Opening the Door

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Opening the Door... Experience, learning and legacy from the Kids’ Own Being and Belonging project


Foreword Early Years, the Organisation for Young Children, is delighted to have been a partner with our sister organisation Early Childhood Ireland, and Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership in the pilot Being and Belonging Project. We appreciate the support from the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund, which has allowed the project to work on a cross border and cross community basis in four parent and toddler groups within the border corridor of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Building upon a tradition of supporting a culture of respecting all cultural and community traditions, this project has used creativity as a way of unlocking potential in very young children and their parents, and has supported a process of community building and creating new connections between children, parents, parent and toddler groups, artists, organisations and communities.

ethnic backgrounds. The Being and Belonging Project has allowed us to make visible this work with very young children and their parents in parent and toddler groups. The processes and outcomes from the pilot project have been inspiring and transformative. We hope that we will be able to secure the support necessary to make the approach sustainable and available throughout the early years sector in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The project fits well with the strategic objectives of Early Years in terms of creating opportunities for young children, families and communities to create inclusive welcoming spaces where culture and identity are explored, made visible and celebrated. It builds upon the strong evidence base of the organisation’s flag ship Media Initiative Respecting Difference Programme which clearly demonstrated that if we support young children, parents, their teachers and carers to have a strong sense of their own cultural identity they will be able to develop respect for those from different cultural and

Siobhan Fitzpatrick CBE, CEO, Early Years Northern Ireland. 2


Foreword Early Childhood Ireland is committed to a partnership with Kids’ Own and Early Years - the organisation for young children, Northern Ireland in the Being and Belonging project. We see it as an exciting opportunity to engage with a sister organisation across the border and to bring our shared expertise in the field of early childhood care and education together with the expertise of Kids’ Own in the field of arts education. Together we can problematise our practice and in the new dynamic find new perspectives and approaches. How do we support children’s natural curiosity and creativity? How do we facilitate and energise their communicating, exploring and thinking so that they grow self-identities as reflective and innovative thinkers? How do we develop a culture that celebrates diversity and openness to learning? These questions, framed by Aistear (the national curriculum framework) drive our collaboration. Underpinning Being and Belonging is a recognition of the critical importance of the first 3 years of life in the learning and development of the child and the central importance of the parent-child relationship in that process. Our commitment to early childhood in Early Childhood Ireland is built on extensive research and evidence that tells us so. Critically, the research finds that by the time a child reaches the age of three, 85% of the brain’s core structure is formed. In that period vital neural connections are made in response to the child’s environment and experiences. These connections

are responsible for the child’s major cognitive and emotional functioning throughout life. Do we teach children to conform or to think divergently? Do we teach them to seek security or challenge? Do they learn to enjoy or to fear? The foundations are established through the experiences we make available in these years and through the subtle cultural messages we share. Science tells us so but every early childhood practitioner working with very young children observes the remarkable transformations that take place from one day to the next. New skills are learned, new words are spoken and young personalities come to the fore. We need to take time to feel the wonder and awe. Our learning to date


We have come through the first stage of the Being and Belonging project with significant learning outcomes. We have seen 4 artists engage with 4 parent and toddler groups, 2 on each side of the border over a 7 week period. With this relatively small investment of time and resources, we have witnessed a process of engaging children and their parents in a range of experiences that demonstrate teaching and learning at its best. The artists, as artists do, have engaged in a process of enquiry with the children and together they have created experiences - from the emotional, sensorial, adventurous ‘going on a bear hunt’ and the ‘touching rolling bending twisting and squeezing’ of clay to wallowing in water and messy play and

dramatized story telling with paint. ‘What can I do? How does it feel? Do you see what I see?’ ask the children, as they call to us all to get in touch again with our creative, imaginative, inventive, fun-loving selves.

want from this project? What do we bring? How do we perceive and interpret what’s happening? Kids’ Own also raises some interesting questions. What is the relationship between children’s play and the arts? What is the difference? What does the artist bring that is extra? What do we stand to Each artistic experience provides multiple exem- gain? plars of Aistear in action. ‘Active learning involves children learning by doing, using their senses to We find many commonalities. Like art, sociodraexplore and work with the objects and materials matic play is a meta-cognitive space where chilaround them.Through these experiences, children dren reflect on real life – one step removed. It is develop the dispositions, attitudes and values, a representative space – where children symbolskills, knowledge and understanding that will help ise their experiences with language, actions and them to grow as confident and competent learn- artefacts. The pretend frame allows them to be ers’ (NCCA, 2009: 53). How we see the child influ- creative, risk taking and imaginative – ‘it’s only preences both our way of being with young children tend’. Vygotsky (1933) called it ‘a leading activity’ and the experiences that we construct with them. in children’s learning and development in early When we see the child as a capable, competent, childhood – a space where a child is ‘a head taller active learner we provide experiences that rec- than himself’. Play is both a context and a mediognise the wealth of knowledge that even very um whereby children interpret their experience young children already bring. Adults listen to chil- of the world around them, re-present it, stretch dren and allow the time, space, materials and re- themselves to engage with other perspectives lationships for them to engage with the wonder and together co-construct a bigger picture – that of the world. This view of the child is promoted by allows for multiple ways of being and thinking – Early Childhood Ireland – a view that is embedded but within a frame that they can recognise. In this in our promotion of a play-based curriculum. We way play transforms children and their view of the connect and reconnect with it in the ‘Being and world. So like artistic representation, play is both a Belonging’ project as we watch toddlers become way of getting in touch with our experiences and artists. representing them so that we can see them, question them and develop them. Early Childhood Ireland’s engagement in this Artists go with children into a reflective, repreproject going forward sentative, questioning space – and offer another context and medium, a meta-language for makEngaging with a new project, a new group of peo- ing sense of the world. Children have a hundred ple, negotiating a new approach is always a time languages, Malaguzzi tells us – a hundred ways for our own professional reflection. What do we all of thinking, a hundred ways of listening – but we 5

steal ninety nine when we separate the head from the body. Is this what the artist does? – reunites the head and the body? – helps us ‘marvel’ in the moment? – reminds us that ‘work and play, reality and fantasy, science and imagination, sky and earth, reason and dream are things that … belong together’? (Malaguzzi: translated 1993). In the Being and Belonging project, we have seen the artists slow things down, create sensory, emotional, exploratory experiences with toddlers and invite us ‘future looking’ adults to dwell for a while in the moment and share the joy.

can teach us their ways of thinking, so that we connect with our own artist within, and their strategies can become part of our tool box. Our work with babies and toddlers needs this support. We can learn from the engagement of parents in this project. What matters to them? What can we share? How can we give them a window into their children’s learning with us? How can we come to know the child-in-family? How can we develop shared visions for our children and our communities – in our own communities and across borders? Most importantly, this project can bring much needed heart and joy and energy to the sector – a sector recently heavily burdened with regulation, funding demands and top-down pressure. To work with Kids’ Own and the artists has been a refreshing pleasure – to feel the creativity – to see children’s faces – to follow the documentation – to experience the struggle, the honesty, the positivity - and the aesthetic beauty of the experiences. We are lifted into a place where we can celebrate life and wholeheartedly invite children into the wonderful world of learning.

What can we harness for the early childhood sector from the project?

Immediately, the artists invite us, as pedagogues, to look and listen again – to look again at children’s play – to create artistic experiences with children but now with all of our senses. What are the children saying? What are their questions? How are they managing? What ‘possible selves’ and ‘possible worlds’ are they constructing? Artists teach us to see the detail – to read and feel between the lines. This is good learning for pedagogues. Now we can value play and val- Long may the conversation between pedagogues ue the arts. We can see them as complementary and and artists continue. mutually enhancing. Children can bring their play experiences to their art and their art experiences to their play. Both help to make their thinking visible. Both are zones of competence where children can have the edge. Adults in this zone are potential facilitators and partners rather than authorities. This project going forward has the potential to help us question our agendas and modus operandi. We can learn from the artists and their approach. They Early Childhood Ireland 6


Being and Belonging Introduction from Kids’ Own

to build a culture that truly values children’s creative abilities.

“Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.” Ken Robinson

The work of Kids’ Own focuses on an authentic engagement between the child and the artist, which does not ‘dumb down’ the creative process. Our belief is that this unique form of engagement – between professio nal artist and child – brings forth a very particular and special form of thinking within the child – We simply cannot nurture curious, resilient and a predisposition possessed by all children, but which creative thinkers in a vacuum. needs the right environment to manifest itself. Csikszentmihalyi ‘s studies on creativity found that “creative activity arose out of the relationship be- As a society, we still do not truly listen to children and tween an individual and his or her work and the support their ideas or nuture their self-expression. ties between the individual and other people who There is growing recognition of the need for agenjudge his or her work. “ This suggests that as educa- cies who work with children to work in partnership tors, parents and the community, we all influence to explore holistic approaches to supporting child children’s participation and development and we development. Sadly, evidence presented by Sir Ken can support or thwart their creativity. Robinson – recognised education and creativity expert – shows that children’s divergent thinking skills Designing environments where children may take diminish as they get older. risks and feel socially and emotionally supported, and where they have opportunities to explore and Kids’ Own’s recent work with early years children and create with varied materials are a prerequisite for those adults who care for, educate and engage with nurturing their curiosity, their learning resiliency them, has highlighted not only a need for increased and their ability to think creatively. interventions within Early Childhood Care and Education settings, but also a need to explore the quesFor 16 years Kids’ Own has created opportunities tion of what exactly the value of bringing a profesfor children to engage with professional artists sional artist into these settings is; how can it add to across a range of settings. Our work strives to pro- or inform the work of a skilled play facilitator or early mote the intrinsic value of the arts in our lives and childhood care and education practitioner. 8


What does the artist bring to this setting that is unique? Arts practice with children may be a form of structured or focused play, but the artist as the instigator or ‘guider’ within this process is the key differentiating factor. Kids’ Own’s pilot project Being and Belonging in 2012 was borne out of a recognised need to support parents and children in rural border communities and to develop a culture that values the transformative power of the arts in the daily lives of children, and recognises children’s natural creative and enquiry-based disposition.

The purpose of this document is to examine the project within the specific parent & toddler group context, while also drawing out learning to inform future practice across other contexts of early years settings.

The book is divided into key chapters, from Early Childhood Ireland’s inspirational foreword, to Áine McKenna’s introduction, entitled ‘Pedagogy of Mutuality’, which outlines the critical importance of interventions such as Being & Belonging in terms of the aesthetic dimension, which artists bring to early years settings, and the shift change within pedagogical theory towards less directive approaches, This interagency partnership between Kids’ Own, which are supported and mirrored through the arts Early Childhood Ireland and Early Years – the organ- practice that took place within Being & Belonging. isation for young children, Northern Ireland, reflects our shared belief in the value and potential of arts The Case Study is presented in the words of three practice within early years settings. Funded by the artists who led the project, and this is followed by Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund, Áine’s analysis, which is also informed by feedback the aim of the project was to develop a north-south from parents who participated in the workshops interagency framework to support and celebrate in each location. The final discussion and findings creativity, diversity, inclusion and family learning frame the project in terms of its response to the and to build a network that would support a cul- ‘Pedagogy of Mutuality’ and finally, Kids’ Own seeks ture of mutual respect and understanding within to question the broader impact of this work, in the the home and wider community. hope that what has emerged can positively influence on future initiatives and partnerships and be Research by independent researcher, Áine McKen- held up as a model of early years practice which, at na, was also commissioned retrospectively with ad- the very least, raises new questions and highlights ditional funding from the Arts Council to augment excellence of ambition towards aspirational practhe learning from this project, and to contextualise tice with children in Ireland. the value of this work within current pedagogical frameworks. Áine’s full research report is available to view on the Kids’ Own homepage and extracts are used throughout this document. 10


Pedagogy of Mutuality The aims of the Being and Belonging project were to celebrate creativity, diversity, inclusion and family learning. It was hoped that this project would initiate the building of a north-south interagency framework that could support a culture of mutual respect and understanding, both within the family homes and within the wider community. The idea was to introduce an aesthetic dimension into the Parent & Toddler groups through the introduction of arts workshops for both the parents and the toddlers. This project was a pilot, it was about exploring how introducing an ‘aesthetic vibration’ into the Parent & Toddler groups might have the potential for activating human development and improving the quality of human interactions within those groups. Vecchi describes the aesthetic dimension of education as: “the process of empathy relating the self to things and things to each other. It is like a slim thread or aspiration to quality that makes us choose one word over another, the same for a colour or shade, a certain piece of music, a mathematical formula or the taste of a food. It is an attitude of care and attention for the things we do, a desire for meaning; it is curiosity and wonder; it is the opposite of indifference and carelessness, of conformity, of absence of participation and feeling.” (Vecchi, 2010, p.5) These empathetic or perspective taking processes are especially open to nurture during the

formative years, when parents are the primary and sometimes the sole educators of their children. This project aimed to tap the potential of the parent child relationship by offering a quality based arts experience in order to begin building a culture of mutual respect and understanding both within the homes and within the parent & toddler communities. The Being and Belonging model of arts practice suggests that the natures of the human interaction dynamics during the arts workshops are the key mediators of a quality arts experience, although enticing stimulating materials are also important! In other words, the nature of the human engagement during the creative processes may facilitate or impede the development of an individual’s creative expression. The ability to freely and honestly express the self is dynamically connected to an individual’s ability to appreciate and respect the expression of others (CECDE, 2006). This stance identifies the quality of human engagement during creative processes as the key mediator for developing a sense of love for the self identity and for the identity of the other. The model for optimum engagement that is currently being proposed by the NCCA (2009) is known as the ‘pedagogy of mutuality’ (Bruner, 1999). This model has been selected because it has been found to be associated with the most fertile learning interactions for human development. Malaguzzi the founder of the



Reggio approach articulated it like this:

ern Irish Preschools and schools (Bennett, 2005) and the laissez–faire free-play model that was pro“Creativity becomes more visible when adults try to posed by Piaget. be more attentive to the cognitive processes of children than to the results they achieve in various fields Artists therefore are perfectly placed in communiof doing and understanding.” ties to facilitate the shift towards this ‘pedagogy of mutuality’ both within families and learning This attentiveness to process, also known as an communities. They also understand how ‘aesthetic empathetic attitude, is what the artist aims to in- vibration’ which encompasses sensory percepspire in both the children and the parents during tion, pleasure and the power to seduce can bethe arts workshops. Vecchi (2010) articulates it like come an ‘activator of learning’. Artists who listen this: to children, intuitively understand how to design environments that entice children to engage with An empathetic attitude, the sympathy or antipathy them. This approach nurtures children’s creative towards something we do not investigate indiffer- expression, children’s sense of agency, as well as ently, produces a relationship with what brings us to their sense of empathy, which is characterised by introduce a ‘beat of life’ to explorations we carry out. the ability to imagine the perspective of another. This ‘beat of life’ is what often solicits intuitions and Artists who work in the Early Years utilise ‘aesthetic connections between disparate elements to gener- vibration’ to facilitate visual investigations using ate new creative processes.(p. 8) process based approaches that utilise, intersubjectivity, collaboration and a co-construction of Psychological research has elucidated the poten- meaning during the learning journeys. tial for learning that emanates from the different styles of environments that children have the op- The pedagogy of mutuality encompasses a child portunities to engage in and interact with (Heft, lead process where the adult aims to capture the 1988; Moore, 1985; Smith & Connolly, 1980). Cur- perspective of the child through careful observarent conceptualisations of children’s adaptive de- tions of what they do, as well as engagement in velopment are being shaped by the socio-ecolog- meaningful dialogues in order to understand the ical perspective and in particular the hypothesis mind of the child’. Based on an understanding of that learning emanates from interactional and the child’s perspective and on the child’s interreciprocal relations in human environment inter- ests the adult then collaborates sensitively and actions (Moore, 1985). The model of mutuality as respectfully with the child in their learning proproposed by Bruner strikes a balance between the cesses, scaffolding where necessary, always being adult directed model of arts practice that is cur- mindful to nurture the child’s sense of agency. rently the predominant model in Irish and North14

Within the ethos of the project parents were recognised as the primary educators of their children; essentially parents were viewed as the primary sculptors of their children’s attitudes both towards themselves and their sense of agency as well as their attitudes towards others. The title of the project reflects both this development of being, as well as the child and parents’ sense of belonging within their broader community. This project was about artists creating an ‘aesthetic vibration’ within the parent & toddler groups for both parents and children in order to nourish and support the kinds of knowledge not based uniquely on information. The artists aimed to create stimulating spaces where children and parents could immerse themselves in creative processes and where parents could learn about the optimal human interaction dynamics that facilitate satisfying collaborative learning investigations with their children. The Being and Belonging project introduced an aesthetic dimension or ‘vibration’ into the toddler group experiences, to shake things up a little, to add another dimension to the children’s play experiences and to see if the parents would be seduced by what they saw. It was about introducing the artist’s ‘beat of life’ encompassed by their attitude of empathy and to facilitate the development of the pedagogy of mutuality within the family homes and Parent & Toddler community. The arts workshops aimed to facilitate the parents’ recognition of the children’s perspectives in the processes of early arts experiences, in other words it aspired to ‘change attitudes’. The ability of parents and educators to ‘tune into’ the perspectives of the children

during these creative processes lays the foundation for facilitating playful, meaningful, collaborative, sensory and visual investigations. The Being and Belonging project also aimed to support a culture of mutual understanding both within the family home and within the wider community. Empathy is the key ingredient for the nurture of mutual understanding and intercultural competence, which is the ability to respect and communicate with people from other backgrounds and cultures (Hammer, Bennet & Wiseman, 2003). The basic prerequisites for the development of intercultural competence are the ability to express one’s own way of thinking as well as the possession of an attitude of empathy in order to understand that different people have different perspectives and different ways of expressing those perspectives. Arts workshops offer a wonderful firsthand learning experience that facilitates an understanding and an appreciation for this natural diversity in human expression. This project also incorporated a research strand in order to try and understand the impact of the project from the artists’, parents’ and community developers’ perspectives. The findings from this research will aim to inform future arts practice in both parent & toddler groups and ECCE settings.


Áine McKenna Independent Researcher

The Case Study In the Case Study section, each artist has given an overview of what took place during the seven weeks from their own perspective; their approach with the children and parents and the challenges they faced. Each case study represents an edited version of what the artists chose to highlight within the residency. Throughout the project the artists kept an online journal on A link to the artist’s journal is included within each artist case study. Four parent and toddler groups took part in the project – two on either side of the border, and these groups were approached in collaboration with our partners: Early Childhood Ireland and Early Years – the organisation for young children, Northern Ireland. A range of criteria informed which groups might be approached to participate in the project – from their location; to the interest in and need for this kind of engagement; to their facilities and length of time as an established group. Four artists were selected from an open application process to work on the project, three of which participated in this document and research. The strength of each artist’s own professional practice was a fundamental part of the selection criteria, as what each case study shows is a unique set of skills and a unique disposition that stems from their individuality and integrity as an artist. Their approach is critical in terms of nurturing “creative expression, sense of agency, and sense of empathy,” as described in the introduction. 16





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Project Details

Artist: Naomi Draper Location: Castlefinn From date: 2012-10-09 To date: 2012-11-27 Duration: 7 weeks Participants per session: 25 Participants in total: 25 Contact hours: 11 hours Age range of Participants: Parents and Infants 0-3

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“Through my work I am continuously exploring the environments that we are part of and our relationship to them. I am interested in the spaces we build around ourselves and how we respond to them both physically and emotionally.”’ Artist - Naomi Draper

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I approach projects with a focus on play, experimentation and process, without any fixed ideas on an outcome. The Parent and Toddler meetings in Castlefinn were held in a massive Gym space, half of which was filled with toys. My initial reaction was to create a much smaller space where we could have a focused activity. I found the book, “We Are Going on a Bear Hunt” , and decided to use this as a foundation for the project. Our session would start on a big blanket on the floor, where we would share stories and prepare for our own Bear Hunt. I set up an obstacle course that took us through the different places within the story; there was a river, a forest, “swishy swashy” grass, a snow storm and mud! Our journey through the different spaces would lead us to a focused activity, inspired by a different location each week. For the forest, I made a tunnel with branches and leaves I had gathered in the woods, it was so interesting for me to see how the children responded, crawling through it and playing with the leaves. At the beginning a couple of the children were apprehensive about interacting with some of the materials, but quickly they became familiar with the spaces and were happy to play in them. I didn’t want to completely change how the gym was set up for the meetings, so I created these new spaces next to the toys. Over time the children were not as distracted by the toys and became more interested in the new materials that filled the room. It was a highlight for me to see them return to play in the different spaces after our session after they had finished their snack.


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When Katie arrived – about week four she came in and said,

“Granny, I’m going on a bear hunt!”

Each week our focused activity explored a new material and process. I used the pieces the children made to build the space up further, so that they were involved in changing and altering the space and their work was part of the story. Repetition was important, and each week we would repeat the story. On our journey through the space there were pages of the book left along the way. Over time the children were familiar with the story, the materials and the process, they would sing it and shout it and correct me if I made a mistake! The parents were becoming familiar with it too and became more and more involved bringing the smaller children into the activities

too. On week six Jake was sitting in a tray of paint completely absorbed in the activity, it took six weeks for this to happen. His Mum was by his side, assuring me, “ its okay, he’s loving this right now” The parents and guardians were very interested in the activities, the use of materials and started to question how they might continue with this work. By using very simple ideas and accessible materials I hoped that the parents would feel confident to develop a new piece of work with the children. I wondered and questioned if there was other ways to support the parents in extending the work beyond the project.


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Project Details Artist: Maree Hensey Location: Cavan From date: 2012-10-09 To date: 2012-11-27 Duration: 7 weeks Participants per session: 16 Participants in total: 16 Contact hours: 11 hours

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Age range of Participants: Parents and Infants 0-3 22


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“Working with parents and children allowed the parents to try out new skills/ ideas, to support their children’s learning, to unearth their own creativity as parents and to allow the space for quality time with their child in a supportive environment.� I spent time at the beginning of the project chatting and listening, introducing myself and the project, experiencing the dynamics of the group. The number of willing participants exceeded the number of spaces available and space was a premium. The participants were chosen by a lottery, a decision made in consultation with the group. My preference as an artist was to work with the same group over the 7 weeks. The room was a board room, furniture was dismantled, tables folded away to make a safe environment that invited the participants to think freely and make creative responses. My approach was open and process led. Each participant was given the opportunity to be free and make their own individual response to the materials presented and given the confidence to continue that individual creative journey in a supportive environment. The parents were actively involved with the materials and creative process. It was a creative partnership with the toddler and guardian. I was very mindful that it is a parent and toddler group. Each session started meeting all the parents and children in the group with a cup of tea and juice, muffins and delicious blueberries. 23

When we got to the board room we experimented with lots of different materials, we made marks, we whipped paint, we mixed, we made delicious colour, we tore and shredded paper, we piled the paper high, we squeezed and prodded clay, we wrapped ourselves in soft, hairy and silky fabrics, we explored scale, we made stories . For a toddler drawing and mark making is a powerful tool it is a language made with an immediacy and directness. It was a privilege to be part of the journey and watch this language in partnership with the parents gently and steadily emerge.

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Most of the work was floor based. When the parents/guardians with the children were at the table there was an intensity and directness with creative process.

m, hyth a r a ith n de w ere give ng a m w nd aki ed a hildren ent in m ced, t a e rep for e c nfid were rged. Th o feel co hing was . Free s n Actio ns eme chance t nse, not couraged ed a r o d patte e to be, a dual resp d and en t deman t and I i c e is chan wn indiv support ere key. as an art o w e s their nses wer visation our skill y o o resp nd impr dence in r, a fi pape n y , o a d l c r p a a ke and ith c ld to ma r w trust tor. i n i ta isatio d the ch ealise the v o r facili r we mp nd i clay allo ped them a y pla hel and Free objects orld and e red w w n r r i u e e fo e th th s. toge s and th aker e of n o i sens tial as m s g n n h ses ’s sessio in makin c e t a o e p of eek ed ning vious w e involv h. n i g pre e be roac cam At th d on the dlers be and app d ls e flect ts and to materia t n pare ons abou i s deci



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On entering the warm, carpeted room in the Oaklee Day Care Centre in Derrylin there were 18 parents and 26 children to greet me. The parents were relaxed in chat, the children themselves were tipping, jumping, sliding and rolling around the floor and the toys. The workshops took place over an hour or so between snack and songs. In my initial visit I spent time chatting with all the parents, asking them what they would like for their children and themselves. What came out was the feeling that at this early age, the children didn’t get much opportunity for messy play. So our small space became Messy HQ for the duration of the project.

Project Details Artist: Helen Sharp Location: Derrylin From date: 2012-10-11 To date: 2012-11-27 Duration: 7 weeks Participants per session: 22 Participants in total: 22 Contact hours: 11 hours Age range of Participants: Parents and Infants 0-3


The challenge of space The practical space was difficult simply because of its small scale. I thought small, as opposed to, after a couple of sessions, thinking fill the room! “We can’t get paint on the carpets or furniture” was the general consensus. There was an adjoining space; a very small room and this was to be our art space. Initially the workshops took place around a single folding table. The parents were there to have a couple of hours to relax, chat, have a cup of tea and be supported. It was also precious time for their children to be able to socialise and play independently and safely. I set up the art space with its doors open so that the parents could see what their children were doing and watch. Often, that was enough to entice the parents to join in. Some parents stayed in the art space for the whole session, enjoying the giggling, mystified faces of the children as I told them, “It’s OK to make a mess, it’s OK to get paint on your hands, it’s OK to get paint on the table…In fact, isn’t it fun?” Some of the sessions were table based, and these were more focused on small work, co-ordination and concentration. Other work was bigger with a little environment set up on the floor as a space for visual-led imagination and play.


In the growing workshop, lengths of flowery wallpaper became gardens to step into like Mary Poppins stepped into pavement drawings. We could scrunch brown paper soil to dig and shower blue shiny card raindrops onto ourselves. We could learn to fold and tear tissue paper into flowers.


http ://w ww .pra In Sky Larks we entered our art space to the view of ctic a tree, standing right there from floor to ceiling - a /me real tree! A young hazel tree. We looked at the bark mb on the tree and its long branches. We dotted and erp roje sponged and dribbled our frost and snow onto the cts/ tree, changing it from browns and greens to winter 177 white...We reached high into the branches. We cut 7 and ripped fabric, shiny and bright, we tied it to our tree and it became our magic wishing tree. The room was full of noise in the Sound and Vision workshop; songs of pigs and moons and ships! We listened and we let our imaginations take us away. What pictures do we see if we close our eyes? We used coloured pens, pencils, chalks, crayons and we drew what our ears were hearing...or what our imaginations saw... The context of the pilot provided a secure opportunity to explore the role of the artist, the role of the parent and the role of the group facilitators within such a project, as well as consider the outcome and impact for the children. One of the great aspects of the pilot was that it allowed for reflection between the artists half way through and after the project, in the form of round table discussion and online meeting. This essential network gave all of the artists an opportunity for peer support and to swap experiences, allaying some fears and sharing some methods. .





The Research - by Áine McKenna Method Qualitative research methods lend themselves gracefully to the task of unearthing the meanings that people assign to their experiences. The methods used to qualitatively probe the parents’ interview data following the Being & Belonging project included (a) developing codes, categories, and themes inductively rather than imposing predetermined classifications to the data (Glaser, 1978), (b) generating working hypotheses or assertions (Erikson, 1986) from the data and then exploring these accounts to establish whether these hypotheses were consistent across parents and across toddler groups, and (c) analyzing the artists’ case studies from their perspectives and then utilising data triangulation to assess the fit between all three sets of evidence (artists, parents, development workers). Participants

staff who were involved with two of the parent & toddler groups, namely Castlefinn and Cavan were also interviewed. Procedure Each of the three artists was asked to write a case study detailing their ‘Being & Belonging’ project. In addition to this Kids’ Own approached the parent & toddler group leaders and organised for the researcher to have access to the contact phone numbers of two consenting parents who had attended each of the three toddler groups. The researcher then organised a time with each parent that suited for a follow up interview. The same procedure was employed for the two development officers who were interviewed. The participating development officers were involved with the Castlefinn and Cavan parent & toddler groups.

The three artists participating in the research, namely Naomi Draper (Castlefinn parent & toddler), Maree Hensey (Cavan parent & toddler) and Helen Sharp (Derrylin parent & toddler) prepared a case study of their toddler group experiences. Follow up interviews were conducted with two parents from each of their respective parent & toddler groups (6 parents in total were interviewed). In addition to this, two of the community development 30


Data Sources

1. What did the artist bring that was unique to the toddler group setting? Documentary evidence from the artists’ case stud- 2. Has there been a legacy from the Being and ies, edited versions of which are presented within Belonging project? this document, were analysed. In addition to this, 3. Data analysis and writing each of the artists were asked to answer 3 questions: The analytic process was based on immersion in the data and repeated sortings, codings and com1. What does the artist bring that is unique to this parisons. Analysis began with open coding, which setting? is the examination of minute sections of the text 2. What supports do artists need? made up of individual words, phrases and sen3. What is the role and the responsibility of the tences. This was followed by axial coding, which artist within this context? puts data back together in new ways by making connections between a category and its subcatFollow up interviews were conducted with six egories. Selective coding encompassed the inteconsenting parents. Each of the parents was asked grative process of choosing “the core category and the following questions: systematically relating it to other categories, vali dating those relationships (by searching for con1. How their child/children experienced the Be- firming and disconfirming evidence), and filling ing and Belonging project? in the categories that needed further refinement 2. How they themselves experienced the Being and development” (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p.116). and Belonging project? Codes and categories were sorted, compared, and 3. What was it that the artist brought to the tod- contrasted until saturated – that is, until analysis dler group during the ‘Being and Belonging’ produced no new codes or categories and when workshops? all the data were accounted for in the core categories of the theoretical model. Follow up interviews were conducted with two community development staff who worked as Accountability was achieved through ongoing toddler group co-ordinators. These co-ordinators consultations with participants and colleagues were in continuous contact with all the parents and by maintaining an audit trail that outlined the who attended the workshops. Each of the devel- research process and the evolution of codes, cateopment officers were asked the following ques- gories and theory (Miles & Huberman, 1984). In ortions: der to deal with the human cognitive bias towards 32

confirmation (Mahoney, 1991), an active search for disconfirming evidence was essential to achieving rigor (Erickson, 1986). Data were combed to disconfirm certain assertions made as a result of the analysis. Discrepant case analysis was also conducted to unearth discrepancies within the data and to highlight these for further investigations. The results and findings of the research are available to view in the full research report on the Kids’ Own home page, The findings however are not straight forward because there were issues of heterogeneity among the groups of parents who were attending the different parent and toddler groups. This was further compounded by the unique approach of each artist and issues such as available space within the groups themselves. In order to further probe these issues the artist’s case studies were analysed in order to understand if the particular strategy that each artist used for engaging parents resulted from: • • •

Choice From practical considerations that arose in order to adapt their arts practice to the environment The preferences of the parents who attended the parent and toddler group.

During this analytic procedure data triangulation was used in order to establish the level of consistency and inconsistency among the reports of artists, parents and development workers. 33

Analysis of Naomi Draper’s Case Study

“to create a smaller space and to create somewhere where we could have a really focused activity.”

She described that she tested this space during her first session and although it was quite successful, she suspected that the ‘aesthetic vibration’ was not Participation in Naomi’s arts workshops was strong enough and that the kids really wanted to optional for both parents and children. Parents veer off and play with the toys. She documented reported that both they themselves and their that she understood this from the children’s children thoroughly enjoyed the workshops. perspective Parents reported that their children still spoke about the stories and the things they made, which “there was a lot of distraction and they just wanted suggested that the arts experience had become to run around the big open space and play with the integrated into both the stories of their toddler ball and it was natural for them to feel like that.” group history and their home environments. One of the parents reported that she had learned from One of the recurring themes that runs through Naomi how to make use of ‘simple stuff’ such as Naomi’s work is the spaces that people build around cotton wool, bubble wrap and leaves to create themselves and how they respond physically and stimulating open ended play environments for emotionally to them. Naomi is naturally interested her children. The other parent mentioned the dvd in how the environment influences children, so it that Naomi had made for each participant as a was natural that she looked to the environment, rather than to the children to understand how reminder of their ‘Bear Hunt’ experience. to create a quality experience for them. She It is very apparent however, that Naomi did not understood that within her setting she needed to adopt a very didactic approach with the parents, create an arts environment that was as enticing to instead she chose to create a stimulating arts the children as the opportunities that the toys and the big ball offered for adventure, discovery and environment that aimed to give ‘the toys’ a run sheer delight during toddler group time. for their money. Naomi captured her intention to match the toys entertainment value in her catch One of the artists suggested to Naomi that she phrase ‘Naomi Versus the Toys.’ Naomi outlined should create a journey through the space, Naomi during the case study that the environment found the children’s book ‘We’re going on a bear consisted of a massive gym space and half of this hunt’ and thus the idea for her project was born. space was filled with toys. She described how her Naomi decided that she would design an obstacle initial reaction was course for the children that would incorporate a focused arts activity each week. 34


Each week Naomi’s sessions would start with a big blanket on the ground. All the children would hop onto the blanket take off their shoes, pretend they were sleeping and then they would wake up. Naomi would then ask them to

that aim to maximize ‘aesthetic vibration’ while respecting children’s sense of agency both at the level of participation and process. Naomi documented how she benefitted greatly from the support of the leaders and the parents. She acknowledged that their level of participation “Look into your hands can you see stories in your increased gradually over the seven week project. hands?” Open communication was established and Naomi Some children would see ‘ rabbits’ and some would documented how parents offered feedback each see ‘bears’ and then Naomi would begin reading week and explained how the children as a group the Bear Hunt story and the adventure through as well as the individual children were benefitting the obstacle course would begin in the same way from the process they were exploring. each week. Naomi described that when she works The follow up interview with Corina Catterson, with young children the Development Officer at Castlefinn Partnership “I feel like I go down to their level and I become playful Initiative described Naomi’s art practice like this: with them.” “Naomi not only worked with the children but she Naomi describes that she does not like to direct also facilitated parent and toddler involvement in the activities but that she adopts a gentler more activities. The artist facilitated quality parent child collaborative approach with the children, where interactions. Her presence as a facilitator shaped they choose freely to participate. It is obvious parents attitudes towards ‘messy play’ – the parents however that Naomi uses the environmental actually became comfortable with the mess. There design to increase the ‘aesthetic vibration’ to high was something ‘special’ about Naomi’s presence as a intensity. Naomi uses the environment and the facilitator, which helped to re-connect parents with use of routine and repetition to entice the children their own sense of playfulness. There was a definite but once they are enticed all the processes they change in the parents over the seven weeks. engage with are about the children’s choices. If the children decided to leave at any point: That was fine! If they did not start: They were free to join in when they chose to do so! Naomi saw it as natural that they would come and go from the process.

Naomi’s programme was a sequential programme that encompassed routine, novelty and structure. She showed the parents how they could make use of natural, inexpensive resources that they would have access to in their own homes. She also demonstrated Careful consideration of the data surrounding how every area of the hall could be utilised during Naomi Draper’s approach to early arts practice group time.” suggests that she offers quality experiences 36


Analysis of Maree Hensey’s Case Study

“I learned that creative time with children is not about saying let’s paint a house.” “She showed us how to get down to the children’s level and let the experience be about the ‘opportunity’ to interact with the materials in their own way.”

Participants in Maree’s arts workshops were selected using a lottery system. The decision was made to run the Being and Belonging sessions in a different room. The room that was available was a boardroom where the furniture was dismantled and the tables were folded away to create a safe environment and to facilitate free thinking and creative response. Maree decided to work with the same group of 6-8 parents and children for the six weeks. Both parents that were interviewed reported being very open to Maree’s arts workshop from the outset. According to one of the interviewed parents Maree adopted a didactic approach to explaining to the parents their role in the workshop. Maree herself describes how she uses her sense of humour to make the atmosphere light and welcoming. She suggests that a smile, a laugh and fun are very important components for breaking down barriers and opening channels for creative expression “Maree explained to us that these activities were about the children’s own unique interactions with the materials and there would be no external structure forced on the children by the adults or the environment.”

Maree’s described her approach as open and process led, she aimed to create an environment for the children to creatively express themselves and to educate parents so that they would be able to support them on this creative journey. Her approach also provided the parents with the opportunity to try out new skills and ideas so that they could unearth their own creativity. Parents were very open to Maree’s guidance. “I welcomed Maree’s guidance because I did not know this before.” “I enjoyed the activities because my child enjoyed them.” This workshop approach appeared to have a deep learning impact on both parents who attended and the quotes clearly depict that the interviewed parents grasped the concept of ‘pedagogy of mutuality.’ Both parents reported that they invested in the materials that they had been introduced to in the workshop, and this illustrates a change in both attitude and behaviour that was brought into the family home environment. There seems however to have been no lasting impact on the parent and toddler group itself as this workshop involved



a selected group of participants who attended a workshop in a separate room. Maree described how she listens to the language of the toddler’s mark making. This deep listening echoes Malaguzzi’s concept of paying attention to the cognitive processes of the children.

by the end he stayed for the full hour. This represented a real breakthrough for his mother, Nora reported. Nora confirmed that all the parents who attended Maree’s workshop are reporting facilitating more creative activities for their children at home following the Being and Belonging workshop.

For a toddler drawing and mark making is a powerful tool it is a language made with immediacy and directness. Drawing charts every movement every action every sequence of thoughts. It is a language without words. Actions happen rhythmically and patterns emerge. Careful consideration of data surrounding Maree Hensey’s workshops suggests that the children enjoyed it and the parents had an opportunity to unearth their own creativity and to learn and really understand what ‘pedagogy of mutuality’ feels like. One of the parents revealed that she just wished that all the parents had the opportunity to experience the arts workshops. The follow up interview with Nora, who works for the family outreach service in Cavan revealed that many of the parents attending Maree’s group may have been experiencing social isolation and parent and toddler offered them a social lifeline. There was one young child who attended Maree’s workshop who was described by Nora as having a tendency to be extremely hyperactive and his attention span was limited. His mother initially asked Maree if he could leave the session after 10 minutes if that was necessary. However as the weeks progressed he was staying longer and longer and 40


Analysis of Helen Sharp’s Case Study Both adult and child participation in Helen’s workshops were optional. Helen described how the decision to introduce ‘messy play’ into the toddler group emerged from her consultations with the parents on her first visit to the setting. She described that what transpired from “that first meeting was the ‘strong feeling’ from parents that children at this age did not get much opportunity for messy play.” Helen suggested that the parents “could not face offering their children this type of play experience at home because they could not face the thought of getting paint on the walls or carpets.” Helen faced serious challenges in terms of space for her workshop as well as challenges in relation to engaging parents to participate in the workshops. “The only space within the building that was anyway suitable for an arts workshop was a small adjoining space that was normally used for hairdressing (and when the children were there nappy changing) with lino and a sink. There were stacked chairs and coffee tables and other things that could not be moved in there too, so initially the workshops took place around a single folding table.” 42

The parents at Helen’s workshops were not necessarily keen to take part in ‘the messy play.’

opportunity to watch. In fact more often than not, that was enough to entice the parents to join in.”

Helen documented that within her group the honest feeling was that

The data patterns in Table 2 show that one of the parents spent 99% of her time in Helen’s workshop with her daughter. Her interview suggested that “……..parents were there to have a couple of hours to she had a deep understanding of the artistic prorelax, chat, have a cup of tea and be supported. It was cess following Helen’s workshop. also precious time for their children to be able to socialise and play independently and safely.” “All of Amy’s paintings were meaningful to her. Her own personality came out – they were her unique exThe interviews from the parents that attended Hel- pression. Helen took an interest in all the children, she en’s group verified her account of this reluctance on would ask Amy to tell her about her painting.” the parent’s part to become involved in the ’messy play’ initially. “Helen told me that she suspected that Amy may become an architect or something because she had “When she came first I thought it was going to be such an eye for detail.” about adult participation but I was relieved because it was about child participation – so I did not need to This parent also suggested that the workshop had worry about them.” resulted in learning for her and that she was going to integrate this learning into her home environ“My daughter loved it!! It gave her the opportunity to ment. do things that I do not do with her. Even my baby got in on it too!! It was nice to be able to get the kids in- “Helen’s visits gave me good ideas for the summer volved in something and not to have to watch them holidays. I could roll out a long strip of paper on the because they were being supervised.” table and let them paint.” Helen documented that she understood and re- “I would never have thought of painting a tree.” spected the parents’ perspectives and she opted for a vicarious approach to adult learning and attitude This parent seemed to warm to Helen’s art workchange. shops quite quickly. She reported how she processed the goings on at Helen’s first workshop. ”I fully understood and respected this and I set up the arts space with the doors open so that the parents “I just enjoyed watching my daughter create – she could see what their children were doing and had the seemed so happy. Of course her good clothes got 43

ruined on the first day, maybe we should have had aprons.” The second parent that was interviewed from Helen’s group explained how she had time to relax because her children were being supervised. Helen chose to leave the door open so that all parents could participate vicariously. This parent also detailed what she observed through the open door. “Helen used very simple but alternative ideas like rolling wall paper out on the ground – she made great use of the small space that she had. The children loved her – I couldn’t believe how much they loved her. She brought very accessible materials like sponges and showed us that all you really needed was paint, the rest of the materials we would have had at home anyway.” This parent did report some degree of attitude change following the workshop and there are now paints in the family home. “Afterwards my sister bought her paints, before that I would have avoided buying her paints because I believed they were too messy.” Careful consideration of the data from Helen Sharp’s workshop suggests that she faced a double challenge in her group. It is the considered opinion of the researcher that Helen adapted extremely well to the space issue and her interest in the children and their love for her created a very strong ‘aesthetic vibration’ in that small cramped room with the lino and the sink. The most striking feature about 44

the data patterns that emerged from Helen’s workshop related to the natural affection that the children felt for Helen. The parents used the word ‘love.’ They were struck by the interest and attention that Helen paid to their children and indeed to all the children. Both parents reported learning some things from watching Helen but the depth of this learning appeared to be far deeper for the parent who participated 99% of the time with her child.


Discussion of Findings and Summary The Being and Belonging project seems to have been an overwhelming success based on both pleasure and learning indicators. In the introduction to this research the aims of the project were outlined. These aims were to celebrate creativity, diversity, inclusion and family learning. The arts workshops aimed to offer families a quality arts experience and to facilitate creative expression in the children. Within the workshops it was hoped to nurture the parents’ abilities to pay attention to their children’s processes and to support them on their journeys without directing them. This was described as the ’pedagogy of mutuality’ (Bruner, 1996) in the introduction. It was also acknowledged that this approach may have been new to many of the parents and this contention was supported by the data collected during the follow up interviews

“I learned that creative time with children is not about saying let’s paint a house.” 46

“All of Amy’s paintings were meaningful to her. Her own personality came out – they were her unique expression.”

“At first I did not know how it was going to work. But it went perfect – there was no right or wrong – everyone was an individual.”

“I welcomed Maree’s guidance because I did not know this before.” 47

The evidence suggests that the artists did create stimulating spaces - against the odds in Naomi’s and Helen’s cases - where children and parents could immerse themselves in creative processes. It was also evident from the data outlined above, that parents who participated fully in the workshops learned about the optimal human interaction dynamics that facilitate satisfying collaborative learning investigations with their children. Full parent participation in combination with guidance from the artist seemed to have been necessary for this depth of learning to have taken place. Two parents out of the 6 interviewed outlined this level of new understanding following the workshops and as outlined in Figure 1, this also seemed to have been related to their initial responses to the workshops, that is their openness to learning versus their reluctance to engage. The findings revealed that each artist approached the workshops in a different way and this was determined by their personal style and situational factors such as space as well as attitudes towards participation held by the parents. The findings suggest that deep learning about human interaction dynamics that support and nurture creative expression can be learned in these contexts if the parents are open, if they participate fully and if they receive specific guidance from the artist. This deep learning seemed to occur when the workshops took place in an independent room. The aim of this research was to begin thinking about standards for practice. The main issue that has emerged from this research involves consideration of strategies to engage parents (because level of engage-

ment seems to be related to levels of parent learning within the workshop). On the whole it seems that following the project, the ‘aesthetic dimension’ had been integrated into the family learning cultures of those who attended. However, only one group has seen the ‘aesthetic dimension’ become integrated into their toddler group community following the sessions. For this to take place the artist needs to work with the whole group and as Naomi documented that required her ‘thinking cap’, as well as her creative genius, some support from her fellow artists, the parents, development workers and Kids’ Own, a story that incorporated adventures, rhythms and routines, an obstacle course and finally a focused art activity. The participating toddlers became oblivious to the toys as the aesthetic vibration increased. It was the toddlers who got all buzzed up every week (as one parent phrased it) to go on a bear hunt although the parents admitted that they enjoyed it just as much as the toddlers in the end! However on balance the parent learning outcome seems to have been more apparent in the parents who attended Helen’s and Maree’s groups and the implications of these combined findings may inform the ingredients for the perfect cocktail of both change in the family and group dynamic following projects like this.


Summary Future research needs to explore how artists can optimize parent participation as this seems to be directly connected with parent learning. Each artist has their own unique way of working and this is part of what makes these projects so rich and so special. However, investigations that aim to explore broader issues that involve effective pedagogical strategies can only benefit the practice of all the artists involved as well as deepening our understanding of how to shape positive outcomes for all the participants. The issues that emerged from this research that require further investigation are issues surrounding parents participation and in particular understanding barriers to their engagement. The findings from this initial pilot study only involved follow up interviews with a small sample of parents but these suggest that the workshops provided contexts where parents and children celebrated creativity and diversity. This experience has had to have had an impact on the children’s developing sense of identity, as unique creators, and artists who belong to a community where open and free expression is supported, respected and nurtured by the adults. However, let’s be clear that future research needs to be characterised by carefully crafted designs. These innovative designs will need to fluidly begin to tap the key constructs so that empirically derived standardised indicators of quality can be developed for understanding and assessing quality practice in these contexts. 49

Key Findings •

All parents reported that their children enjoyed • the Being and Belonging workshops.

Parents who participated fully in the workshops with their children revealed a deep un- • derstanding of the importance of using an open process based approach while conducting visual investigations with their children (2/6 parents). These parents attended Helen’s & Maree’s groups.

The parents who demonstrated the deepest levels of learning were parents who reported being open to the arts experience from the outset.

These parents were not aware that adults were not to direct the creative process prior to attending the Being & Belonging workshops.

Therefore this learning was completely new to these parents and yet this understanding is essential for facilitating creative expression in children.

This evidence suggests that arts workshops delivered by professional artists within Parent & Toddler group settings may provide a context to facilitate adaptive changes in family learning dynamics.


All interviewed attendees from all 3 parent & toddler groups had now integrated the arts into their home play environments. Parent understanding of an open process based approach was not evident from the parents who were interviewed from Naomi’s group. This seemed to have been related to the fact that Naomi’s workshop offered a very different quality and scale of arts experience from the other artists. Naomi’s workshop according to the development worker left a lasting legacy on the parent & toddler group itself, as they now have their own arts workshop each week where parents support their children on their creative journey.

Future Research Research questions to be addressed by future research that emerged from the current pilot: 1. Observations of the artists’ actual practice by researchers is the next step in this research process. 2. Careful consideration needs to be given to innovatively designing rigorous studies that can begin to explore the implications of the artists’ pedagogy for informing pedagogical practice within the Early Childhood sector. 3. Barriers to active parent participation need to be more fully understood if this research is to support the artists in their attempts to understand parents’ initial resistance to active participation in larger group contexts.


Learning & Legacy by Kids’ Own

As a pilot, the Being & Belonging project highlights the scope of this work and the potential impact of future initiatives to go much further in probing a series of key questions surrounding arts practice with early years children. In addition to the questions that are set out in the research for future Increasingly as models of early years engagement exploration, Kids’ Own is interested in continuing move towards Aistear’s definition of learning as the to probe the valuable role of the artist in working ‘transformation of participation’, interventions of with children. Our belief in the unique quality of the kind highlighted by the Being & Belonging proengagement between artists and children underject can only be positive in terms of scaffolding parpins all of Kids’ Own’s work and informs our vision ents in their engagement with their children. From to embed the arts in the lives of all children. a pedagogical perspective this shift is tremendous. Referring back to the ‘pedagogy of mutuality’ and The early years dynamic is an interesting one, bethe ‘aesthetic vibration’ set out in Áine McKenna’s cause it provides a space where the artist has the introduction, the Being & Belonging project goes opportunity to impact on the child, through direct some way to uncovering what an artist can bring engagement, and also on the parent-child dynamthat is unique to an early childhood care & educaic, which constitutes such a fundamental part of a tion setting. Among the key findings was the sugchild’s formative development. Therefore, we see gestion that “arts workshops delivered by profesa great deal more work ahead – and great opporsional artists within parent & toddler group settings tunity – to develop the Being & Belonging project may provide a context to facilitate adaptive changwith a view to exploring this ground more fully. es in family learning dynamics.” While Emily Pringle (2002) says: “There is little detailed research that explores how and why it is that artists make these ‘significant’ contributions and why an artist’s input differs from other teachers engaged in arts education,” Kids’ Own is beginning to build the evidence base to support the recognition that artists are key in sites of learning and have a unique role to play in supporting children’s development and the ‘making of their selves’. Research in this field constitutes a valuable and long-needed base of evidence to support and champion the role that the artist plays in the lives of children.

What does the artist bring to the early years setting? To refer back to Early Childhood Ireland’s foreword, “Artists go with children into a reflective, representative and questioning space – and offer another context and medium, a meta-language for making sense of the world.” What emerges very clearly from the research are questions surrounding the artists’ approaches, and


the ways in which this can influence either the parent-child dynamic, or community practices. How does a didactic approach differ to an experiential, open-ended approach and are they mutually exclusive? Are collaborative approaches more conducive to participation from parents or children? What constitutes a ‘collaborative’ approach? When we asked the artists themselves to define the quality of what they bring that sets the artistic experience apart within these settings, they referred to the creation of a free and unconfined space, a process-led environment, which perhaps mirrors the qualities of young children’s play in its enquiry-based and open-ended nature. Maree spoke of ‘freedom, creative expression,’ and ‘spontaneity’. Helen refers to ‘transcending traditional rules and patterns’ and ‘being creative without restriction,’ while Naomi seeks to create ‘a playful environment’ where participants have ‘freedom to explore and experience.’

There are many practical considerations that have come out of the Being & Belonging project, but it is not within the scope of this document to outline all of these. However, a key learning that can be applied more widely across the early years sector and all arts engagement with children is that the artist must first and foremost bring themselves, with a sense of readiness and their own integrity of practice. The artist must be 100% present in the room, in order to create that space for the child to enter into. Perhaps this is the essential learning of the Being & Belonging project, and one which can inform projects between artists, children and parents in the future.

These responses reflect the philosophy of the ‘Pedagogy of Mutuality’ and form a core aspect of the non-directive approaches that Áine identified within the parents’ learning during the Being & Belonging project. Mary O’Reilly, Western Area Manager for Early Years – the organisation for young children, Northern Ireland, concords with this as a key aspect within her response to the project: “This type of project allows children and parents to open up within the creative environment. The open ended way of working gives children the time to explore their own ideas and to develop their processes themselves.” 53

Kids’ Own gratefully acknowledges the following people and organsiations in supporting this programme and publication. Émer Deane and Jennifer Whelan at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Reconciliation Fund; Gaye Tanham, Liz Coman, and Margaret Rogers at the Arts Council of Ireland; Teresa Heeney, Chief Operations Officer, Early Childhood Ireland; Siobhán Fitzpatrick, Chief Executive, Early Years – the organisation for young children, Northern Ireland; Carmel Brennan, Head of Practice, Early Childhood Ireland; Mary O’Reilly, Western Area Manager, Early Years – the organisation for young children, Northern Ireland; Áine McKenna, Independent Researcher; the artists: Naomi Draper, Maree Hensey, Helen Sharp, Kate Wilson, the parent & toddler group co-ordinators in Belleek, Cavan, Derrylin and Castlefinn: Kelli Mulcahy, Nora Kennedy, Mary Fitzpatrick and Corina Catterson; Don Hawthorn at Nicholson & Bass.

©Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership 2013 • Carrigeens • Ballinful • County Sligo • TEL• 00353 71 9124945 Email•info@k •Web• http://k• http://w w w.prac 54



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