What are the best approaches for making sense of different kinds of museum and art gallery spaces for young children?

My collaborator Dr Lisa Procter and I have been working with Humber Museums Partnership, a partnership of museum services (Hull, East Riding and North Lincolnshire) developing best practice in provision for families with under fives in museums.

As part of Humber Museums Partners’ (HMP) Under Fives in Museums project, learning officers have been visiting a range of other museums, galleries and other site recognised as national examples of good practice with regards to catering for an under fives audience. Each of the Humber Museum partners would be redeveloping spaces in their own sites for an under fives audiences as part of the project, therefore the questions learning officers took with them as they made these visits were in two parts:

  • How do I assess or understand what a space is like from the point of view of young children?
  • How can I make decisions about what aspects of practice or spatial design are best for my own setting?

Our collaboration came about through the work Lisa and I do with Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, which is been a fantastic forum for thinking in an  interdisciplinary way about how children experience place. The work Lisa and I have been doing with Humber Museums Partnership has been about developing a resource, informed by research, which staff could use to make notes, record observations, and reflect on what they observed when they visited different places.

The APSE resource draws on interdisciplinary theories of space / place as being experienced both in the abstract and embodied, in the physical and the social. These categories of experiencing space act as a heuristic to help us think about different ways in which museum spaces aimed at under fives could be understood or analysed. The resource is currently being piloted by the learning officers from Humber Museums Partnership. The intention is that the resource will be freely available after the pilot, for use by other museum services nationally looking to reflect on approaches to developing child friendly spaces.

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