APSE: An analytical framework for evaluating museum spaces for children and families

What are the best approaches for making sense of different kinds of museum and art gallery spaces for young children?
Introducing the APSE resource, developed as a collaboration between Humber Museums Partnership and Abigail Hackett and Lisa Procter, Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, University of Sheffield.

At the start of the Humber Museums Partners’ (HMP) Under Fives in Museums project, learning officers visited 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?

Humber Museum Partnership wanted their observations to be guided by best practice and theory, and be as useful as possible for informing future practice at their museum services. They approached Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, University of Sheffield, who have a well established reputation for research drawing on spatial theory and understanding how children experience spaces. Together we decided to develop 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.

Together we identified some insights from the research which were likely to help with the development of the resource:

  • What models already exist for thinking about how people experience places?
  • How can we best take account of the sensory, embodied and tacit ways in which people, particularly children, experience places?
  • How can we begin to imagine the experience of a place from the point of view of a young child?
  • How can we consult with young children and their families to better understand how they experience or what they want from places they visit?

The APSE resource is informed by contemporary spatial theory. It is designed to be flexible and developed over time, in response to new insights gained through ongoing visits of different sites and settings.

The resource draws on two different constructs of space / place common in the literature; space as either physical or social, and space as either abstract or embodied. This gives us four different ways of thinking about space:

  • Abstract physical
  • Embodied physical
  • Abstract social
  • Embodied social

These four categories are not necessarily comprehensive or exclusive. Rather they acted as a useful heuristic for us as a group to think about the different ways in which spaces might be assessed, understood, described or experienced.

The framework is designed to be used during museum and gallery visits to develop analytical insights through observations, collecting materials and asking questions. Included is a general checklist to gather overarching information at every visit and a focused checklist. The focused checklist is not intended to be completed on every visit, instead it is to be used to support focused visits relating to each quadrant.


Storying Doncaster Sounds – Launch Event

Storying Doncaster Sounds Part 2 is a FREE arts-based workshop for CHILDREN and FAMILIES. The activities will run for the full afternoon and you are welcome to drop in at any point.

The event is part of the Sounds of Childhood project, a collaboration between Doncaster Civic Trust, the University of Sheffield and The Bower Wirks. Since March we have worked with young children in Doncaster to develop a creative ‘Storying Sounds’ toolkit.

We would like to invite you to come and play with the toolkit. The toolkit allows children and families to use sounds from the built environment as a starting point for imaginative storytelling.

The Storying Doncaster Sounds event also showcases work produced by the young children involved in the project, including an exhibition of young children’s sound visualisations.

Access information

– More information on getting to the venue here: http://www.thepoint.org.uk/contact-us

– Tea, coffee, juice and cakes will be provided throughout the event (including a selection of gluten free and vegan cakes).

– There is step-free access to the building. Rooms are on the ground and first floors of the building, lift access to the first floor is available.

– The building has a ‘Changing Place’ with accessible toilet, hoist and adult sized changing bed.

– We endeavour to make this event as accessible as possible. Please let us know if you have any more access questions or requirements.

When: Saturday, January 30, 2016 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Where: darts: Doncaster Community Arts, The Point. 16 South Parade. Doncaster DN1 2DR

Sign up at: http://www.storyingdoncastersounds.eventbrite.com

Storying School Toilets

Storying School Toilets is a sister project of the Around the Toilet which so far has been funded by the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science. We are interested in children, young people and staff’s experiences of toilets in schools and early year settings.

Storying School Toilets emerged as one of the first conversations that we had in the Around the Toilet workshops was about school toilets.

Adult participants spoke retrospectively of toilet paper that was like tracing paper, and little use for doing the job that it was intended.

Some participants who had used the toilet assigned to ‘girls’ at school talked about ‘buddying up’ to go to the toilet – either because of enforced school rules, or for fear of bullying. Participants assigned female at birth (AFAB) also spoke of seeking solitude, eating lunch and hiding in the school toilets.

A genderqueer trans woman who used the urinals when at school talked about a childhood competition between those assigned male at birth to see who could pee over a high-up bar. They said that this was fun at first, but, as they grew older she became uncomfortable about what could be perceived as displays of masculinity in the bathroom.

[You can read a full paper based on some of these conversations, and arguing for more research around school toilets, here]

So far, Storying School Toilets workshops have involved making comics based on shadow puppet animations with children, alongside Nicky Ward from The Bower Wirks.

Like in the Around the Toilet making-creating workshop, we began our first in-school workshop by sitting with children and teaching assistants in a circle of chairs, and imagining how we’d feel if the chairs were toilets. Interestingly the conversations were very similar with the children, as with the adults –  issues of visibility, gender, sexuality, sights and smells.

We then broke into groups to make some comics based on imaginary toilet stories. We gave the children the option of choosing a ‘first sentence’ to start their stories.

  • The most (smelly/beautiful/adventurous toilet) would have…
  • You go into the school toilet and something surprising happens…
  • Your adventure started in a toilet in the middle of nowhere…
  • You fall into the toilet and what happens…
  • You sit on the toilet, and the toilet is having a bad day, what’s it cross about…

[You can read some more reflections of one of the workshops, here]

Below you can see the comics that the children made from both the workshop in school, and a similar workshop later that month, but run in a cafe.

If you are interested in talking more about school toilets then get in touch with j.slater@shu.ac.uk and l.h.procter@sheffield.ac.uk

The Elves that Live in the U-Bend

The Chicken, Fox and Talking Toilet Portal

The Bubble Trap and the Germs

The Toilet is Cross and The Cat’s Toilet Problems

Potty’s Story (this one was written by an adult participant at the coffee shop event)

When I Fell Down the Toilet

Rupert The Rabbit’s Toilet Adventure

The Poo Eater

Storying Doncaster Sounds

The Storying Doncaster Sounds project brings together Masters-level Education and Architecture students in the production of an educational storytelling app which would allow young children to record, visualise and narrate the sounds they hear in the built environment. Working with young children, early years practitioners and app developers the students will develop the app design and content with the wider aim of exploring the potential of using the built environment as a learning resource within the early childhood curriculum.

The learning and teaching project follows the knowledge exchange project ‘Sounds of Childhood’, where we worked in partnership with Doncaster Civic Trust and Woodfield Primary School, Doncaster, to explore how young children perceive sound in the environment. As part of this we worked with artist Nicky Ward of the Bower Wirks to develop artistic methodologies for engaging with young children’s soundscapes. As the research activities developed, which involved sound gathering walks and visualising sound workshops, we began to recognise the potential of sound as a resource for imaginative storytelling. As the children visualised sounds, they also began to create characters and scenarios. Their stories blurred the boundaries between the real and the imagined, and demonstrated the strong potential of using sounds to support creative storytelling and at the same time develop children’s literacy.

Through the Sounds of Childhood project we developed a physical toolkit. Children listen to pre-recorded sounds and then select from a series of images, or create their own image, to add to a narrative board. As they listen to more sounds they add new images in sequence and narrate their own stories.

The Storying Doncaster Sounds project will allow us to develop an app to enhance the physical toolkit. The app will allow children to capture their own sounds and images of the environment and drag and drop them into an annotated storyline to create their own real or imagined stories about the spaces and places they visit.

The project will be launched at an event at Doncaster Community Arts on Saturday 30th January. This is a free event for children of all ages and their families. There will be opportunities to play with app and create your own absurd stories and engage with an exhibition of work by the children involved in the Sounds of Childhood project. To find out more please visit our eventbrite page: www.storyingdoncastersounds2.eventbrite.com

A giant’s bone: how can scientific knowing about bones be communicated to young children?

Abi Hackett and Jill Smith have been collaborating with scientists, community partners and a visual artist to think about ways of using visual, hands on, embodied methods to begin to open up conversations about what bones are and what they are made of with young children.

When we exhibited the Giant Bone sculpture in the Sheffield Winter Gardens, it seemed to be a hit! Great swathes of children and families passed by and interacted with the bone, some returning later in the day for one last play before they went home.  Its favoured purpose was as a climbing frame and the soft cuddly toys (representing the cells of the bone) were clutched, carried and thrown by children throughout the day.  It was wonderful to see the bone brought to life.  The research team were on hand to explain and discuss the project as well as assist children in using the app to draw a picture about their experience of interacting with the bone.  It was certainly a busy and fun filled day for the team and children alike!

Our next steps are to explore the data to see how it can help us to consider the forms of knowledge and understanding interacting with the bone enabled and also to consider how this might be constituted differently by academics.  What, we hope to ask, are the intersections between academics and preschools children’s knowledge of bones and the body?

You can read more about the Giant Bone project and the different collaborators involved at www.agiantsbone.wordpress.com.

How Do Children Learn?

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Recently, we were asked the question of ‘how do children learn?’. We are both involved in lots of interdisciplinary conversation the field of childhood studies. As researchers within the field of education, we often encourage colleagues from other disciplines to think carefully about and avoid making assumptions about the processes through which children learn. However, when trying to answer the question ‘how do children learn?’ directly, we both felt stumped. We found ourselves thinking, ‘why can’t we answer what seems like a simple question? Shouldn’t someone working within the field of education be able to easily answer this’?

We wonder if the reason for this difficulty is that education (and in particular our field of early childhood education) is dominated still by quite traditional models of learning, mainly from development psychology, such as Piaget and Vygotsky. The work we are doing seeks to problematise these models, but that means there isn’t a simple (non-problematised) answer that we feel comfortable giving people! One of the problems for us is how do we talk about processes of learning without relying solely on developmental psychology, and which don’t create binaries in which children are helpless and disempowered, and adults are experts scaffolding them? In addition, we are also wary of theories of learning that emphasise ‘conditions’, for example student-centred approaches suggest that if the conditions are right then learning will just happen. But these conditions are never value neutral, and some form of learning must surely be taking place regardless of what conditions are or are not in place?

So lately we have begun to think the problem is perhaps with the word learning, and that maybe other terms are less problematic. We have both found that we resist using the word learning to describe how children are engaging/participating with the world. In doing so, we tend to draw on models that reflect how children come to be part of and participate in their worlds, rather than trying to pin down models of learning in terms of skills and knowledge being transmitted from adults or older children to younger children. This perspective therefore disrupts the assumed directionality implied by the term learning, where people’s learning is deemed to become increasingly sophisticated as they age.

We have begun to think about what terms we do use to describe children’s dynamic spatialities, which is our area of interest within the field of early childhood education. One of these is meaning making – how do children make meaning of the worlds they inhabit. We like this term because it feels like we are moving away from linearity. However, this has led to further reflections on whether this term misses the significance of the body, emotion and unconscious in children’s participation in and with the world. That is a question that could perhaps wait for another post!

We wonder whether learning is a problematic word in itself? Or do we just need to reclaim it from developmental psychology?

Abi and Lisa