Making our work, work for tinies

And that’s how the Imaginarium came about.

A couple of years ago, whilst sitting in the theatre with my then 1 and 3 year old, both struggling to sit still for the 45 minutes of live theatre I’d been excited to share with them, I was reminded of something all parents and carers know: children are not designed to sit still.  As I resorted to begging and bribery, desperate to get them to appreciate the performances taking place before them, I wondered if there was, perhaps, a different way to do things.

I’ve been a dancer and choreographer my entire adult life. I’ve made work in and for Cornwall, I’ve toured the globe, Cscape is a company of which I am immensely proud, but nothing I’ve ever done – however brilliant the performers may be – could engage my under 5’s for more than a few moments. And I want to engage them, I want them to appreciate all the beauty, magic and play that can be found in dance, theatre and story-telling. I want them to develop a life long relationship with creativity and, more specifically, live theatre. Our children deserve work made for them. They deserve work that is tailored to their lively, distracted imaginations, they need to move, grab something, eat, make a noise, run around.

As a practitioner I have run dance sessions for toddlers since about 2011, and these regular sessions, called Toddler Tango, have really fuelled and inspired my practice as an artist for many years.  Pre-schoolers are wonderful to work with, and it is both a joy and a privilege to introduce dance and theatre to them as a facilitator, often for the first time.  These sessions are about imagination, play and connection with their adult and this has really informed the development of the Imaginarium.

One of our first human instincts is movement. It starts as one of our primary forms of connection with the world around us – even within the womb.  Before we speak and communicate verbally and non-verbally we explore the world through moving our bodies.  We sense space physically through touch and then begin to navigate our way around that space using our bodies.  Often babies begin to dance and move to a musical beat long before they can speak or sing or walk.   Their bodies communicate movement and rhythm. It is instinctual (I will never forget the moment my first child began to bop up and down and laugh his head off to Katrina and The Waves “Walking on Sunshine’ at 10 months old … a song which we have actually woven into our debut Imaginarium show, TREE for this very reason!). Therefore, for me as a choreographer, early years art practitioner, and as a mum, it feels completely instinctive that Imaginarium will be a space and opportunity for children to dance and play with us. To move with us and around us, and to encourage them to move with their grown up.

So, this new project for Cscape, is a 3-year commitment to create and present a series of interactive, live theatre experiences to introduce very young children (and their grown-ups!) to the magic of theatre in an ‘up close’, tactile, playful and age appropriate way.  Part workshop, part performance – and like all Imaginarium performances, made specifically for babies, toddlers & under 5s – our first show will be TREE, a best-selling picture book by Britta Teckentrupp; a jumping off point to explore the Seasons, performed by experienced dance professionals, touring venues and locations in Cornwall and beyond during 2019 and 2020. It is the start of something new and exciting for Cscape, intimate in scale and audience capacity, the Imaginarium starts out touring in Summer/Autumn 2019, with the ambition for a physical space of its own in time.

We have plans for future shows and very much hope that our new audience will grow with us, perhaps in time, having fostered a love for live performance, joining us at one of our older, Cscape performances.

For more reading on the importance of creativity for the under 5’s, please find some of the research evidenced below. To book a ticket for your Under 5 and grown up (sorry, no adults without kids allowed), please click here:

RESEARCH to evidence the impact of engagement within the arts at Early Years stage from the following website:

  • High quality arts or cultural experiences in early childhood can help children develop subsequent abilities in the arts which will be useful right through life. [1] [2] [3]
  • Early years arts and cultural activities can help children make sense of their cognitive, physical, emotional, spiritual, linguistic, and moral development by enhancing the whole curriculum. [4] [5] [6]
  • Early childhood arts and cultural activities can significantly strengthen parent-child bonds and engage families in their children’s learning, providing a positive focus for shared experience and communication. [7]
  • Stimulating and compelling experiences at museums, galleries, theatres, libraries, dance, arts or music venues will offer many parents the ideas, confidence and resources to play with their children as a natural part of everyday life. [8]
  • Early years arts and cultural activities can help develop intrinsic human qualities, such as creativity, expression, identity, culture and imagination. As well as helping to preserve our cultural heritage, they enable young children to develop their own languages which help shape their individual, community and global identity. [9] [10]
  • Early years arts experiences can impact positively on confidence, self-esteem, personal, social, emotional development and behavioural health, breaking down language barriers, cultural prejudices or societal differences, and leading to decreased social problems, reduced inequality and increased creativity. [11] [12] [13]
  • Collaborations that encompass the perspective of arts or cultural professionals, early years professionals, children and parents can bring a vibrancy to learning that results in a much deeper understanding of, and attention to, a child’s needs and interests. This leads to sustainable progression, raising standards of achievement, and a sense of fulfillment for both teachers and children both immediately and later on in life. [14] [15] [16]

[1] Siraj-Blatchford, I., et al., (2002). Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years. London: Department for education and skills

[2] ImagiNation – A Case for Cultural Learning (2012), Cultural Learning Alliance.

[3] Jayatilaka, G., (2010) Creative futures: a ‘new deal’ for the early years sector in Born Creative, London: Demos, pp. 71-82.

[4] Duffy, B. (2006), Supporting creativity and imagination in the early years, Oxford University Press.

[5] OECD (2004), Five Curriculum Outlines in Starting Strong, Curricula and Pedagogies in Early Childhood Education and Care, OECD, p. 28.

[6] Sousa, D (2006), How the arts develop the brain, School Superintendents Association.

[7] Ipsos Mori (2009), Parents’ views on creative and cultural education, London: CCE.

[8] Oskala, A., et al., (2009), Encourage children today to build audiences for tomorrow, Evidence from the Taking Part survey on how childhood involvement in the arts affects arts engagement in adulthood. Arts Council England.

[9] Bamford, A. (2006), The Wow Factor: Global research compendium on the impact of the arts in education, Waxmann Verlag, pp.17-18.

[10] Witkin, R. (1974), The Intelligence of feeling, Heinemann Educational Publishers.

[11] National Children’s Bureau (2010), Principles for engaging with families: A framework for local authorities and national organisations to evaluate and improve engagement with families.

[12] Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum (1999), Seeing, Making, Doing: creative development in early years, p. 37

[13] Barnett, S. and Ackerman, D. (2006), Costs, Benefits and Long-term Effects of Early Care and Education Programs: Recommendations and Cautions for Community Developers. Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society, 37 (2), Summer 2006.

[14] Churchill Dower, R, Hogan, Hoy, C, S, Sims, H, (2006) Search for Meaning – The Children’s Curriculum, Bradford, Canterbury Nursery School and Centre for Children and Families

[15] Clark, J, Griffiths, C. and Taylor H. (2003) Feeding The Mind, Valuing the arts in the development of young children. Arts Council England, North East.

[16] National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education, led by Sir Ken Robinson (1999), All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education, Report to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.