I have to admit I’m a bit of a copycat when it comes to activities. I’m the mum who asks other mums in the street what they do with their babies. So when a friend who has a 9 month old baby posted on Facebook about visiting the Natural History Museum’s butterfly exhibition, I did some research. When I found out that The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took Prince George there for his first birthday, I was sold!
Looking at the attraction’s website, I found out that it’s a temporary exhibition in a long white marquee at the front of the Natural History Museum and it’s open until mid September 2016 (so there’s still plenty of time to visit). Entrance costs £5.85 for adults, but kids under 4 are free. You can’t take buggies / prams inside – they need to be locked up in a buggy park – so it’s a good idea to take a baby sling and a lock for your pram.
So those are the facts, but what’s it actually like? I had mixed feelings before our visit as Rory was just 10 weeks at the time. He was starting to take notice of the world around him and paying attention to colours as well as black and white things, so I was hopeful that he’d enjoy looking at the pretty butterflies and follow them flying around. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced that he would know what was going on and I was slightly worried that all the other butterfly-spotters and the butterflies themselves would overwhelm him.
The first thing I’d say was that it was boiling hot inside the ‘butterfly enclosure’. The website does tell you that it’s a ‘tropical’ butterfly house but for some reason I didn’t fully pay attention to the fact that tropical would involve hotter weather. I just thought it described the butterflies and it didn’t register that tropical butterflies would require tropical temperatures. It was British springtime weather (ie rainy) on the day that we visited and so Rory had a couple of layers on. We had to shed the top layer as soon as we walked in – it was literally like walking into a sauna. The hot air smacks you in the face and shocks you as soon as you walk through the door!
Saying that, Rory loves heat and is always more chilled out when the temperature’s higher. Before we even saw any butterflies, he enjoyed cuddling up close to me, resting his head on my shoulder and occasionally lifting it up to practise strengthening his neck.
At first, I enjoyed it more than he did. It was fun to spot the butterflies among the foliage and interesting to see what older babies made of the butterflies – from about 6 months onwards they were starting to giggle / run around with excitement depending on the age. I was getting slightly concerned that Rory saw it as an excuse to have a long nap rather than watch any butterflies (as you can see in the first photo below) but that ended when we got up close to one that was sitting on a leaf having a rest. As I pointed it out to him, it moved away and Rory opened his eyes wide and followed it (as you can see from the second photo below). Obviously, he’s never seen a butterfly before and the puzzle surrounding the new situation was written all over his face.
From that moment onwards, he started to look around more. One of the highlights – for him – was the butterfly feeding station where they all gathered to eat oranges and sweet things.
There was a lot of activity for him to look at so he could pick things out, which he couldn’t do as much when we were walking around as I think it’s hard for a 10 week old’s eyes to pick out just one butterfly in a crowded room. He was often more interested in looking at the people looking at the butterflies than looking at the butterflies themselves. However, older children get a lot more out of it, especially if a butterfly decides to land on them. I had a little visitor:
This exhibition may only be open for the summer months, but it was there in 2015 as well as 2016 and I’m really hoping it comes back in 2017 as Rory would be a year by then, which is the perfect age to experience it.
The only downside is travelling to the museum as South Kensington has two flights of steps and two escalators. You can get buses but most of us would require at least one change to get there from our houses, and a taxi would make that £5.85 activity fee a lot more expensive. I came on the tube with a friend and we helped each other with the buggies but it was an exhausting effort. It is do-able but I’d recommend having a good breakfast beforehand to give you some energy!
For more details and opening times, visit the Natural History Museum’s website.