Project Type:
Early Years

June 2023

Participating Group:
Children in Early Learning Settings

Artists :
Maree Hensey, Naomi Draper

Inspiring Minds, Farmyard Mini World

Funders :
The Arts Council

Kids’ Own Early Years Project

We are delighted to be part of a new pilot programme run by The Arts Council and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY. )  This exciting new scheme, the Arts in Early Learning & Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) scheme aims to support professional artists and arts organisations working with Early Learning & Care and School Age Childcare settings. Kids’ Own is one of four children’s arts organisations/artists to be part of this exciting pilot.


Project Overview

Artists Maree Hensey and Naomi Draper embarked on a transformative journey, collaborating with two Early Learning and Care (ELC) settings in Co Sligo. Over a span of 7 weeks in each setting, this project aimed to create purposefully minimalist environments that fostered deep engagement and amplified every participant’s voice, both verbal and non-verbal.

Participating ELC Settings:

  1. Inspiring Minds – An ELC service in Sligo town, influenced by the Reggio Emilia approach, which places a strong emphasis on child-led exploration and learning.
  2. Farmyard Miniworld, Ballintogher – A private ELC service situated in a rural village setting in Co Sligo, dedicated to outdoor, nature-based play, and committed to enriching early childhood education with the arts.

Project Pillars:

The project revolved around three central pillars:

1) Non-Verbal Participation: The project sought to develop non-verbal invitations to participation, aligning with the “Communication and Language” principle of Aistear. By prioritiSing non-verbal communication, the space was opened up for choice, interpretation, decision-making, and experimentation, fostering deeper connections and understanding among participants.

2) Materials Exploration: The careful selection and consideration of materials were at the heart of this endeavour. Materials were viewed as potentially animate entities that came to life through hands-on interaction. This pillar emphasized the importance of responsive and cooperative engagement with materials, promoting moments of new learning and discovery, and facilitating the observation and learning from others’ interactions.

3) Democratic Space:  Through pillars one and two, a truly democratic space was nurtured. By removing verbal instructions and allowing participants, artists, and materials to coexist within the same space, a unique form of listening and respect for both verbal and non-verbal voices was cultivated. This was essential in ensuring that young children played an active role in shaping the project’s direction.

Documentation and Reflection:

Photographer Anna Leask played a pivotal role by documenting the project, freeing the artists to focus on engagement. 

Project Progress and Next Steps:

The engagement sessions have concluded, and now the project enters the feedback phase. Kids’ Own and The Arts Council will convene in October to review and discuss the research findings, thoughts, and responses gathered during this extraordinary journey. This collaborative effort promises to contribute significantly to the ongoing dialogue surrounding early childhood education and the integration of the arts.

This project page provides an insightful overview of the collaborative project’s goals, methodologies, and future steps, highlighting the artists’ commitment to creating a more inclusive and expressive space for young children in Co Sligo’s early learning settings.