What are the ingredients for a successful Under Fives museum visit?

A summary of research carried out by Abigail Hackett, Lisa Procter and Christina MacRae from Manchester Metropolitan University.

dr abigail hackett

A summary of my keynote paper at ‘Freedom to Explore’ conference in Hull, September 2017.

Last week I gave keynote paper at ‘Freedom to Explore’ as conference organised by Humber Museums Partnership as part of their Arts Council funded project Under Fives in Museums. I have been collaborating with Humber Museums throughout this project. The keynote was about a piece of research I carried out with colleagues at MMU, Lisa Procter and Christina Macrae during the last year.

The focus of this research was how families experience the museums of the Humber Museum Partnership. HMP were particularly interested in thinking across a range of their sites, and also to understand how experiences of museums changed over time for young children, from a first encounter to a point at which a building might be familiar, and particular kinds of meanings and practices become attached to being in that place. It was…

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Developing child-led pedagogic practice in the Atelier programme at the Whitworth, University of Manchester: An action research project

Louisa Penfold, University of Nottingham

This presentation reports on an action research project that introduced the process of pedagogical documentation (Reggio Children & Harvard Project Zero, 2001) to the early year’s Atelier programme at the Whitworth, University of Manchester. The paper draws on the extensive observations undertaken over a 13-week period including photographic records, video footage, artist interviews and meeting transcripts. Shared analysis and discussion before, during and after each children’s art session were used to generate results and identify how pedagogical documentation – a process that seeks to make children’s and adult’s learning visible – could be used to co-construct gallery programming between children, families, artists, learning curators and the institution.

Key results suggest that pedagogical documentation can be made specific to gallery learning and used to record a wide array of children’s and family’s experiences. These observations can then be used to generate collaborative critical reflection to inform future programme planning. The research confirms that pedagogical documentation is a useful way to support gallery teams in reconsidering assumptions, ethics and practices towards children in art museums. This then allows for practices to become more complex, for that complexity to be made visible and therefore open to interpretation from others. Results also suggest that this process can be used to support the emergence of alternate pedagogies that are constructed from within a specific social, political, cultural and temporal context.

However, a sole focus on social interactions when collecting, interpreting and critically reflecting pedagogical documentation is limited in its acknowledgement of the broader non-human entities (artworks, the gallery space, materials, concepts and curatorial discourse) that shape children’s experiences. Critical reflection on the first cycle of action research therefore points to a broader conceptualisation of children in art museums, one that moves towards what Lenz Taguchi (2010) describes as an ‘intra-active pedagogy.’ This material-discursive approach to gallery learning shifts our attention from:

“…intra-personal and inter-personal relationships towards an intra-active relationship between all living organisms and the material environment such as things and artefacts, spaces and place that we occupy… material objects and artefacts can be understood as being part of a performative production of power and change in an intertwined relationship of intra-activity with other matter or humans (Dahlberg & Moss, 2010: xiv).”

If children explore and construct relations between human and non-human entities rhizomatically (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) in which learning enters and exists at multiple points, then the reflection of documentation needs to be approached as a diffractive process (Barad, 2007) that seeks to disrupt fixed discourse and practices towards children. Pedagogical documentation can then be used to debate: what does ‘child-led’ mean? How does this term and its subjective understandings support and restrict practices? And how can pedagogical documentation be used to further encourage the development of ‘emergent programming’ in art museums?

Future research will take these questions on board and consider how pedagogical documentation can be introduced to different gallery and institutional contexts.

 

References

Barad, K (2007). ‘Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning.’ Signs. 28 (3). 801-831

Dahlberg, G & Moss, P (2010). ‘Introduction by the series editors,’ in Lenz-Taguchi, H. Going beyond the theory/practice divide in early childhood education: Introducing intra-active pedagogy. Routledge, New York.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Second Edition. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Lenz-Taguchi, H (2010). Going beyond the theory/practice divide in early childhood education: Introducing intra-active pedagogy. Routledge, New York.

Reggio Children & Harvard Project Zero (2001). Making learning visible: Children as individual and group learners. Reggio Children publications, Reggio Emilia, Italy.

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

Professor Bella Dicks is Head of Research at Amgueddfa-Cymru – National Museum of Wales, and a Professor of Sociology at Cardiff University. She presented a keynote paper at our recent Children in Museums event, drawing on some of the data collected from her long term research with museums in Wales. The talk questioned models of learning-through-doing, and suggested that more socially and materially-focused understandings of children’s interactions in museums are needed.

Professor Dicks discussed 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 a focus, Bella discussed 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, Bella’s 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.

You can read more about Bella’s research on this project in this paper:

Dicks, B. (2013) Interacting with….what? Exploring children’s social and sensory practices in a science discovery centre, Ethnography and Education 9 (3): 301-322.

The art of listening

At the Children in Museums event on 23rd May, we thought about the art of listening, and about how we can listen to artworks in museums. It has been said that sound is a more immersive sense than vision, which can separate us from the object of our gaze. Here is a short introduction to Soundwalking, a method for immersion into the sonic environment, with some examples featuring rhubarb, pull-along suitcases and the Amolador of Lisbon. Listen!

https://vimeo.com/130695784

Dr Andrew Stevenson, Manchester Metropolitan University

 

Vibrancy, repetition, movement: reconceptualising young children in museums

Dr Abi Hackett and Dr Christina MacRae from Manchester Metropolitan University presented a keynote at our recent Children in Museums event, experimenting with the potential for new learning theories to better account for young children’s experiences in museums. Drawing on various museum research projects the team at Manchester Metropolitan University have been involved in over the last ten years, the presentation focussed in particular on ‘sticky data’, that is, examples of things that have appeared meaningful to young children in museums but do not seem well accounted for by social constructivist learning theories.

The presentation bean with a proposition; 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? Abi and Christina made a case for drawing on new posthuman theories of learning to better conceptualise young children in museums, particularly, two notions

  1. a decentring of humans in order to understand the role of non-human actants in what happens in museums
  2. an interest in non-representation, that is, aspects of experience which are difficult to rationalise or to put into words.

This keynote together with some of the other sessions at the Children in Museums event introduced posthuman theories have been amongst the first to introduce posthuman theories to museum learning. There is currently little published on posthumanism and museum learning. Museum practitioners interested in reading more about posthuman theory and early childhood education could take a look at some of the following:

Barron, I. and Taylor, L. (forthcoming) Eating and scraping away at practice with two-year-olds, Pedagogy, Culture and Society.

Olsson, L. (2013) Taking Children’s Questions Seriously: the need for creative thought, Global Studies of Childhood 3 (3).

Rautio, P. (2013). Children who carry stones in their pockets: on autotelic material practices in everyday life. Children’s Geographies, 11(4): 394-408.

If you have trouble accessing any of these, please do contact us and we will do our best to help.

Summary of our Children in Museums event, May 23rd in Manchester

Thanks so much to everyone who came to ‘Space, materials, the body: researching young children’s experiences in museums’ event the other week in Manchester. The event focussed on how research and practice can better account for the bodily, sensory, tacit and experiential aspects of young children’s museum visiting.

A summary of the event is available here:

https://storify.com/AbiHackett/space-materials-the-body

In coming weeks we will publish a series of blog posts with further information and resources related to the event.

In the meantime, here is some of the feedback from participants at the event.

“I enjoyed the speakers focus, very interesting and presenting new ideas. I appreciated the opportunity to deeply discuss the theory and different theoretical perspectives of young children and museums – debating and discussing this with a broad range of people is very useful in expanding ideas.”

“I’m going to reframe some of our activities to be more about teamwork and sharing and less about final outcome.”

“Doing practical workshops alongside theory – something that is usually lacking in conferences about creative learning.”

 

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: http://buyonline.mmu.ac.uk/product-catalogue/faculty-of-education/short-courses/space-materials-the-body-researching-young-childrens-experiences-in-museums