The Big Draw 2013 – Imperial War Museum Manchester

Big Draw Imperial War Museum half term activities

A couple of weeks ago we were invited to take part in a preview of The Big Draw 2013 at The Imperial War Museum in Manchester. This event is inviting families to take part in the world’s largest drawing festival. The people at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) say it doesn’t matter what age you are or how good you are at art – that was enough for me, off we went.

Soldier's boots

Our preview day started with storytime in the Open Studio which was suitable for very young children. There were quite a few tots there on the day that could happily potter around the room, dressing up in the war inspired outfits if they wished.

We then moved on to the actual drawings. This was a brilliant way of introducing wartime objects to children. We could explain to the kids what things were (such as gas masks and powdered egg tins) whilst they were drawing. The team from IWM were very welcoming and friendly to us all, allowing us time to chat and draw – they also managed to make us feel like our drawings were fantastic somehow – true people skills! For children of Millie’s age (11) it was a chance to cement what she had already learnt from school and for Violet (7) it was a brilliant introduction to how things used to be.

ration books

What we drew

We spent absolutely ages going around the Main Exhibition Space. We highly recommend the Big Picture Show from Horrible Histories on Rotten Rationing which is shown on all walls in the Exhibition area. It lasts around 10 mins and keeps the kids enthralled. A must to see and hilarious!

There are plenty of Handling areas that kids can get their hands on. I spent so much of the day marvelling at the fact that the IWM has been open for just over 11 years and I had never visited before. We will definitely be going again. What realised surprised us was how spacious and clean the whole building was. The extra space ensured that littlies such as Tara had the freedom to roam whilst we were looking at exhibits. You also appreciated just how big some of the exhibition pieces are too.

Large War exhibits

The highlight of our day was a chance to go up the Air Shard – the lift is truly terrifying and fantastic all in one go. I’m not great with heights but loved getting out of the lift at the top, being able to see the ground through the grilled floor and then seeing the whole of Manchester from above. I cannot praise the security guards and in fact, everyone that we met at the IWM enough. They couldn’t do enough to help us (they didn’t know we were there for review purposes – I got the sense that they just love their job).

Our view of Manchester from the top of the Air Shard

Our view of Manchester from the top of the Air Shard

There are just a couple of points I do feel I need to point out for first time visitors with children:
* On the way into the Cafe (which served a lovely soup and again had very friendly staff) are images from the Iraq war. Some of them show some injuries and children being rescued. My Violet at 7 was very intrigued but also a little alarmed – If you go up in the lift with young children, you can avoid these picture if you need to.
* One of the small rooms was set out like a living room which was very appealing to the girls after walking around. This room was showing a video of the Vietnam war and the famous image of the naked child running to safety.

I know that these areas are not particularly suitable for my children at the moment so next time we go, I will avoid these.
I would definitely recommend reading any literature you get when you visit. There is so much to see that you can easily walk past something and not realise its significance – The mangled wreckage from the World Trade Centre was just chilling when we realised what it was.

Guess the trench stench activity - Stinks but great for the kids!

Guess the trench stench activity – Stinks but great for the kids!

Half Term events for The Big Draw run from Saturday 26 October – SUnday 3rd November.
Admission to the IWM is free – Donations are welcome. Tickets to the Air Shard are an amazing £1.60 (80 pence for concessions).
Opening times 10am-5pm.

For more information visit
Any Big Draw sketches can be shared on the IWM’s Facebook page here


  1. says

    Sounds like a great place. My daughter is studying WW2 at school at the moment and I’d hoped to go to the London one but it sounds like most of it is closed for refurbishment.

    • Helen says

      I can highly recommend it – from what I understand, the IWM will be doing activities suitable for children every school holidays. Enjoy! x

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