• Claire Atherton

Space & Time to Play

The drive to play freely is a basic, biological drive. Lack of free play may not kill the physical body, as would lack of food, air or water, but it kills the spirit and stunts mental growth…nothing that we do, no amount of toys we buy or ‘quality time’ or special training we give our children, can compensate for the freedom we take away. The things that children learn through their own initiatives, in free play, cannot be taught in other ways.” - Peter Gray, Free to Learn

Towards the end of 2021 I was delighted to be chosen, to take part in an Artists residency with Magic Acorns. The residency entitled 'Germination' was an experimental model for professional development for early childhood educators, emerging artists and musicians to allow them to develop their musical play practice with young children.

Through playful workshops, work based experiences and with the support of a mentor, the mission was to sow the seeds that could grow into a community of musical play. Funded by Youth Music, 13 artists, musicians, dancers, performers and early childhood educators came together to participate in play days, visits to nurseries and Baby SoundGarden sessions.

Notes from the 1st Play Day

The play days were all about tapping into our own sense of playfulness, connecting with others through play and exploring feelings of uncertainty and awkwardness that are often present when we enter improvisational modes. In-between the play days, we visited nursery settings & family music groups to experiment with offering musical play opportunities in different contexts and developing ideas for how we would structure our own opportunities. Paired with another mentee and a mentor, we then devised our own play dates and took these into the nursery setting.


Notes From Mentor Session

Coming from a background of visual arts, I was keen to incorporate this into my session and so undertook an experiment in using the sounds that come from mark making and allowed this to develop into a game, entirely led by the children that took part.

Mark making from the first nursery session

The first session didn’t go according to plan and the game didn’t progress much beyond a few minutes. Through discussions afterwards with my mentee partner we quickly realised that the children were unable to hear the sounds they were creating with the mark making, as we were on the outside play space, where the subtle nuances of the chalk on paper were harder to distinguish.

Expressive marks made by the children in the nursery

Armed with this realisation, we entered the nursery for our second session, moved the mark making indoors and the game lasted a lot longer and had more participants. The children could clearly hear the sounds produced when the chalk was being moved across the paper and the enjoyment of the game was palpable, with one child using his entire body, throwing his hands across the table and making the biggest gesture he could!! Such delight at producing sound and a visible mark, was evident on this little boys face. Overall the residency taught me so many things, the cross disciplinary nature of sound and music when thinking about a visual arts practice, the benefits to young children of musical play, the learning that comes from experimental play for both children and adults and (In my opinion) the most important thing, which is the joy & delight in allowing ourselves to play, whatever our age!! If you would like to discuss my residency further, then please contact me here. To read more about the residency, including other artists experiences of partaking in Germination, click here.


(This blog has also been published on my website https://www.claireatherton.co.uk/post/space-time-to-play)

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