Mini Moles at Museum of London

Guest post by Cassandra Travares, Early Years Programme Coordinator, Museum of London

At the Museum of London, we have developed a strong Early Years programme over the past few years. Each week we run high quality sessions for babies and toddlers across both museum sites and we have a different focus activity for each of our sessions which explore the different ways of learning. To do this, we alternate between gallery visits, craft activities, messy play, musical sessions and classroom explorations to keep these sessions fresh, exciting and innovative for our youngest visitors and their carers.

Chocolate Sensory Session Brenda Coyle 2013 (2)

Developing these sessions can be extremely challenging, especially when working with babies. Brenda, our energetic session leader, constantly thinks of new and exciting ways to engage babies and their carers. While she uses some of the same elements to encourage the babies learning through repetition, the sessions are kept fresh by incorporating different resources and focus activities. Each week, Brenda proves that this can be done both well and inexpensively as she transforms any number of ordinary items into sensory resources for babies. Sponges, tin foil, torches, scraps of fabric and even hair curlers have become exciting new objects which fully engage the babies.

As one parent said while attending our sessions ‘it makes you interested in doing something new, finding something that you can pull out in your kitchen and make a game with.’

Our Messy Moles session is one of the most anticipated activities of the month. As the name says, these are extremely messy sessions where the babies are encouraged to explore the different textures, colours, smells and even the taste of our messy resources.

As most babies like to explore new things with their mouths, it is crucial that our messy play is done using non-toxic materials so the best way to do this is to use food. Corn flour, jelly, pasta, oats and chocolate have all been transformed from foods to learning tools in this session. Often learning means that the babies fully immerse themselves in our messy materials; it is not unusual to see babies just in their nappies covered from head to toe in flour or jam at these sessions.

Mol messy

Besides being a fun activity, messy play is also an important element in early years learning. It helps children to develop hand-eye coordination as well as gross and fine motor skills. Crucially, they are also taking important steps in understanding the world around them as they explore the different smells, sensations and textures of the resources we use.

While the babies are learning the adults are learning new skills as well. One of our adults attending a babies’ session told us that attending the sessions is ‘teaching me how to interact with him’-and this is exactly the result we want.

MoL parents

It is important that all of our visitors have a memorable and high quality experience when visiting the Museum of London. By offering these sessions, our Early Years programme is helping the museum be an inclusive institution which caters for the learning needs of all of our visitors.

*These sessions are run at the Museum of London by artist Brenda Coyle. For more information on the sessions or to hear more about our programmes for under 5s, contact me, Cassandra Tavares on

Baby Boo Springtime!

Hello, we thought you might like to hear an update on what we’ve been up to at Horse and Bamboo in Waterfoot this week. For the last few days we transformed The Boo into a world of spring time for babies and their carers.

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We divided the theatre into three spaces. The first was all about spring, colour, fruits and sunshine. We lined baskets with moss that babies could touch with their hands and feet or climb in to with their whole bodies. We filled the baskets with oranges, lemons and limes, these were great for rolling.
We also had slices of oranges and limes to try. There were some great sour faces from some of the babies but others loved the limes and came back for more!


One basket was made into a nest with little shaky eggs and glow eggs inside. Other baskets were filled with daffodils, mint, lavender, rosemary and sage creating a lovely aroma in the space.

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We wanted to make this space as colourful as possible so we set up an over head projector and lots of coloured gells for babies to play with. We worked with Sue Auty from Whalley Range All Stars to create inflatable nests and roots that uncurled as they filled with air. We projected time lapse films of flowers growing and blooming along with lambs, birds and other spring things. The films were accompanied by bird song and interesting sounds, we even had Vivaldi’s Spring to accompany the babies as they explored.

To get them ready for the next space we had water spray bottles so we could water the babies like flowers with puffs of startling mists. There was lots of ‘again!’ from the older ones and some very surprised faces from the littlies.

The second space was all about water. We had sounds and projections of rain, rivers and slow motion splashing. We had a big paddling pool with lots of things to scoop and pour with; tea pots, sponges, funnels, bowls and shower heads. We had three little fountains and metal bowls filled with ice cubes and ice globes and lots of bubbles in all shapes and sizes. We also had a lot of towels and squidgy cloths to dry all the babies!

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Finally we went through to our last space; here we only had one thing: Clay. We had flat platforms of clay on the outside and one big mound of squidgy wet clay that became known as ‘Squidge Island.’ The sounds for this space included lots of squelching, gurgling and bit fat bubble sounds. There was lots of pressing hands and fingers into the clay and making big lump shapes. Those that were walking had a great time feeling the clay beneath their feet, and some smaller ones had a great time trying to eat it. We had lots of buckets of soapy water and sponges which became the ‘baby car wash’ with a bit of Rose Royce thrown in to the mix.

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We’ve had lots of fun experimenting with the whole thing, from deciding what to put into the space to changing things on the day to see which way around the spaces worked best. It’s been wonderful seeing how the babies interacted with all the different things and how the parents got stuck in. Our next plan is to try something new for Horse and Bamboo’s Puppet Festival at the end of May. It looks like a Baby Yurt may be on the horizon…

CBeebies joins Whitworth Music Baby!

CBeebies presenter Alex Winters and his team joined us at this week’s Music Baby. The team filmed in the first 2 sessions capturing our fantastic parents and babies playing and exploring the musical environments that we created. The footage of parents and children making music will form part of a new, interactive guide for parents on CBeebies Grown-ups that explores music and why it’s great for early year’s children. The resource will be available on the Cbeebies Grown-ups website in the summer, so watch this space!

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This week we also had a special appearance from a bassoon! Played by one of our brilliant Royal Northern College of Music student volunteers.

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We had a great time. I think William enjoyed the space to perfect his commando crawl as much as the musical instruments

Brill time!

Glow sticks and psychedelic lights… it must be Disco Baby!

From Handel’s Water Music to a taste of Saturday Night Fever, this week’s Music Baby was Disco! The blinds were closed, the lights were dimmed and an immersive magical environment was created with the help of disco balls, spot lights, fairy lights and wall projections.

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The grand piano took centre stage and babies and their parents/ carers were treated to performances by music students from Royal Northern College of Music as well as getting to have a tinkle on the old ivories themselves.

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The light projections on the walls were the highlight and went down particularly well with very young babies.

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We loved the session this week, it felt totally different to normal and my baby loved all the lights.

We have a projector so i want to try to set up the wall lighting to music back at home.

Great session this week, thank you!

This was our first time and we loved it will definitely be coming back!

Baby Play at Rusholme Sure Start Children’s Centre

While the Whitworth Art Gallery has been closed for redevelopment the Learning and Engagement Team, as well as continuing our engagement work in weird and wonderful settings around Manchester, have each taken on a different work placement. The period of closure presented us with a great opportunity to get out there and really embed ourselves within our local communities to build strong, meaningful and lasting relationships with different organisations and individuals.

As Early Years Coordinator I chose to do my placement at Rusholme Sure Start Children’s Centre. This centre is right in the heart of Rusholme and right on Whitworth’s doorstep so it made perfect sense to want to work with them.

I’ve been working with Faheema (Centre Manager) Grace and Caroline (Outreach Workers) over the last year or so to help them set up their own Stay and Play sessions specifically for non walking babies. Back in the summer Grace and Caroline visited Art Baby to start to gather ideas about how their sessions might work. I shared everything I’d learnt along the way when setting up our own baby sessions and gave them as much advice as possible about what types of sensory resources and objects work well with babies and where to source them from.

In September 2013 Rusholme’s Baby Play was born! Grace and Caroline have done a great job. Each Wednesday the space is transformed into an immersive sensory environment. The lights are dimmed and the room is illuminated with an array of fairy lights and projected lights on the ceiling. There’s a soft cosy black and white area for parents and babies to relax in, treasure baskets full of natural objects encouraging heuristic play, coloured ribbons, sand, water, den spaces and lots lots more for babies and their parents/ carers to explore. And each week there’s a health visitor on hand to answer any questions or worries that parents might have.

I love going along to these Wednesday sessions and meeting new parents and their babies from the Rusholme community. Last week we had our youngest visitor yet at just 4 weeks old! Having this unique opportunity has really enabled a strong relationship to build up with the team at Rusholme which I know will continue and thrive once the Whitworth reopens it doors and way into the future.

Baby Play is for babies who have not yet found their feet and runs every Wednesday from 1-3pm at Rusholme Sure Start Children’s Centre. For more information contact or call 0161 227 3171.

Water Baby

This week’s Music Baby was inspired by an upcoming concert at The Bridgewater Hall of Handel’s Water Music.

A water theme with oodles of blue and silver fabrics, shells, pebbles, shiny objects, umbrellas and even real water to splash about in!

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This week, as well as having Nancy to serenade us with her harp, we had a student from Royal Northern College of Music joining us with her trumpet. The first time we’ve introduced a brass instrument to the babies and it was amazing to watch their faces as they experienced the sound for the first time.

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The Whitworth Art Gallery and The Bridgewater Hall are currently running a training initiative in partnership with Royal Northern College of Music. Students from RNCM will be working alongside our current music practitioners to gain experience of working with babies and their parents/carers, practising their improvisation and learning new techniques of how to interact with and respond to this new audience. Over the next year approximately 20 students, from pianists to singers, cellists to trumpeters will take part in this training programme to eventually become a part of the Music Baby team.

baby I’m back

Naomi Kendrick reflects on returning to Manchester Art Gallery as Baby Art Club artist in residence after the birth of her son Jackson.

 February’s Baby Art Club was my first in a year as I have been on maternity leave looking after my son, Jackson. Me and Jackson have been regular BAC participants, so I’ve been able to see the fantastic job Kevin had been doing in my absence. It’s great to be back and I really enjoyed planning and building my installation ‘invasion of the soft’ in response to the work of Joana Vasconcelos, although I did feel very nervous after such a long break.

 A few people have asked me if having a baby has changed how I approach baby art club, if it gives me an advantage in some way? The answer is yes and no. In terms of the installation I create, not much has changed, I respond to ideas that arise from a work or several works in the gallery in the same way as before, my language has always been multisensory and this works for the babies. That’s why I was asked to do BAC, not for my baby knowledge, but rather a sort of matchmaking of my practice with an alternative audience who would gain a lot from it.

 There are problems that need solving that are not about the audience. For example with this exhibition the challenge was not to fly too close to the original work. The explosion of textures over organic form that appealed to me in Vasconcelos’ work inspired me to make something else not to replicate it. However appealing an exact copy of one of Vasconcelos’s works would be for the babies, my role is to interpret and make anew.

 There were details that Jackson did help me with. When making final material selections I watched him interact with what I had chosen and he made it really clear what was strong and what didn’t keep his attention for long. Though as I have discovered every baby is different so I wouldn’t continue to have Jackson ‘consult’ on the work. Plus at 10 months he is still a bit young to start a career in the arts!

 One way having Jackson has changed BAC for me is my relationship to the parents who come. I now know how overwhelming a situation can be when you are totally sleep deprived and are out of your home in charge of your baby. Life is unpredictable, and getting into town can be a real mission. A warm welcome, knowing what is going to happen next and where facilities are is really important. Equally, if not more important is that the parents are treated respectfully, I am not the only person to be referred to simply as ‘mum’ by a doctor who hasn’t taken the time to read my name.

 This is their opportunity to engage with art too with their babies not just for their babies and to have something for themselves at a time when that rarely happens. This is why I was especially keen when parents looked at Vasconcelos’ work, for them to tell their babies and me what they thought.