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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.


Guest Post from Carla Henry, Drama Practitioner and Actress

21 Nov

I remember my very first experience of theatre as a very young child at primary school.

Going on a school trip to a very big space. I was going to listen to a special story, to be taken on a journey. As I walked into this giant space, I was given a small sweet by a lady dressed in a costume, she could have been from another world!  She asked me; would I like to go inside the belly of a whale?  I ate the sweet quickly, just in case she changed her mind! Then I walked through the door, and I was there, in a magical world!  Although, the sweet may have had lots to do with it, I remember the sensory experience of believing in this magical world, this space that could have been anything or anywhere, a space where I could be anyone, a magical space, a space for me, to imagine, play and explore.

My name is Carla Henry. It is an absolute privilege and pure joy to have the opportunity to devise, create and facilitate imaginative play through the world of Drama and Theatre and all it has to offer. To take an object, painting or sound and devise a story based session as an interactive experience for our young friends.

Within a session a child is allowed to improvise and explore. I see myself as facilitator, making several offerings of story telling using verbal and non verbal communication. Storytelling is steeped within my culture, a story was always told in my home, words that empowered, excited and encouraged me. Story for me is life!. Bringing stories to life for 0-2 yrs has been such an exciting journey. It is a magical and encouraging experience when I catch a glimpse of a parent/carer smiling as they watch their precious baby smile, babble and interact.

I strongly believe that story, drama and theatre had such an impact on my life. Then the birth of my son brought with it the beginnings of my practice with babies and young children. I started attending sessions with my baby son, he never asked to go anywhere, but he let me know where he didn’t want to be. I watched him, responded to him and knew that I wanted to create something which would inspire him. Drama 4 Tots was born. I have been devising and running sessions for the past two years, my practice is always growing and exploring new ways to facilitate, fun, creative and inspiring play. I am very fortunate to have the support and input of inspirational Primary school teacher Laura Miley.

My son Semi Ray was not interested in sitting still and listening to a story, so I brought the story alive, out of a box (literally) gave him and others an interactive story experience and then told them that stories also live in books! Now he can’t put books down, acting out the characters and creating his own world, it’s magical.

Using my experience as an actress and my degree in Devised Theatre I created Drama 4 Tots.  Each story within the session is original.  I use sound, movement, live instruments, props and lots of sensory materials to create a space for exploration with the emphasis on FUN! I have been greatly inspired by the works of Pie Corbett and Oliy Cart.

Most recently I was invited to collaborate with Sam Hull (a wonderful visual artist) on a project:  Story Spaces (Not a box).  This was a partnership between Manchester Art Gallery, the Royal Exchange and Action For Children Foundations Project.  Funded by Manchester City Council’s Cultural Strategy for developing cultural opportunities for North Manchester residents.  I was then commissioned by Manchester Art Gallery to work as the Drama Practitioner on their Far Far Away project.  I devised a piece of work called The Sad Stem using the Pre-Raphaelites painting Ophella (1852 Arthur Hughes) as my inspiration to develop a interactive session for 0-5’s. At the beginning of this year myself and Heather Varley created Little Jammers, bringing the magic of singing and musical fun with live guitar and flute to babies and young children.

All children should have the opportunity to be exposed to and access cultural institutions in a truly inclusive way.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Nelson Mandela

I feel CultureBaby is a fantastic opportunity to share practise, ideas and thoughts. This is such an exciting time to be working with 0-2’s and I am really looking forward to Wednesday.

See you there!


Guest post from Lea Johnson, Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI); ‘ The Place of What is Possible’

17 Nov

The request to write this Guest blog has allowed me to reflect on the 2 year journey that has lead to the creation of our atelier for young children here at The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).

Those of you who draw inspiration from the Reggio Emilia approach will be familiar with the term ‘atelier’ in the context of the famous Italian preschools.  The atelier is a ‘studio’ or ‘workshop’ where young children can explore, interact and think creatively. Significant features of all Reggio preschools in Italy are a main atelier and mini- atelier attached to each classroom.

We decided to develop our very own atelier at MOSI following outputs a Renaissance North West funded Textiles project for early years.  The latter had involved the MOSI Learning Team, artists from Creative Collaborators, and North Gorton Children’s Centre.  During the evaluation there was a request by a Children’s Centre practitioner for an atelier in our Textiles Gallery.

Myself (a Museum Education Officer), and a group of enthusiastic early years practitioners from across the city, set about researching the possibilities of creating such a space within a museum.  This initially involved visits to Children’s Centres across Manchester, Early Excellence in Huddersfield and the Acorn Centre in Chorley. We were fortunate in that members of the group had been on study tours to Reggio to see the preschools at first hand and were able to steer us in the right direction!

Our research helped us to consider the aims of the space, the philosophy, the design and the resources required.  The space had to be designed specifically for babies, toddlers, young children and those with special rights.  The materials and technical equipment should be mostly recycled or low tech in order to encourage easy replication of the learning environment at home or in school.  The space and the resources also had to show a direct link to the theme of textiles to ensure that the space was an integral part of the much bigger Textiles Gallery.

As part of our research into resources suitable for 0-2 year olds, we decided that Treasure Baskets and Heuristic Play materials would offer lots of opportunities for open- ended exploration in our atelier.  A partnership project with parents and staff from Whalley Range Children’s Centre resulted in a collection of thought provoking materials and themed treasure baskets that would be used in the atelier.  Many of the resources were obtained from GRUMPY Play Resource Centre in Manchester.  Through the project, parents and children were given opportunities to engage in sensory play and to explore and discover both in the Children’s Centre and in the Museum galleries.

Funding from Manchester City Council (through the Aiming High for Disabled Children project), and from Renaissance North West has resulted in the creation of a calm, comfortable and creative atelier in our Textiles Gallery.  When not in use, it is filled with gently undulating shadows created by a suspended giant dandelion clock that has parallels in a piece of artwork in the gallery.  When busy, there is the quiet hush of concentrated engagement with fabrics, bobbins, ribbons, pipe cleaners,light and shadows. Babies gaze into mirrors whilst experiencing the sensations of lying on various soft fabrics  and toddlers explore coloured buttons, sand, glitter, cellophane, lace and gauze on the light box and the overhead projector.   These sorts of ‘intelligent materials’, not normally associated with young children, offer tremendous creative possibilities. They grab children’s attention and prompt further exploration and investigation.

In creating our atelier we have relied heavily on the experience and expertise of PLACES.  This is a small Community Interest Company that promotes creative learning in young children in the context of the city. PLACES has helped us to develop CPD training sessions for practitioners on how to use the atelier with young children.

We have 2 more FREE sessions available to find out about the atelier, to engage with the resources and to explore ways in which the space can be used. Attendance at a CPD allows the atelier to be booked for FREE use with small groups of accompanied children.

Tuesday 17th January 2012: Textures and Surfaces                       Tuesday 24th April 2012: Inside and Outside

Both sessions commence at 4.15pm.  Please contact the Learning Centre on 0161 833 0027 to check availability and to book.

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

Treasure Basket Fun in Nature Discovery!

21 Oct

Join us for Treasure Basket Play sessions at the Manchester Museum! These sessions are free for babies who can sit unsupported and their adults. Find us in the Nature Discovery Gallery on the 1st floor.

Details: Drop in sessions in the Nature Discovery Gallery

Dates and Times:

Tuesday 1st November     10:30-11:30 and 1:30-2:30

Tuesday 8th November    10:30-11:30 and 1:30-2:30

Tuesday 15th November   10:30-11:30 and 1:30-2:30

Tuesday 22nd November   10:30-11:30 and 1:30-2:30


Announcing Our Speakers – Part Three

12 Oct

Our forthcoming CultureBaby seminar has three main strands; Research, Policy and Practice.  We are delighted to announce that the speaker and panel for the Practice Strand are as follows.

Speaker – Guy Dartnell, Performer, Oogly Boogly – an event for babies and their grown-ups

Panel – Kathy Coates Mohammed,  Principal, Martenscroft Nursery School and Children’s Centre, Hulme

Panel – Carla Henry, Drama Practitioner and Actress

Manchester Practice: Giving babies a voice in Culture!

6 Oct

Coming soon Manchester Practice: Giving babies a voice in Culture!

We are currently piloting activity sessions in early year’s settings and supported visits to Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery for mums and babies in partnership with early years and other professionals.

We are linking activities to the Nature Discovery and Play and Learn gallery at Manchester Museum and to the Dark Matters exhibition at Whitworth Art Gallery. We are using these pilot activities to develop our practice in engaging parents and facilitating participation for very young children and will use evaluation to inform the development of core programmes and resources for under 2’s in museums and galleries across the city.

If you work in a setting with under 2’s in Manchester and would like to get involved, please contact
Carol Abernethy, Early Years Coordinator, Manchester Museum / Whitworth Art Gallery,

Image, Exploring the Manchester Museum

Sharing our practice…

We will be sharing our practice and evaluation in early 2012