In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Spaces of Childhood

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Cyberspace

Childhood Studies The Spaces of Childhood
Marta Gutman, Marci Clark
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0211


Children’s places are an integral part of childhood because children are human beings who use, invent, experience, and make space. Space and childhood are mutually constitutive, with children’s spaces offering a measure of any society’s attitude toward children, both historically and in the present day. And yet the study of the physical spaces of childhood is an emerging field, forming a relatively new topic of interest to historians, architectural historians, geographers, ethnographers, and others who are invested in the study of children, childhood, and space. Cumulatively, the works cited in this bibliography deal with a range of ages, from birth to at least the teenage years—although who is considered a child varies with the social and historical context under consideration in each work. Some scholars investigate children as social actors in their own right, who use and interpret spaces on their own terms, inventing places for themselves and reinventing the settings that adults have made for them. For others, physical space offers a unique and useful lens to understanding childhood as an ideal imagined by adults and as a socially constructed condition, shaped by social class, race, gender, age, and so forth. Since space is also where childhood is lived, the material world is ripe for the study of lived experiences—of how children use, interpret, make, shape, and imagine space. One topic stands out in the new, exciting field of the spaces of childhood: space, childhood, children, and material culture in relationship to modernity. Spaces made for children have been pivotal to the construction of modernity in global society, as a world without places made specifically for children was transformed into one full of spaces made especially for them. Adults inscribed their objectives for modern children and their childhoods into modern physical spaces that isolated children from adults; accelerated the imposition of colonial structures of power, knowledge, and discipline on children; socialized children, directing them to gender-, race-, and class-specific futures in the adult world; and enabled consumption of special objects made specifically for boys and girls. These places also inscribed the ideal of the “good childhood,” one that is happy, free, and connected to nature, into the physical landscapes of modernizing cities. By demonstrating a child’s right to childhood, many places have become sites where children have been enabled to make their own decisions about consumption, play, and other aspects of their public and private lives.

General Overviews

The topic of children and space has been approached from many different perspectives, beginning with the landmark study Ariès 1962, which places the invention of the sentimental concept of childhood in early modern Europe, showing that special objects and places defined a child’s lifeworld and facilitated nurture and education. More recently, key texts have tracked the history of children’s spaces, not only in relation to the sentimental ideal of childhood, but also in relation to various physical, political, social, cultural, and geographic contexts, showing the continued separation of children’s spaces from ones made for adults, as well as the interdependence of space and childhood. Coninck-Smith 2010 presents an overview of new educational and residential spaces in the 19th century, while Coninck-Smith and Bygholm 2011 documents spaces designed by Danish architects and urban planners in the 20th century. Through international examples, the essays in Dudek 2005 illustrate the experiences children have within the supervised worlds they inhabit, as well as the design processes that shaped those spaces. For excellent overviews of different children’s spaces, see Adams and Van Slyck 2004 and Gutman 2012; the latter documents children’s spaces from 1500 to the present day to illustrate how space and childhood are mutually constitutive.

  • Adams, Annmarie, and Abigail A. Van Slyck. “Children’s Spaces.” In Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. Edited by Paula S. Fass, 187–194. New York: Macmillan Reference, 2004.

    An excellent overview of domestic space, spaces for education, libraries, spaces for health and welfare, and recreational spaces.

  • Ariès, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Translated by Robert Baldick. New York: Vintage Books, 1962.

    English translation of L’enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien Régime (Paris: Plon, 1960). This landmark study argues the sentimental concept of childhood developed in early modern Europe, along with an interest in nurture and education. This shift prompted adults to create special objects and places for children that helped to define the child’s sphere and embodied the sense that a child’s life world ought to be different from an adult’s.

  • Coninck-Smith, Ning de. “Geography and Environment.” In A Cultural History of Childhood and Family in the Age of Empire. Vol. 5. Edited by Colin Haywood, 73–90. Oxford: Berg, 2010.

    An overview of research into the history of children’s spaces during the 19th century, and a description of new educational and residential spaces for boys and girls from different class backgrounds. The similar solutions chosen in Europe and the United States resulted in children being gradually isolated from adults.

  • Coninck-Smith, Ning de, and Jens Bygholm. Barndom og Arkitektur: Rum til danske børn igennem 300 år. Århus, Denmark: Forlaget Klim, 2011.

    This generously illustrated book documents spaces designed for children by Danish architects and urban planners. Examples include children’s rooms in social housing, nurseries, schools, hospitals, sanatoria, playgrounds, orphanages, and museums. The focus is on how the scale of the child has been interpreted, primarily during the 20th century.

  • Dudek, Mark, ed. Children’s Spaces. Amsterdam and Boston: Elsevier/Architectural Press, 2005.

    Describes experiences children have within the supervised worlds they inhabit, including architecture and landscape architecture. International examples are illustrated, together with the design processes that informed development.

  • Gutman, Marta. “The Physical Spaces of Childhood.” In The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western World. Edited by Paula S. Fass, 249–266. New York and London: Routledge, 2012.

    This essay surveys key changes in children’s physical spaces in the modern West, analyzing the spaces designated for children in the home, in schools, in public, and for play as reflections of society’s attitudes toward children, as well as constitutive of the experience of childhood.

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