DNA at Babies in Museums Conference

DNA were recently asked to deliver a session at an event called ‘Babies in Museums’, arranged by the organisation ‘Kids in Museums’ at Manchester Art Gallery.

We were thrilled to be asked, and our Cloud Child Assistant Director Shakera went along to offer an insight into our practice, as part of this event.

What a fab day! We had talks from professors conducting research into Early Years Development, discussions from galleries and museums at the forefront of family-friendly practice, and even free lunch (yum yum)!

On a more serious note, it was a little nerve-wracking standing in front of a packed lecture hall talking about DNA’s artistic approach. But as soon as I started I had plenty to discuss with prompts from images of Baby Stages, pictures of the Cloud Child sessions we held at the Lowry in January 2012, and other photos from our Imaginary Leaps work.

Enjoyable though the talks were, I must admit, my favourite moment was getting to share a sensory experience with a table of participants interested in DNA’s approach. I had a slightly over-subscribed first session but we still managed to speed through the elements of the Cloud Child show as people sat on Cloud Cushions, felt the white silk material floated above the audience in the show, smelled the essential oils dropped into water. I even had time to share the concept of a nest, using an example from the runaway pancake with flour, and floated a cloud cloth above everyone for them to feel the wind and see clouds above their heads.

The two discussion sessions felt quite intimate (even with big numbers!) which was important for communicating the emotionally engaged, calm nature of child led play – that whatever the child focuses on the parents and carers of the room follow and, in this way, encourage development of confidence and curiosity. I found this challenging to explain in the lecture hall but very easy to give examples of in the smaller discussions. Especially when some of us had just witnessed a baby-play session in the room next door, and had noticed three babies all making a break for the outside of the ‘play space’ at the same time! I referred to this and to how an Imaginary Leaps session would encourage babies to explore outside of the nest, but only when they are ready!

One gentleman asked me what DNA would do at his Steam Train museum and (resisting the temptation to begin consulting) I facilitated a group discussion whereby lots of people came up with suggestion; from the cotton wool on the table replicating the steam from the train, to using hoops on the ground to echo the shape of the wheels and making a slipstream kind of wind. This opened the floor for many more questions specific to venues’ resources and materials. I reminded everyone of the importance of simplicity, of making the nest first and following the babies’ points of focus and concentration. I asked if everyone had a space they might be able to hold a small session in, we had all hands up… and so I hope to see some creative baby-led play happening in those spaces!

The second session was much smaller which was a nice opportunity to respond to the needs of those who attended. It felt like a more intimate session with more discussion and it felt very creative actually. Rather than just call and response discussion, we played. We made clouds out of the cotton balls and dropped ‘cloud memories’ across the table as we went; the participants shared their experiences and even ideas. We even played in some flour and made a kind of grown up ‘nest’.

Towards the end of the event I heard lots of feedback on how our ideas were very interesting and inspiring for museums and galleries hoping to engage in a more child-led approach. If I’m honest I felt kind of special being the only one there representing an arts company as opposed to a museum/gallery/venue. Although I had less scientific and statistical basis to my discussion, I did have heart, an understanding of the Imaginary Leaps approach and knowledge that DNA’s child-led approach really works.

It really boosted my confidence and I had fun, learned lots and worked hard!’

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