a volunteer shirt? Find out more about volunteering.

Previous Next
of 41 items