‘At home’ in kindergarten

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Artek table and chairs, Alvar Aalto Museum


Last week I took part in the Childhood and Materiality conference at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. One of the themes running through the conference was belonging and identity. I continue to be interested in how young children express their attachment to place and how such attachment involves people, places and things. Emma Dyer reminded me of an earlier article I had written about this:

Designing the ‘in-between’: Alison Clark’s micro-history of a welfare room

The room in question was an in-between-space in an Infant school design by David Medd. This ‘welfare room’ had been the base for many years of a teaching assistant, Judy.  Here the material quality of the room was centre stage. The bed and soft furnishings rested alongside craft materials. It was a place of comfort and creativity. This links to one of the keynote talks at the conference by Ida Wentzel Winther (University of Aarhus) looking at children’s experiences of mobile lives, sharing family and households. Ida talked about her conceptual model of home in which she identifies differences between ideas of home and a physical location as well as the role of things in how people make somewhere feel like home. She describes this process as ‘homing’.

‘Living between the contrast of a home (a specific home) and the none-homely-element (nomadism) is a condition for the late modern person in a global society. As a way of coping with this condition people do acts in order to relate to the specific places. Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan talks about making space into place as way of coping. In that way space becomes specific, familiar, secure and thus transforms into place. This constant becoming place is a way of root holding while on the move. Deleuze and Guattari argue that people are not root holders, but constantly moving in a network of relations to the world. Homing in our definition is not a none-place, but the acts of making specific places and feeling more homely. ‘ p.2

Conference presentations opened up for me further questions about how do young children make ‘none-places’ they find themselves in feel more familiar especially when children may be spending 10 hours a day there. Jennifer Sumsion and colleagues are exploring similar questions in their ongoing study of the spatial perspectives of babies ways of belonging asking ‘how do babies develop a sense of belonging? and how do they contribute to fostering a climate of belonging? These questions are a reminder of the active role that young children can play in the process.

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Nursery designed by Aino Aalto in the Arvar Aalto Museum

The design of early childhood environments adds another dimension to thinking about ‘homing’. It felt appropriate to be considering such ideas on a university campus with many buildings designed by Alvar Aalto. The Alvar Aalto museum on the campus contained examples of institutional spaces including a sanatorium room and a nursery room. The nursery project was led by Aino Aalto (the architect and designer, co-founder of Artek and Alvar’s wife) who ‘approached her design project from a child’s perspective- bruises and knocks were prevented with a rubber edge around the table, the cupboards and shelves were multi-coloured and the most fragile objects could be stored safely in cupboards located higher up and out of children’s reach.’ [Alvar Aalto Museum text] These design principles appear to be driven by the desire to protect however the furniture also invited participation. It returns me to questions about what can design projects ‘from a child’s perspective’ look like and how might this contribute to more liveable learning environments for children and adults (Clark 2010).


Clark, A. (2010) Transforming Children’s Spaces: children’s and adults’ participation in designing learning environments. Abingdon, Routledge.

Graves Petersen, M; Lynggaard, A. ; Krogh, P. and Winther, I., Tactics for Homing in Mobile Life- A Fieldwalk Study of Extremely Mobile People , MobileHCI 2010 September 7 – 10, 2010, Lisbon, Portugal. pp.1-10


Joining the dots

Milky Way over Mountains
© creativecommonsstockphotos Dreamtime

It can be easier to write if you are clear about the audience but what happens if you need to reframe your writing for a different purpose?
This problem is at the heart of writing a PhD by Published Work- particularly as constructed in the UK from already published pieces. Writing including books, journal articles and chapters in the public domain with their audiences in place need to be repositioned in a retrospective narrative- it can feel like attempting to ‘unknit’ a pile of assorted jumpers commissioned for particular friends and knitting the same wool using the same pattern but into new dimensions- potentially not as interesting but possibly more challenging.

UK universities vary in terms of the requirements for PhDs by this route in terms of how many publications and the length of supporting statement but each, as far as I’m aware, do require this ‘wraparound text’ to set the works in context, to demonstrate the original contribution to knowledge and their shape.
It is this shape that can be difficult to establish, especially if publications follow opportunities for funded work across disciplines. Looking for ‘constellations’ might be of help. Mark Edmundson in his book: ‘Why Write?’ borrows the analogy of ‘constellations’ to think about collections of writing, from his friend Michael Pollan. Edmundson explains:
…’You start one place with your first published work, or at least the first work of yours that gives you pleasure and satisfaction. Then you begin to move. You go from point to point, dot to dot. And part way through, your points….-begin to form a constellation..’ (2016 p.243).
Edmundson is not talking about #academic writing here. The clue might be that he mentions pleasure and satisfaction – experiences that can so easily be squeezed out of audit-driven writing. But there may be similarities. You need to be able to see from a distance in order to make out the overall shape of a constellation. Sometimes academic writers become too close to the individual pieces in order to be able to articulate the theoretical and methodological connections- the more than the sum of its parts. It can require the discerning help of others to draw the bigger picture, to join the dots and make some straight lines …or persist with the knitting.

Oslo to Bergen Line, March 2017


‘Writing is a continuously ongoing process that takes place also when you are not actually writing, when you talk your understandings into existence, when you negotiate your understandings with others, when you are in the process of living your life. The text is never finished but goes on operating even after the text is formally finished.’ (Lenz Taguchi, 2010: 147)

Talking your understandings into existence. This phrase expresses the close relationship between writing and talking. This reminds me of a comment by a Doctoral student during a seminar about my early childhood research: ‘You are lucky, you talk so often about your research, you see it three-dimensionally.’

This suggests that in the talking the research takes on its own shape, it fills out and begins to have a prescence of its own beyond the initial ideas. Taking shape is made possible by seeing the research from different perspectives. These perspectives can be gained by reading about other research but is also achieved through dialogue and exchange whether with a colleague, in a small research group or on a wider stage. Talking about your research is not necessarily time away from writing but might be an important next step in the writing process- not a distraction but a support in moving from a  two-dimensional to a three-dimensional piece.


Lenz Taguchi, H. (2010) Going Beyond the Theory/Practice Divide in Early Childhood education: introducing an intra-active pedagogy.London: Routledge.

# Beginning in the middle

‘The main thing is to make a beginning, to take the risk of beginning before you feel you are ready. Let the writing process do some of the work for you’ (Boice, 1990: 60)

Sensible advice from Boice. This is one of the strategies to emerge from his studies of academics in their first posts as lecturers, and their ability to establish ways of writing…or not writing. There can be many ways to ‘trick yourself’ into writing before you feel you are ready. Boice advocates establishing a pattern of daily ‘spontaneous writing’ as a method for enabling the act of writing to do some of the work for you.

There is a parallel here with art practice. Sometimes there is no substitute for diving in and ‘taking the risk of beginning before you feel you are ready’. One of the art classes I attended always began with a short exercise using all the materials students  had brought along to the class. Mark making made you more able to make marks and stopped anything being too precious to even attempt to remove from the box.

The Orcadian painter Sylvia Wishart RSA (1936-2008) developed another way of beginning. She began in the middle:

‘Over the past fifteen years or more my method of composing has been to pin on the studio wall a large sheet of very tough durable paper. Starting in the central area I will let the picture grow in all directions until a decision is made to stop the image.’(2012: 58).

Sylvia Wishart: a study (2012) Published by The Pier Arts Centre, Stromness. Her layered pastel and oil paintings began with the view from her window Heatherybraes, near Stromness, Orkney across Hoy Sound and her daily conversations with the changing landscape are documented across her paintings.

Begin in the middle. The rest can follow.

Beach combing from old notebooks

Where to look for your next piece of academic writing?

When I go beach combing there isn’t much preparation- I need to get to a beach- take a carrier bag and off I go. There is a need to slow down and tune in in order to spot what’s there and it can be different each time so the best thing is to go with an open mind and notice.

Some of the most enjoyable finds are where it doesn’t look like much has changed but perhaps the wind direction or tide strength is slightly different and other things have been washed up or revealed.

So what would beachcombing from old notebooks look like? I start by slowing down – making time to read through in detail. I tune in- making myself open to what is there rather than what I remember. There might be notes on literature, a seminar talk or a passage about fieldwork. Such ‘beach combing’ might lead to a new writing theme or provide an alternative way to approach a current research interest.photo-30-12-2016-12-28-17

Beach finds, Westray, Orkney December 2016

A museum of research artefacts?

Material culture of research

A museum of research artefacts

This is part of my collection of research notebooks. Above the notebooks is a shelf of audio cassettes of interviews and CDs of photographs and an old cassette player.

Professor Lynne Cameron commented as she started her own blog

: http://empathyblog.wordpress.com/about/

‘I am a notebook person – I have (mostly A4, widelined or blank) notebooks going back years, full of ideas, notes from reading, examples from data, and questions. The notebooks are a kind of blog to myself. Perhaps ruminating more publicly as well will be useful in new ways? Let’s see!’

 I’m interested in creating a dialogue between researchers and artists and those like myself who are both makers of art and makers of research.  The aim is to start with notebooks but also examine how ideas are constructed at each stage of a research process and how they are communicated.

Research practice: in the making

Behind closed doors

Behind closed doors

Two designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby had an exhibition this year at the Design Museum in London entitled:

In the Making.

The exhibition explores the process of making 25 objects by choosing a moment and freezing it in time-

a marble, a tennis ball, a cricket bat, a wine cork …..

The exhibition and the images chosen place the process centre stage- prompt a range of questions about how the objects are formed, the skills and raw materials involved, a new way of seeing and thinking about familiar objects.

The Design Museum staged at the same time an exhibition of the life and work of Paul Smith, fashion designer. This too was about process and final product. There was a full scale mock up of both his office, teaming with objects and his studio full of ideas in process- colour swatches, line drawings, patterns together with a gallery of iconic pieces.

Often in qualitative research the doors can remain closed and the process hidden until the finished pieces emerge.