The Childhood Collection contains a broad range of material by children and about children. In the collection a child is defined as a person under the age of 18, though the focus is the post-toddler to pre-teen years. As these critical years provide the opportunity to witness the factors that shape and have shaped each person, and to explore a world that reflects, parodies and challenges adult experience.
The collection reflects children across time in a range of environments, including the home, school, and play and recreation spaces. It includes objects made by children and their written descriptions of games and play, reflecting their worldviews, experiences and imaginative lives. It contains material from numerous Australian research projects into children's play and behaviour, and includes several substantial collections of children's toys and games. Children actively create their own cultures, and this collection aims to ensure that their lives and stories are not subsumed within adult-driven historical narratives.
First included as part of the Home and Family collection following the establishment of the History Department in 1986, a separate Childhood and Youth collection was created in 1990. During this period several key sub-collections were acquired including the Sterne Doll Company Collection, the Panaroos Playthings Doll and Toy Museum Collection.
In 1999 the Australian Children's Folklore Collection (ACFC) was donated to the Museum. Compiled by Dr June Factor and Dr Gwenda Davey during research at the Institute of Early Childhood Development, this significant material and documentary record of childhood in Australia was recognised in July 2004 by acceptance onto the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.