Space, materials and the body: Looking forward to our event on 23rd May

On 23rd May, we are hosting an event called ‘Space, materials and the body’, bringing researchers and museum practitioners together to think about young children’s experiences in museums.

The day will be a mix of keynote presentations and hands on sessions. We have two keynote presentations, reporting on work with young children in museums in Wales and in northern England. Here are the abstracts:

The social and sensory materiality of museum spaces: tensions between learning and play

Professor Bella Dicks, Head of Research, Amgueddfa-Cymru – National Museum of Wales, Professor of Sociology, Cardiff university

This talk will discuss the challenges of reconciling what children actually do in museums with expectations of learning-through-doing. Taking the model of the science discovery centre as its focus, I discuss how exhibit design is often in tension with children’s highly social and sensory interactions – with material objects, technologies and each other. Design envisages the transmission of rational scientific principles, obtainable through simple activation of exhibit effects, or ‘by stealth’ or ‘ambush’ whilst children are unaware they are learning. However, ‘discovery’ spaces work to bring other dimensions to the fore. Far from the picture of harmonious, focused and rational play that appears to be the expectation of interactive exhibit design, my own research suggests that children are busy enacting conflictual, sensory, gendered and ever-shifting peer-relations in their interactions with exhibits. By actively using and responding to the material resources of the environment, they are enacting these social relationships, rather than bringing science to the fore. The talk therefore questions models of learning-through-doing, and suggests that more socially and materially-focused understandings of children’s interactions in museums are needed.


Vibrancy, repetition, movement: reconceptualising young children in museums

Abi Hackett, Christina MacRae, Lisa Procter, Manchester Metropolitan University

When observing what young children do in museums, sometimes predictable, sometimes completely surprising, researchers and museum practitioners find themselves asking different versions of the same question: what does that mean? Or, to phrase this question in some other ways; what does this behaviour signify? What are these children learning? How successful is this exhibition for this audience? What is the value of children visiting museums? In this presentation, we make a case for an expanded field of inquiry, drawing on new theories of learning to better conceptualise young children in museums. In particular, from posthumanist theory, we take two notions; firstly a decentring of humans in order to understand the role of non-human actants in what happens in museums, and secondly an interest in non-representation, that is, aspects of experience which are difficult to rationalise or to put into words. Applying this thinking to examples of research projects we have working on over the last ten years, we offer some new ways for thinking about vibrancy, repetition and movement in young children’s museum visiting.


The hands on parallel sessions will be all about exploring in a practical way HOW we might investigate or understand young children’s experiences in museums, as researchers and practitioners. These will include:

  • Sound walking
  • Touch and making sculpture
  • Child-led pedagogic practice with arts materials
  • Drawing as inquiry
  • Photo elicitation
  • Working with visual data to think about the non human world.

We are really looking forward to sharing and discussing with participants on 23rd May!

A few places for the event remain, which you can book here:


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