Having taken the first steps of developing ‘Creative Baby!’ (as described in my previous blog post) it was now time to start really thinking about the shape this exciting project would take. My aim was to help parents and babies experience the Shipley Art Gallery’s exhibitions in new and creative ways. I decided the first session would focus on the exhibition ‘Blooming Marvellous’; this life-sized knitted garden is an explosion of colour, which offered so many possibilities for engaging young babies. I began amassing everything from pop up tents and ball pools, to mirrors and bubble tubes, thinking all the while about the textures and sensations they’d offer the babies. I began to adopt rather strange shopping techniques – pondering everything from sieves to scarves, foil blankets to fairy lights; feeling their textures, checking their size, interacting with them in ways I imagined a baby would! I began to regard everyday objects as treasures which held so many possibilities for creativity, play and learning.
I began to realise I’d need company for this journey of discovery, and so invited volunteers Jess and Lillian to join me. Jess brings the combined experience of an arts degree and being mum to a six-month-old; Lillian brings experience of helping to deliver Early Years projects at Great North Museum; and both bring a huge amount of creativity and enthusiasm – altogether the ideal combination for ‘Creative Baby!’
The three of us headed to House of Objects in North Tyneside, where we met with Director Emma Pace to find out more about the Reggio Emilia approach, and how we could incorporate it into ‘Creative Baby!’. House of Objects is a community interest company focused on creative recycling methods, and inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. We spent a wonderful afternoon playing, exploring, brainstorming and gathering materials to create our own sensory play space. I’d highly recommend a visit, whether it’s for professional development, family activities, gathering interesting materials or to experience a learning environment with a difference – all the info is on the House of Objects website.
By now momentum was building and tickets for ‘Creative Baby!’ had sold out. I enjoyed researching early years creative environments, and reading up on Reggio Emilia and Montessori philosophies and how babies develop from birth to the age of one. Colleagues across Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums took a keen interest in the project, lending me everything from pop up tents and beanbags, to stacking cups and tunnels. Gateshead Children’s Centre kindly lent me cupboards-full of musical instruments and shared ideas for parachute games and songs. I also joined Gateshead Toy Library, which is an amazing resource that families and organisations can join to borrow toys, games and baby equipment. I was amazed at the variety of items available there, and returned to the Shipley with a head full of ideas, and a car full of bubble tubes, soft play, mirrors, toys and parachutes!
For the first session we had sixteen babies, each with a parent / carer. We began with a look around the exhibition ‘Blooming Marvellous’ – an amazing life sized knitted garden, featuring some 10,000 individual items knitted by people of all ages. The exhibition offered so many possibilities for people to chat to their babies about what they could see. The knitted picnic included plates knitted from plastic bags, which – alongside the wooly fruit, cakes and sandwiches – offered a variety of textures for the babies to experience. After a short, informal tour of the exhibition, we made our way into the main gallery for parachute games and songs, all themed around colours. The babies delighted in the coloured fabric billowing overhead as the adults enthusiastically joined in with the singing and games of peek-a-boo.
Next, it was time to explore the sensory play space, which was surrounded by Tintoretto’s 16th century oil painting ‘Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet’; William Irving’s 1903 painting ‘The Blaydon Races’; and Gormley’s maquette of the Angel of the North. Animated by lively Brazilian music and gently pulsating projected patterns, the gallery was a burst of colour. Dens, tunnels, coloured lights, textured fabrics, mobiles, ball pools, wooden toys, mirrors were just some of the items carefully curated to invite exploration and open-ended play. The babies investigated the contents of treasure baskets; mixed colours on the light boxes; and explored the percussive qualities of rain sticks made from cardboard tubes. Parents explored with them, socialised, and made rainbow coloured toys using ribbons, bells and curtain rings. One of the most exciting things was seeing the variety of ways in which adults and babies interacted with the environment, and the gusto with which the adults approached making a sensory toy to take home. These insights will certainly inform the play spaces we design for future sessions, and we’re already excited for the second session, which will be themed around Naomi Alexander’s exhibition ‘Domesticity’.
My future blog posts will further explore ‘Creative Baby!’ which has proven so popular I’m getting enquiries about whether babies who are not yet born can book a place! In the meantime, check out these photos and a two-minute video of the first session of ‘Creative Baby!’