We have been working with Appletree Children’s Centre for the last few weeks with a small group of parents with children between 4 and 12 month olds.
“We have had two aims in our work with this group – to see what sort of performance techniques very young children would respond to, and to find out how the performing arts can connect with babies at different stages of their physical, mental and emotional development. The difference between a child of 4 and 12 months is incredible and the rate of growth and change in this age group cannot be underestimated.
Working with small babies of 4 months or so involves taking into account good hearing, particularly higher notes, but eyes still struggling to focus on things beyond a foot away. The eyes will lock onto faces, and certain types of movement, but small babies will suddenly internalise their attention at any moment. The benefits of music and singing is well documented. Even small babies enjoy the ‘Pee Po’ of hiding and revealing the face combined with sound. Similar things can be done with the performer’s body.
Once babies can start holding themselves up and physically developing in preparation for crawling, the focal lengths of their eyes increases and they will take much more interest in things further away. They also reach for, grab, and mouth things as part of the start of the curious urge. Large simple shapes and colurful pieces of cloth work well. Copying the movements they are discovering affirms their pleasure at exploring their own physical capabilities. At this age they can cope with shocking surprises as long as they are immediately reassured and this can kick off the urge to laugh. It is the most enchanting thing in the world to hear a baby’s laughing delight.
Towards 12 months, once crawling is well established and they are curious to explore, We’ve noticed that we can introduce animated toys and objects into play if they are copying the children’s pre-verbal speaking sounds. Nonsense that has all the intonations of speech. Picking up, copying and affirming any attempts at words really works well. The parents are keen to tell you which words they have begun to recognise and use, and these can be incorporated into the nonsensical speech. As a performer, even speaking nonsensical sounds through a proto-puppet, we are translating an actual (imagined) conversation we are having with the small child based on best guesses of what they might be saying.”