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Engaging the Senses: Symposium and workshop exploring multi-sensory, interactive arts for young children with complex needs

Engaging the Senses: Symposium and workshop exploring multi-sensory, interactive arts for young children with complex needs

Helium Arts in partnership with Kildare County Council Arts Service is hosting ‘Engaging the Senses’, a symposium and practical workshop for arts, healthcare and early years professionals interested in exploring multi-sensory, creative play through the arts for very young children with complex needs. Taking place on Wednesday 30 May 2018 at Riverbank Arts Centre, ‘Engaging the Senses’ is informed by outcomes and learning from Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic, a multi-sensory performance project created in partnership with the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation. This is a free event but registration is required.

Life around young children with complex needs can be consumed with the child’s intense physical needs and medical routines. As a result, the important, relaxing benefits of fun and play often have to take a back seat. Children with PMLD may respond to certain stimuli more positively than others and a multi-sensory approach allows practitioners to be guided by the child’s interaction. This symposium invites you to discover how multi-sensory performance and interactive creative play can be used to engage young children in a variety of settings.

Who is this symposium for?

Artists: This symposium aims to support theatre practitioners and musicians who are already creating work for children to begin to develop their practice into the area of multi-sensory work which is relevant not only to children with complex needs but also to young children in general. Who is this symposium for?

Health professionals / carers: This symposium aims to inspire health professionals working in early intervention services, disability services, public health nursing and other health settings. We will discuss the impact of multi-sensory creative play on young children with complex needs and their families, and consider how multi-sensory performance experiences might be incorporated into a variety of health services.

Early years professionals: This symposium aims to inspire early childhood professionals interested in learning about multi-sensory creative tools and ways in which they can make their early years practice inclusive.

Parents: This symposium aims to support parents who would like to explore creative and play skills that can be used in everyday life in the home.

‘This should be everywhere – all of our children should get to experience this.’

Liaison Nurse, Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, on Pop up Picnic

Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic

On the Pop Up Picnic, artists visit families in their homes, using music, sound, puppetry, movement and tactile environments to provide families with new ways of bonding with their child. The project was developed with families in Kildare in 2016 in partnership with nurses from Jack and Jill and co-produced by Kildare County Council Arts Service within its Art, Health and Wellbeing programme. In 2017, the Pop Up Picnic toured to family homes in Kildare and Tipperary. This year, the project will be adapted for young audiences outside the home.

Pop Up Picnic is a Helium Arts production for young children with complex needs, devised by musician Thomas Johnston, puppeteer Niamh Lawlor, and director Joanna Williams. The project development phase was mentored by Tim Webb, Artistic Director of internationally acclaimed UK theatre company Oily Cart.

For further information visit

‘The home visits were a wonderful, magical experience that helped to stimulate my daughter in a multi-sensory way. We were delighted to be involved in this superb project that genuinely catered for her unique needs.’

Participating mum on Pop Up Picnic

Programme for the day

The morning symposium includes:
– Keynote address by Tim Webb of London-based Oily Cart, a theatre company for audiences with complex disabilities
– Presentation by Sinéad Roe, Senior Occupational Therapist with Sligo Early Intervention Service, exploring the long-term benefits of multi-sensory play on participation, learning and development
– Sharing of work developed on the Pop Up Picnic led by director Joanna Williams and performers Thomas Johnston and Niamh Lawlor
– Panel Discussion “Integrating sensory performing arts in health and community settings” chaired by Lucina Russell of Kildare County Council Arts Service. The panel includes Tim Webb of Oily Cart, Mary Joe Guilfoyle and Margaret Naughton, Specialist Liaison Nurses with the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, the Pop Up Picnic creative team and a participating parent.

The optional afternoon workshop is a practical 2-hour exploration of how practitioners can engage multiple senses when developing early years work, facilitated by the Pop Up Picnic creative team.

The full programme can be accessed here:

Booking information

This is a free event and includes lunch but registration is required. Please note that the afternoon practical workshop must be booked separately to the symposium and that there are limited places available on the workshop.

Registration for morning symposium:

Registration for afternoon workshop:

Engaging the Senses is produced by Helium Arts in partnership with Kildare County Council Arts Service. This symposium is funded by the Arts Council, Kildare County Council and Creative Ireland, and is supported by Riverbank Arts Centre.

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