Researching Children Under 5 in Museums – Part 4: Dwelling

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For the past year, the Humber Museums Partnership under 5s team have been collaborating with Abi Hackett and Lisa Proctor on a project to discover how young children experience museum space. For an introduction to this project check out Part 1.

By analysing the common themes from our observations we identified four key areas for enhancing the experience of families with young children in museums:

In the next blog posts I am outlining some of the observations we have made around each of these themes and how these have informed our practice and programming.

Dwelling

Learning officers noted the importance of spaces for families to dwell in several different museums. Using the Embodied Social section of the APSE resource, we discovered dwelling spaces promoted family relationships and intergenerational engagement with the museum or setting.

In one museum, cosy spaces were created with rugs, cushions, soft seating, alcoves and tents. These spaces were clearly marked out as places to dwell and families were confident in sitting down and relaxing together. These are often spaces for quieter contemplation and stories. We observed many inter-generational interactions in dwelling-spaces as parents and grandparents sat with small children to read stories or play with soft toys.

In our new under 5s space at North Lincolnshire Museum, we have incorporated a number of dwelling spaces. Our ‘under the sea corner’ has soft mats, cushions and soft seats. It is furnished with treasure baskets, mirrors and fabric for free play and exploration. This was designed as a safe space for babies. We often see parents seated at the side as their babies explore. Toddlers also enjoy peaking into the mirrors and experimenting with the fabric while their parents sit on the soft seating nearby. It is a space where children can play independently, with the safety of knowing their parents within reach.

A cubbyhole cut into the bottom of our storage cupboard, and lined with soft cushions has become a space for climbing into and hiding. It offers children a place to dwell on their own, a break from the adult gaze. We frequently observe children reading books or playing quietly on their own in this space.

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The archaeologist’s Den is a cosy space that families choose to dwell in together. The textured canopy, soft rug, cushions and a basket with books and soft toys invites families into the space. This is a space that we see more intergenerational interactions. Families seem to spend time here together, all engaged in reading or playing.

These three different dwelling spaces have resulted in different dwelling experiences for our visitors. We have noticed that many families spend more time at the museum than they used to now they have comfortable spaces to dwell. We are now thinking more about how to develop more dwelling spaces throughout the museum.

Dr Rebecca Kummerfeld, Learning Manager

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