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Reflections from the Small Steps Big Noise; Creativity in the Early Years Conference

Written by Julia Roderick, Programme Manager, Sound Connections

On Thursday 15 March I attended Take Art’s conference at the Brewhouse Taunton, “Small Steps, Big Noise”,  a one-day conference showcasing creativity in practice for 0-5s across the South west. On arrival the place was abuzz with activity and the queue almost out the door.

The day began with a dynamic introduction from Matt Griffiths, Youth Music CEO, inspiring us all to unite in our goal to advocate for the arts in early childhood and step up to influence decision makers. Matt also highlighted the various Youth Music grants available at Youth Music and encouraged the room to explore possibilities.

Following Matt’s rousing welcome, we heard from Dr Susan Young, early years consultant, recently retired senior lecturer from Exeter University and now honorary research fellow with Roehampton University. Quoting Ken Robinson, Susan warned:

“We are educating people out of their creative capacities….I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.”

Dr Young introduced us to the concept of innate creativity in early childhood and, in this age of measurement, spoke of children being reduced to numbers and statistics.

“We lose what matters most – the messy, complicated, hurly burly of empathetic, emotional, imaginative work with live children.” Ken Robinson

As adults, we must scaffold and support children’s imagination and play and co-create together, and yet this is the greatest challenge. Adults require an understanding of the role and how to connect with children’s imagination.

“Children aren’t imaginative from nothing – they are imaginative with something, with ideas – it needs to ‘go somewhere’, with guides, with adults.” Dr Susan Young

An understanding of imaginative thinking of children is vital, and Dr Young took us through four “imaginative thinking tools” that allow us as adults, to understand child’s learning styles:

Synaesthesia and Cross modality – children think across imagery, sound, language, shape and pattern.

Humour – children love humour, surprise and the ridiculous. It ties our relationships together.

“Humour is a serious business . . . schools need to be full of laughter instead of standard assessment tests.” Michael Rosen

Emotions – children are exploring their hopes, fears, feelings of joy and excitement. They need to be challenged and stretched beyond happy and sad to experience tender, chaotic and real emotion.

Rhythm, pattern and structure – children thrive through patterns, music being particularly vital here.

The overwhelming message from this keynote was that as complex, abstract and emotional beings, our task as educators is to move, dance, sing, see and create. The arts are an extraordinarily powerful medium, and we must be open minded to the possibilities.

After a cup of tea, we broke out into our workshops. I participated in a wonderful interactive workshop with Tangled Feet, a theatre ensemble that creates original performance pieces, including targeted work for early years; and a lego based reflective practice session with Ali Harmer.

The final presentation was by Rhona Matheson, Chief Executive of Starcatchers, Scotland’s National Arts and Early Years organisation; specialising in creating performances and exploring creative activity for babies, toddlers and young children aged 0-5 and the adults who care for them. Leading us through the journey of the organisation and their three strands of work; Professional Development; Community Engagement and Commissioning and Producing; it was inspiring to hear about the ambition around the work and evidence of incredibly high quality practice.

Thank you to everyone that made Small Steps Big Noise such a positive and uplifting event. I met with a really broad range of people from all backgrounds and came away renewed in my commitments to music in early years.


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