The group of seven-and-eight year olds file into the room and gasp when they see a set of skeletal remains lying on a bed of bright yellow crime scene tape.
Dressed in white forensic over suits and tightly clutching a magnifying glass each, they peer at the skull, fascinated, and pick up possible evidence with tweezers to avoid contamination. All initial fear of the skeleton on the floor is now forgotten as they focus on the serious task of looking for clues and solving the crime at hand.
But this isn’t the set of a horror movie, or a ghoulish Halloween prank: it’s a birthday party with a difference at The Detective Project.
“The Detective Project runs Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) themed children’s parties, school workshops and corporate away days,” says founder Jenny Williams. “Participants can learn about fingerprints, DNA, chromatography and use real forensic techniques to solve a crime.”
The focus on science and realism is deliberate: Jenny is a former detective with the Metropolitan Police and Avon & Somerset Constabulary, so she’s certainly earned her stripes.
Since 2010, she’s been offering these parties to budding young detectives across the Bristol area. Children aged seven and above can participate, having fun while developing skills in analytical thinking, as well as performing scientific experiments and forensic techniques. The CSI parties – and their spy-themed sister parties – last from two to three hours.
“It’s all about kids exercising their grey matter and trying something new,” Jenny says. “We often get lovely testimonials from parents saying how much their children have enjoyed the experience, and that they’ve not stopped talking about it since they got home.
“The parents can certainly be surprised by how much their children have learned in such a short amount of time, and how engaged they are throughout the party, especially when it comes to some of the more challenging scientific techniques that we use to solve the crimes.”
The session begins to wrap up – the paper chromatography strips gently drip on the windowsill, bright colours spreading, and everyone goes to wash their inky fingers after doing an activity where they test whether their fingerprints have loops or whorls. The only thing left to do is hand out the CSI-themed party bags.
“Children love to receive a party bag at the end,” Jenny says. “They are here to stay!” The birthday girl reluctantly starts to off the forensic suit she’s wearing over her party dress. “You can keep that,” Jenny tells her, and she grins and zips it back up again: almost certainly an Inspector Morse in the making.
Parties start from £175 for 15 children, including downloadable invitations, forensic suits and party bags.
For more information, visit www.thedetectiveproject.co.uk