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Nicola Wallis

Practitioner Research Associate Collections and Early Childhood

Nicola’s interests are around arts and cultural education in the early years and its links to democratic engagement and social justice. She uses practitioner-led and participatory research methods to learn more about young children’s experiences in museums. 

She worked on the University of Cambridge Museums’ Nursery in Residence (2017) project in collaboration with Cambridge University Botanic Garden, which investigated young children’s meaning making through sustained engagement with a museum and garden. Thanks to an ESRC Impact Acceleration Award, the findings from this project were shared through a seminar series (Lines of Enquiry) which brought together academics, practitioners and stakeholders with an interest in early childhood and cultural learning. A follow up Playgroup in Residence: It’s Our Museum Too practitioner-led research project was carried out in 2019-2020 with support from the Cambridge Humanities Research Grant Scheme. A third early years residency: Readers in Residence, using picture books to support families' explorations of museums followed. Currently, she is developing work carried out in a collaborative pilot programme with Nesta and ArtFund through the Family Welcome Project with a local Child & Family Centre.

Following undergraduate studies in Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge University, Nicola trained as a primary school teacher, and then read for a post-graduate diploma in Museum Studies. She has specialised in Early Years Education since 2005, and has an MA in Early Childhood Studies. She began working in Museum Education in 2007, and is currently studying for a PhD with the Centre for Research in Early Childhood focusing on very young children's engagement with museum objects and spaces.

Nicola was a lead teacher on the BRIC project (2014-2017), which was supported by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union and investigated Young Children, Democracy and Public Spaces with practitioners from England, Sweden and Italy, which inspired her to think about the role of shared spaces in the cultural lives of young children.



Wallis, N and Noble,K. (2023) The slow museum: the affordances of a university art museumas a nurturing and caring space for young children and their families.

Wallis, N. and Noble, K. (2022) Leave only footprints: how children communicate a sense of ownership and belonging in an art gallery, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal

Noble, K. and Wallis, N. (2022), "It's our museum too: co-producing research in a university museum through a nursery residency programme", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 42-55.

Bradbury, L., Noble, K. & Wallis, N. (eds) (2020) Museum and Gallery Learning in the Early Years, Special Issue-Journal for Education in Museums

Hackett, A., MacRae, C., McCall, K., Penfold, L., Wallis, N., Bates, E. and Cooke, L., (2018) 'Coda: posthumous conversations. A reading group to discuss the work of Dr Elee Kirk', Children’s Geographies 16 (5) 571-577

Wallis, N. (2018) 'Titian, tapestries and toilets; what do preschoolers and their families value in a museum visit?', Museum and Society 16 (3) 352-368

Book Chapters

Noble, K & Wallis N (2020) 'Leaving Room for Learning: University of Cambridge Museums Nursery in Residence' inWorking with young children in museums; weaving theory and practice, Hackett, A., Holmes, R. & MacRae, C. (Routledge) 

Wallis, N. (2020) ‘The power of objects: little things please little minds?’ in Working with young children in museums; weaving theory and practice, Hackett, A., Holmes, R. & MacRae, C. (Routledge)

Case Studies & Blog Posts

Young children in the museum – exercising agency through cultural engagement (2023) Centre for Research in Early Childhood

Creative Families: Talking Together at the Fitzwilliam Museum, (2020) Group for Education in Museums Case Studies

Music in the Museum, engage Sharing Practice Early Years case studies (2018)

A Nursery in Residence - Museum of London Early Years Toolkit

Nobody puts baby in the corner - Museum of London Early Years Toolkit

Discovering the past, influencing the future - BRIC Case Study

University of Cambridge Museums blog posts (2016-present)

Associated Research Projects

Associated Departments

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