Doctoral Research

Tape It
Children play in Briony Barr’s Tape It at the Immigration Museum, Australia. Image credit: Briony Barr.

Investigating the construction of child-centred practice in early year’s art gallery environments.

This doctoral research is built upon two key premises. Firstly that art galleries are not just a place for the transmission of culture, they are also a site for the construction of cultural knowledge and shared values created through a dialogic and collaborative process between artists, curators, the community and the physical environment of the gallery. The second proposition being that children are powerful social actors who have both the human right and capability of participating in the creation of the spaces, activities and beliefs that shape their lives (James et al. 1998).

This research seeks to explore the key theories, challenges and debates surrounding the use of child-centred practice in the construction of immersive early year’s (2-4 year olds) environments at The Whitworth Art Gallery & Tate. Under the umbrella of this topic, the research asks:

  • What are the key conceptual, spatial and social qualities of these environments?
  • What does it mean to children to experience them?
  • How can children’s experiences be used to inform the future construction of environments within the unique context in which the practice is occurring?

My goal is to develop a process-led, critically reflective framework that can be used to support conversations between artists, curators, children and parents developing early year’s environments. Drawing upon early years intra-active pedagogical theory (Lenz Taguchi 2010) and social constructivism (Vygotsky 1930), this framework will aim to generate deeper understandings of children’s experiences with human (peers, parents, artists and educators) and non-human entities (materials, architectural space and discourse) of curated environments. Pedagogical documentation will be used to guide practitioner learning and reflection during and after the programme running (Reggio Children & Harvard Project Zero 2005). This reflection will be used to feed into future curatorial, artistic and pedagogic practice and have the ability to be adapted to the unique gallery contexts in which the practice is occurring.

This inquiry will consist of four action research cycles across two art galleries in the UK. Each cycle proposes to develop, challenge and reflect upon the construction of the reflective framework. Through this, the research aims to generate new findings on the qualities that lead to meaningful experiences for young children in art galleries, an aspect of practice that is currently under researched and under theorised. It also aims to give insight into the ‘curation’ of early year’s immersive gallery environment design in regards to the intersection of curatorial, artistic and pedagogical practices.


James, A., Jenks, C., & Prout, A. (1998). Theorizing childhood. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Reggio Children & Harvard Project Zero. (2005). Making learning visible: Children as individual and group learners. Reggio Emilia, Italy: Reggio Children publications.

Lenz Taguchi, H. (2010). Going Beyond the Theory/Practice Divide in Early Childhood Education: Introducing an Intra-Active Pedagogy, Oxon: Routledge.

Vygotsky, L 1930. Mind in society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Related publications

Piscitelli, B & Penfold, L 2015. ‘Child‐centered Practice in Museums Experiential Learning through Creative Play at the Ipswich Art Gallery’ Curator: The Museum Journal, 58 (3). P.263-280.

Page last updated May 2016