Infant Imaginings was Helium’s central early years project from 2009-2011, a performing arts project bringing creative play to toddlers 0-3 and their carers in local health centres. The project aimed to promote relaxation, communication and learning between babies, toddlers and their parents through music, performance, puppetry and the visual arts. Two performing artists (a puppeteer and musician) visited health centres to engage creatively with participants and staff. An important goal of the project was to develop artistic work of a high standard which would inspire parents to replicate some of the creative experiences at home.
The project was piloted in 2008 as a research and development project. Helene Hugel, in collaboration with musician Jonathan Wilson, facilitated exploratory sessions in a variety of health care contexts over a 4-month period in partnership with Tallaght Community Arts and the National Centre for Arts and Health, Tallaght Hospital. Tim Webb of Oily Cart, UK, acted as project mentor. The project aimed to assist a socially disadvantaged community’s positive relationship with its local health centre and primary care team while promoting parent’s/carer’s understanding of infant/toddler wellbeing. Staff reported that the project had a calming and relaxing effect on parents, babies, and staff and an early years specialist observed that the art intervention provided a positive role model for parents.The outcome of the work was an interactive, intimate, work-in-progress performance for a very small audience.
“I think this is a brilliant idea. My daughter really enjoyed it and it totally took her mind off going to see the nurse!” – Mother of toddler 22 months
“Gave me great ideas to play at home with my little boy.” – Mother of baby 3 months
The second phase of Infant Imaginings (2010-2011) with Helene Hugel and musician Sean Callagy took place in partnership with the HSE Early Intervention Teams in Sligo and Leitrim. The emphasis in the second phase was on providing creative play experiences for toddlers with developmental delays or toddlers at risk of developmental delay and also on building on-going relationships between the artists, the families, and staff involved. Helene and Sean played with fabric, feathers, paper, and other everyday materials to explore how music and rhyme could be brought to life through creative play. The artists left behind a kit of props, puppets and Sean’s acoustic CD of nursery rhymes so that parents could reproduce the arts experiences in the home environment.
‘We would have toddlers here of different abilities, skills and needs and [the artists] are very intuitive and can tap into what the children’s needs are… They have different ways, different ideas and different creative skills that we might not necessarily have as therapists and clinicians and the balance is very very good. It just gives a more holistic approach to these children.’ – Early Intervention Team Manager, HSE Early Intervention Services Sligo and Leitrim, 2011
“Very impressed with the way music has been brought to life through play. The children loved every minute of it and were encouraged to explore the different instruments” (Parent)
Infant Imaginings was a finalist in the 2011 Biomnis Healthcare Innovation Awards, in the Health and Social Care Support Initiative category.