Archive by Author

Thank you

29 Nov

We’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who attended the CultureBaby seminar last Wednesday, and special thanks to our speakers and panel members.

We hope you had a great day and took away some useful ideas and information.

Check back here to see film footage from the day, which we’ll be uploading shortly, and feel free to comment on any of the posts.



Babes in the woods

22 Nov

A guest blog post from Wild Rumpus:

We are Rowan and Sarah, the directors of Wild Rumpus. We produce large scale outdoor arts events for families, including the award winning Just So Festival. We believe that when families engage together in the highest quality arts in a wild natural landscape, something quite amazing can happen.

Our work is built on the idea that taking the arts outdoors into wild, natural landscapes, and creating a magical and enchanting environment can create transformative moments for families with children from birth onwards. Whole family engagement in the arts, from the very earliest months and years can create memories and experiences that are reinforced and become part of a family’s vocabulary, and the stories that they share.

In moving things outdoors  we break down some of the barriers to families participating and go some way to creating the environment for families to have creative adventures on their own terms. Children run, they shout, they play and they explore. The younger ones may simply coo. That’s good enough for us.  Instead of trying to squash all that energy into a pre-existing and often intimidating cultural structure, we are letting the cultural forms out, to run and shout, to explore and play too.

We started the festival, a weekend camping event, in no small part because of the way our children interact with the arts. Although we have children of similar ages we soon noticed that we also have different boundaries, different rules and different agendas, so the ways in which we engage in the arts are subtly different. Looking around at our friends we realised that all families go about enjoying the arts in their own way. Some are happy for a no-holds-barred, touch-everything-you can approach, others take a more restrained tack.  We keep this in mind with everything we programme at the festival – we want families to move out of their comfort zones and to be open to new experiences  but we don’t want to dictate to them how to participate and engage, they must do that in a way that they feel comfortable with, what we can do is provide an environment that’s inspiring and the opportunity to go about things within a fully supportive and positive framework. Families are relaxed and open to new experiences at an festival in a natural landscape, and due in part to this temporary mental landscape, approach the arts in a different way

The 0-2 age group is not one you naturally think of in conjunction with festivals but we think it’s a great playground for them to enjoy and start to be inspired by art and culture. Babies and toddlers are endlessly curious and love to explore, what better environment to do this in than outdoors, where senses are heightened by the notion that anything is possible. The festival aims to not just tick the boxes in terms of facilities with a comfy breastfeeding tent, a changing tent with free biodegradable nappies and wipes and baby bath time but also with programming of paper play activities, choral lullabies, baby yoga, playing with food, music and movement and storytelling.

The immersive nature of a festival environment means that you can be surrounded by art all the time, there can be opportunities to join in, to listen, to watch whilst eating dinner, whilst playing, whilst brushing teeth, whilst in your pyjamas. We know because we’ve already made it happen and heard the wonderful feedback so many families have given us as a result – you’re never too young to festival.

1 day to go!

22 Nov


With only one day to go until the CultureBaby seminar, we’re getting very excited here and are really looking forward to meeting you and listening to some lively discussions.

If you are a tweeter, our hashtag is #culturebaby, and you can follow comments on the day using our Twitterfall.

Remember, registration will be between 10-11am, so there is plenty of time for you to have a cuppa and visit the Dark Matters exhibition before the seminar kicks off.

If you need help with public transport, the TFGM website is full of information and advice, and also has a very handy journey planner. Parking is limited near the Whitworth Art Gallery so we do advise you use public transport. The nearest rail station is Oxford Road, which you can connect to from Manchester Piccadilly. If you are taking the bus (which there are hundreds of), the bus stop nearest to the gallery is Whitworth Park.

If you have any other transport queries please contact the Whitworth Art Gallery on 0161 275 7450.

Address: Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6ER

Have a safe journey to Manchester and see you tomorrow!

Evaluating activities for under 2s and parents and carers

21 Nov

An image taken from a Mair Education project

Hello from the Mair Sisters!

We’re Liz and Sara and we’re very excited to be working with The Manchester Museum and The Whitworth Art Gallery to evaluate activities for under 2s.

Over the next four months we’re going to be observing the pilot activities across both sites for under two year olds. We’ll also be speaking to a range of people including parents and carers, museum and gallery staff, health visitors and children centre staff to ask their opinion about what’s on offer. This will help us understand how culture can contribute to early intervention and development, to make lasting improvements to the lives of children.

Liz is from a health and very early years background and runs Mair Health and Sara runs Mair Education, which specialises in helping museums develop provision for a wide range of audiences.

We’ll be posting more information about our work over the coming months but in the meantime feel free to contact us if you’d like to get involved and find out more about what we’re doing.

You can contact us by email on  or 

 Or call us on 07815 095 305

Meet the Chairs

11 Nov

We are happy to announce the Chairs of the CultureBaby  seminar who will be facilitating discussion for each panel session.


Esmé Ward, Head of Learning and Engagement, Manchester Museum and the Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester.

Esmé has worked in museum and galleries for over 15 years.  She started at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Dulwich Picture Gallery, The National Trust and  Manchester City Galleries before founding the education service at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.  Since then, she has overseen the growth of the Whitworth’s learning programmes to include adult learning, arts and health programmes, early years and family learning.  She has experience teaching at all levels and works currently co-teaches an MA Creative Learning module at the University of Manchester.  She is Head of Learning and Engagement at both the Whitworth and Manchester Museum, leading the development of a wide range of imaginative engagement and learning programmes, services and resources for visitors of all ages. She recently contributed an essay on early years gallery-based practice to DEMOS publication Born Creative ( and is passionate about the potential of culture to engage very young children and their families.


Ronan Brindley is the Principal Manager for Learning at Manchester City Galleries.  He leads a dynamic education team that is responsible for the delivery of learning programmes at Manchester Art Gallery and at the Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall.  Since 2004, the team has built up an impressive level of expertise, offering cultural learning opportunities across the whole age range, from early years to valuing older people.  

The recent experience of working with families has indicated the importance of developing specialism in the 0-2 and 3-5 age range.  It is a priority for Ronan to develop this strand so that Manchester City Galleries extends its provision for very young children. From 2012, Manchester and Art Gallery will develop creative activities with 0-2s, 3-5s, and their families / carers with the aim of boosting communication skills and emotional literacy. 

If you would like to know more, please contact Ronan at


Elaine Bates was born and educated in Manchester and attended Chester University where she gained a B’Ed. Elaine taught in primary schools in Oldham and Trafford for six years before moving into a post as Education Officer at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. She  has since worked in a variety of learning roles and managed projects at cultural venues across the city including Victoria Baths, Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Ancoats Building Preservation Trust, Manchester Cathedral and Manchester Museum.

Elaine has been in post as Early Years Coordinator in Manchester museums for five years and has worked with museum, gallery, early years and family learning professionals and artists in Manchester and the North West region to develop programmes and resources for young children (0-5) and their families. She is a governor at Martenscroft Nursery School and Children’s Centre and is also currently working as a consultant on the Ardwick city region pilot, brokering projects between residents, community agencies and cultural organisations.

Elaine is based at Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester.

Guest post from Sarah Owen, Pyjama Drama: Drama and play for every child

8 Nov

Whilst developing Pyjama Drama, which combines drama, movement, music and play, I was influenced by two important factors. Firstly by observing my own three children; recognising that as toddlers it was their instinct to play imaginatively, and secondly by the ground breaking approach taken by the Welsh Assembly Government as they introduced and began to roll out the new Foundation Phase throughout Wales. The new curriculum is ‘based on the principle that early years’ provision should offer a sound foundation for future learning through a developmentally appropriate curriculum’ and does, in my view, offer young children just this. By placing emphasis on children learning through doing, children are given opportunities to learn practically and through the medium that is most instinctive to them – play.

I was greatly reassured that the principles of this new curriculum mirrored my own, and that current practise supported the work I was doing during the all-important developmental stage of the Pyjama Drama programme. Seven areas of learning have been identified to describe the Foundation phase, all of which are designed to ‘complement each other and all work together to provide a practical relevant curriculum for 3 to 7 year olds’ and I quickly realised these seven areas (ranging from ‘Language, literacy and communication’, to ‘Mathematical development’) were all being supported in any one Pyjama Drama session. Having developed a programme with such synergy to the new curriculum meant that I had the good fortune to work with inspirational practitioners throughout Wales, all of whom believed passionately, like me, that young children learn best when they are given opportunities to explore their world in a practical, fun and most of all play-based way.

My youngest child, now nearly seven years old and who is in the last year of the Foundation Phase, is the only one of the three who have progressed through the new curriculum from the beginning of her education which started in playgroup. She is also the only one of the three who has been through the entire Pyjama Drama programme (coming to my classes as a babe in arms at just three months) and I can honestly say she is the most creative, inquisitive, sociable little thing you could ever wish to meet.  Of course you could argue that she was born that way and I’ve no doubt that she was. Despite this, I will be forever grateful for an education, and experiences that have placed such an emphasis on play and have given her, what I believe to be the best possible start. 

Sometimes people assume that Pyjama Drama classes are for children (and their parents) with a desire to learn how to act, for those with ambitions of stardom, a place for pushy parents to hot house their children and prepare them for a career on the big screen. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst it may be true that some parents see a talent for acting or performing in their child at an early age (and that our classes are full of children with the potential to be future stars), the vast majority of parents bring their children to our classes because they recognise the huge benefits that young children gain from taking part in a programme that places real value on drama and all its elements.

Sarah Owen, director, Pyjama Drama