Being and Belonging

What it is that the artist brings that is unique to the early years setting; What is the difference between art and play; and what added value does the arts bring to a child's development and learning experiences?

These are just some of the questions that were investigated during a cross border project that took place in late 2012 and was funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund. It was devised and delivered by Kids' Own, in partnership with Early Childhood Ireland and Early Years, the Organisation for Young Children, Northern Ireland.

The broad aim of the project was to "develop a north-south inter-agency framework that supports and celebrates creativity, diversity, inclusion and family learning and to build a network that supports a culture of mutual respect and understanding within the home and wider community."


Working with parent and toddler groups on both sides of the border, our intention was to engage parents in the creative process alongside their children and to really impact on family and community approaches in this way, by creating a synergy between artist, child and parent.

Four artists worked with four parent & toddler groups over a 7-week period and the emphasis was on exploration and creative play. As a pilot there were no predefined outcomes, and artists kept a blog of their work over the course of the project on - Ireland's online network of artists working with children and young people.

An important aspect of this project was a piece of independent research that was conducted retrospectively by Researcher Âine McKenna, which sought to draw out a number of key questions from the project. Among the areas that Âine explored was the consideration of how the varying approaches of the artists involved impacted on (a) parents' deep learning in terms of directive & non-directive approaches; and (b) long-term community approaches.

Within the research report, Âine McKenna states:

"The Being and Belonging model of arts practice suggests that the natures of the human interaction dynamics during the arts workshops are the key mediators of a quality arts experience, although enticing stimulating materials are also important! In other words, the nature of the human engagement during the creative processes may facilitate or impede the development of an individual's creative expression."

"The ability to freely and honestly express the self is dynamically connected to an individual's ability to appreciate and respect the expression of others (CECDE, 2006). This stance identifies the quality of human engagement during creative processes as the key mediator for developing a sense of love for the self-identity and for the identity of the other. The model for optimum engagement that is currently being proposed by the NCCA (2009) is known as the 'pedagogy of mutuality' (Bruner, 1999)."

"Artists are perfectly placed in communities to facilitate the shift towards this 'pedagogy of mutuality' both within families and learning communities. They also understand how 'aesthetic vibration' which encompasses sensory perception, pleasure and the power to seduce can become an 'activator of learning'. Artists who listen to children, intuitively understand how to design environments that entice children to engage with them."

"This approach nurtures children's creative expression, children's sense of agency, as well as their sense of empathy, which is characterised by the ability to imagine the perspective of another. Artists who work in the Early Years utilise 'aesthetic vibration' to facilitate visual investigations using process based approaches that utilise, intersubjectivity, collaboration and a co-construction of meaning during the learning journeys."

"The pedagogy of mutuality encompasses a child-led process where the adult aims to capture the perspective of the child through careful observations of what they do, as well as engagement in meaningful dialogues in order to understand 'the mind of the child'. Based on an understanding of the child's perspective and on the child's interests the adult then collaborates sensitively and respectfully with the child in their learning processes, scaffolding where necessary, always being mindful to nurture the child's sense of agency."

Kids' Own was delighted to receive funding that enabled us to conduct this preliminary research and to publish it, in order that it might be disseminated with artists and other practitioners working in the Arts and/or ECCE sectors. Before the learning can fully be drawn out, we need to further probe and identify and understand the kinds of approaches that artists are using within early years settings.


In documenting and sharing this project, we want to stimulate others to ask questions of themselves and to not only explore but understand the potential and impact of our work within early years settings in order to really shape positive experiences for all involved.

Kids' Own have published a new book for the sector from this project "Opening the Door" to get your copy contact

Orla Kenny is the director at Kids' Own and can be contacted here: