We are happy to announce that a special issue of Children’s Geographies journal, dedicated to research on children in museums, has just been published. The guest editors are Abigail Hackett, Rachel Holmes, Christina MacRae and Lisa Procter from Manchester Metropolitan University. The papers all present research and ideas around what happens when children 0-8 years visit museums, what their experiences might be like, how the action can unfold, and some theories that are helpful for considering these kinds of events. In addition, the papers grapple with the practical implications of this research for museum learning professionals, families and teachers.
Children’s Geographies was the perfect journal for the special issue, as the authors of the papers all share a concern with the role of materials, the body, movement and place in children’s realities. These aspects of children’s experiences of museums have thus far been under-theorised, and in bringing them to the fore, we intend to both build on, contribute to and disrupt theory and practice with regards to children in museums. We hope that this special issue will act as an impetus for further thinking and collaborating in two ways;
- Children in museums as learners: a contested idea?
In the last twenty years, learning in UK museums has gained a much higher profile, and become a well-established and dynamic field of practice. The most significant body of work on families in museums draws on sociocultural perspectives, with an emphasis on cognitive learning as evidenced through talk. Several aspects of children’s museum visiting are not well served by the domination of this approach, for example, the embodied and spatial nature of museum visiting, the tacit ways in which museums may feel meaningful to children, and the vibrant materiality of the museum itself. The consequence of this has been that children in museums are almost entirely framed as ‘little learners’ (Kirk, 2016).
Whilst we do not contest that museums can facilitate children’s learning, we are interested in approaches that might offer a less instrumental approach to interpreting what children do in museums and why museums might have meaning for children. These approaches might include a particular emphasis on place, the body, sensory experience and materiality, aspects of children’s museum visiting that adults may struggle to codify, or represent, or rationalise. We hope the papers in this special issue make the case to researchers from museum studies, childhood studies and children’s geographies interested in children in museums for the potential that broadening the theoretical scope beyond socio-cultural / language / learning perspectives offers for thinking generatively and generously about young children in museums.
- Museums as a space of interest for children’s museum geographers
As under theorised para-public spaces, museums offer rich potential to advance the field of children’s geographies. They can become the focus of communities and offer inter-generational dialogue and yet at the same time are spaces whose use, particularly by children, that can be contested and controversial. One of the most interesting things about museums from the point of view of children’s geographies is that they tend to offer distinctly different environments compared to children’s everyday places (homes, communities, schools, parks etc), for example in terms of scale of the buildings, atmospheres, collections, objects, use and unwritten rules of engagement. The contrasting materiality and discourses of museums compared to other aspects of children’s everyday lives offers rich potential to support a holistic understanding of how children experience and make sense of both familiar and unfamiliar spaces.
We hope that this special issue will act as an impetus for further thinking and collaborating between researchers and museum professionals, firstly by disrupting the conflation of children in museums with narrowing notions such as learning and talk, and secondly by highlighting the rich potential of museums as a space of interest for the field of children’s geographies. We look forward to seeing how children’s presence in museum spaces could be further theorised, disrupted and reinterpreted by this field.