Working with Young Children in Museums: Weaving Theory and Practice

In the midst of these strange and unsettling times, our book Working with Young Children in Museums. Weaving Theory and Practicehas made its way into the world! Edited by Abi Hackett, Rachel Holmes and Christina MacRae, the book offers an introduction to theories underpinning the work of the museum and cultural sector with young children, together with a wide range of practical case studies.


For the last several years, we have been researching young children’s museum visiting, and writing about the importance of things like place, architecture, movement, repetition and sensory experiences to this audience (e.g. Hackett et al, 2018). We believe that theory and research should help to inform practice in museums, by offering suggestions and critical prompts to the kinds of questions we have listed above. Working with Young Children in Museums. Weaving Theory and Practice (Hackett et al, 2020) aims to offer practical ideas and responses to the question of how we imagine or anticipate young children in museums. In the book, we wrote,

“Good theories should make sense in the everyday. They should become illuminated, transformed and made to shimmer more vibrantly by practice.”

Hackett et al, 2020, p.2


The book then, is a call for, and an introduction to, theories about children’s experience in museums that resonate vibrantly with the things that tend to actually happen when young children explore museums. In particular, we have suggested those theories that foreground the body, movement and the sensory (rather than centring mostly on talk, cognition and memory), are particularly well placed to help us notice and value what takes place between children, spaces and things in museums.


We are particularly grateful to all the amazing museum professionals who have contributed case studies to the book, and offered their insights and top tips to their peers. As a taster, here is the contents list for the book;


Working with Young Children in Museums; Weaving theory and practice

Hackett, Holmes and MacRae


Forward (Barbara Piscitelli)

  1. Introduction

Hackett, Holmes and MacRae


  1. Introduction to Section 1: Thing-ness and the power of objects

Rachel Holmes, Christina MacRae and Abigail Hackett

3 The Power of Objects: Little Things Please Little Minds?

Nicola Wallis

4 The thing-ness of wood chips

Lisa Howarth

  1. Bright and Shiny; Infants, Toddlers and Contemporary Art at the Ipswich Art Gallery

Barbara Piscitelli

  1. What emerges in playing in The Corner of artist-curated and created matter

Louise Gwenneth Phillips & Roxanne Finn

  1. For the Love of Small Stuff: Materialising Theory in an Early Years Artist Residency

Lucy Hill and Aisling O’Gorman

  1. Commentary on section 1: On Fire

Helen Whitty


  1. Introduction to Section 2: Museum Spaces

Hackett, MacRae and Holmes

  1. Leaving Room for Learning: University of Cambridge Museums Nursery in Residence

Kate Noble and Nicola Wallis

  1. The sound of Little Feet at the British Museum

Katharine Hoare and Kate Kelland

  1. Young children explore Sewerby Hall

Lucy Cooke

  1. Climate, Landscape and Landmarks: Providing Spaces for Belonging

Clayton and Shuttleworth

  1. Navigating, Negotiating and Lighting up in a Nature Gallery for Under fives

Elaine Bates

  1. Commentary on section 2: Places along lines of flight

Ricardo Nemirovsky and Molly Kelton


  1. Introduction to Section 3. Time, new experiences, and repeat visits

Christina MacRae, Abigail Hackett, Rachel Holmes

  1. Transport Tots at Streetlife Museum Hull: a familiar and unfamiliar space

Esther Hallberg

  1. Working off-site with families with young children at the National Gallery of Ireland

Joanne Drum

  1. Come again! How familiarity leads to repeat visits and confident learners

Victoria Smith

  1. Healthy Child Drop-In and Baby Stay and Play at Manchester Art Gallery

Katy McCall

  1. Complicating the Narrative: Preschooler-Led Museum Field Trips

Daniele Carter

  1. Reflecting on children’s play at the Whitworth

Louisa Penfold and Lucy Turner

  1. On What Grounds

Alex Thorp

  1. Commentary on section 3: The lived materialities of the museum: a new research agenda

Kate Pahl and Jennifer Roswell


A recent review of the book described it in this way;

“The book is the first that I have come across that beautifully weaves theory and practice into tangible, useful and practical things that still allows the full complexities, wonderings and stickiness of theory to shine through. The structure, style and content of the book come together in a seemingly effortless quality that draws Ingold’s theory of wayfaring from children walking, running, hand holding, singing and travelling with friends; Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of assemblage shines through a child and grandmother on a bench and Bennett’s ‘thing power’ is brought to the surface by the enticing power of woodchips.”

Boycott-Garner, 2020


You can order the book through Routledge and all good book shops, and use the discount code FLR40 for 20% off.


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