Adapting Art at the Start

26 May 2020

Art at the Start is a collaborative PhD between our Learning team and the University of Dundee's Psychology department that asks the question of 'what happens when we make art together?'. The research, carried out by Art Psychotherapist Vicky Armstrong, includes messy play sessions at DCA and art therapy in the community, but when lockdown came into effect these could no longer go ahead. We caught up with Vicky to find out how Art at the Start has adapted to the current circumstances...

Hi Vicky, can you explain a bit more about Art at the Start?

Art at the Start is a collaboration between DCA and the Psychology department at University of Dundee. We are exploring art making with the very youngest children and the benefits of shared art making for little ones together with their primary caregivers. We have been looking at the impact of public participative arts, like the messy play sessions run at DCA, and also at the changes we can make through art therapy sessions that offer more support for parents and little ones who might be struggling or have low wellbeing. We think both kinds of art making can help little ones' development of their sense of self, and can improve their relationship to their caregiver through the feeling of positive connection during creative play.

"We have been posting regular art and sensory play ideas on our website"


How have you adapted the project under lockdown?

We have been posting regular art and sensory play ideas on our website and social media to give all families some ideas. This has involved my children acting as guinea pigs and doing lots of art at home so we can get photos of all the activities for families to follow along. I don’t think they mind though! We have even roped in a few friends with smaller babies to try things and send us pictures. We are focusing on things which are easy to do at home with limited resources and that will encourage creative exploration and positive time together.

We were due to be running several new blocks of art therapy sessions at DCA and in the community but obviously these all had to be cancelled. In order to support those parents and give them fun activities to do with their wee ones at home we diverted some funding into providing home art boxes for all the parents we were due to work with. These packs include lots of baby friendly art materials and a booklet of ideas for activities to try together.

We are really hoping to expand the home art boxes to include more families as we have had really positive feedback about them. We know lots of families might find it difficult to get hold of art materials at this time and might be looking for some more help with ideas to try at home. Art can be such a useful way to relax in a stressful situation like this and to focus on doing something creative and playful as a family.

"Art can be such a useful way to relax in a stressful situation like this..."


What are some of the benefits of making art?

We have found that making art together is beneficial for both wee ones and parents. It is a lovely way to feel connected to each other and it gives a focus for lots of shared looking and shared goals which we know are good for helping infants feel attuned to their primary carers. This shared experience is good for infants’ attachments and wellbeing but has also been shown to improve the parents’ feelings of wellbeing. In terms of brain development, art making allows little ones to have lots of new sensory experiences with different textures and colours, it lets them practice new motor skills, and also lets them see that they are able to make change in the world as they make marks and colours. This builds their sense of agency and their sense of self.

You've been delivering boxes of art supplies to families in Dundee, continuing your work with Home-Start. What impact have these had?

Home-Start are a charity that we have been working with since before lockdown began. We were half way through running a block of art therapy sessions with their parents group when we were forced to end. I started trying to respond by sending activities each week but I was really aware that the parents might not have any materials at home.

"Home-Start families got the first batch of the home art boxes, put together on my lawn and then delivered by their lovely worker Estelle."

This was where the idea for all the art boxes came from. Home-Start families got the first batch of the home art boxes, put together on my lawn and then delivered by their lovely worker Estelle. It has been so nice to hear back from Estelle that they are using the boxes in a weekly online session together and to see photos of the little ones making art. I think it has offered them a positive experience during a really difficult time and it is lovely to be able to see how it continues.


What feedback have you received about the work you've been doing during lockdown?

We included feedback cards in the art boxes so we are just starting to get these back in from families now. Parents have said their children have really enjoyed the boxes and that they think it has helped their bonding. One mum said that it came at just the right time when she needed a boost which was lovely to hear. We have also had feedback from the health visitors and family nurses to say that they value the idea. One nurse said the family she worked with were using the art box every day together and it was helping them cope during lockdown.

What creative activities would you recommend parents of wee ones try at home?

I would recommend that parents try anything that they feel comfortable with and remember that nothing has to be perfect or turn out a certain way because little ones are much more interested in the process. If you are able to provide some materials as a prompt and then see where your wee one goes with it you will both have more fun. You also don’t want to be worrying about mess so either go into the garden or cover everything in plastic or newspaper and wear old clothes or just a nappy for babies. It’s much easier to pop a baby in the bath afterwards than to wash clothes! I think paint is the easiest place to start with wee ones as the results are impactful straight away and there is no need for holding fiddly crayons. If you don’t have paint at home you can find some recipes for homemade paint on our website - this is nice as there are no worries if wee ones eat it. And you can paint onto anything you have, some recycling would be perfect.

For small babies I would suggest trying out paints by letting them lie on their tummies on paper with a few blobs of paint and letting them feel it and start to smear it about. As they get bigger they might want to prop up sitting on your legs so they can use their hands and feet, or maybe use a high chair with a tray table. As they get bigger still you might add in a brush or other mark making tool, like a cardboard tube or a feather. You can make nice tools for printing with paint by cutting and folding the ends of cardboard tubes to make a flower pattern or using some bubble wrap or a piece of corrugated cardboard.

You can find recipes and ideas on our website here or by following us on Twitter or Facebook where we post regular suggestions and activities.

The most important thing is that the experience is enjoyable for you both so just relax and have fun together. And get a little messy!

Thanks Vicky! We hope seeing how Art at the Start has adapted has inspired you to try some messy, creative play at home. Take a look at the Art at the Start website here for more information and lots of great activities. You can also check out our Monday Makes and Activity Sheets if you're after some creative makes for older children. 

Close comments
  • There are no comments so far…