Gallery Oldham’s GO baby programme runs every Thursday during term time, for families with babies from 0 – 2, and are drop in and free of charge in order to make the sessions as accessible as possible for families throughout our communities. We welcome over 35 families each session to join us for lots of sensory fun and exploration, with the youngest visitor being just eight days old!
Gallery staff work alongside an early years artist at these sessions, which are designed to promote open ended, baby led play through a variety of sensory ‘pods’ which help babies to explore sounds, textures and colours. The majority of our families who attend GO Baby do so on a regular basis and we are delighted to see babies grow, develop and start to recognise the building, spaces and staff. After two years of running GO Baby, we had a strong cohort of regular families whose babies were beginning to outgrow the 0-2 sessions. Responding to our family’s needs, in September 2015 we created a 2-4 programme ‘GO Explorers’ as a follow on for our babies to graduate into. The sessions are led by the same 3 freelancers, continuing and developing families’ relationships with the gallery and our staff.
Our pods are created using natural materials that excite and stimulate the senses such as bold black and white fabrics, space blankets, fans, hand – made shakers etc. Textures, sounds and smells also have a big part to play in our sessions with we’ll sometimes sing, create dens and dark areas for the little ones and use our spaces as a way to help families bond and grow together.
Many of the materials and ‘toys’ we use fall under the Heuristic Play title by being everyday objects that parents can bring together themselves, such as creating treasure baskets for their little ones. As well as the practitioners developing the sessions and creating inviting areas for the babies and toddlers one of their key roles is to act as a friendly and welcoming face for families. We are extremely lucky to have a variety of visitors from childminders and groups to individual visitors, it’s essential to us that all families are welcome no matter the make-up.
For our GO Explorers sessions, which is aimed at our 2 – 4 year old toddlers and families, we love to get messy! Focussed on exploring the world and themselves we create a range of areas they have the choice to play with and explore or not. GO Explorers is a smaller session with 10 – 15 families joining us each week, it’s lovely to see the development of each child and their relationship to each other develop and change as they grow themselves. We love the idea of play at both GO Baby and GO Explorers and are keen to encourage all of the family who joins us, to get involved, get covered from head to toe, to have new experiences and experience new materials whilst in a safe and secure space, supported by practitioners and gallery staff. Both of our sessions are Reggio Emilia inspired, meaning we create safe spaces for children to decide on their own learning and exploration.
For most of our families, this is the first experience of an art gallery and museum which makes the journey for us and them even more exciting. We’ve seen lots of our first time families turn into regular visitors, especially since starting our GO Explorers sessions. Now even some of them, who are just hitting the five year mark and making me feel extremely old, are starting to join in with our regular family friendly and school holiday activities.
Aims and objectives
- To welcome new families to Gallery Oldham, providing a friendly, creative and supportive programme for all families across the borough and beyond
- To explore new methods of play and interaction between families and their babies, introducing new styles and schemas of play from different early years practices which families can replicate at home
- To develop a regular group of returning families over a sustained period, in addition to welcoming new families on a weekly basis
- To engage with families at a younger age in the hope that they will develop a lasting relationship with Gallery Oldham
We work with a broad spectrum of families and our welcoming and informal approach supports a low-key way for families to access Council Services, such a Breast Feeding Advice, Sling libraries and child care initiatives. We have recently developed partnerships with Academic institutions such as MMU and UCO through hosting placements for students and participating in case studies. In addition, we have also developed a relationship with the Adoption and Social Service teams within Oldham Council’s Children’s Services departments and they have recommended our programmes to families who access their services. This term, after requests from families, we are hosting the first baby signing course in partnership with an external facilitator.
GO Baby was initially set up as a pilot programme funded by Brighter Sound, Manchester. After the success of this, GO Baby and GO Explorers are now permanent programmes for the Gallery and are funded by our core budget. The small charge of £3.50 per family for GO Explorers is reintegrated into the budget.
Facts and figures
Over the course of the few years we have been running GO Baby, plus the introduction of GO Explorers in September 2015, we have welcomed over 2,000+ visitors to our sessions. Out of the 600+ new families who previously hadn’t been to the gallery before, we have seen 500 families return on a weekly basis, often attending over a prolonged period of time throughout their maternity leave or until their baby has outgrown the session and is ready to move on to GO Explorers. We publicise our programmes through social media and flyers, yet over the last year have learnt that the vast majority of newly attending families find out about the sessions from a recommendation or a friend.
Awards and achievements
The creation of these two new family programmes led Gallery Oldham to be nominated for the Kids in Museums ‘Family Friendly Museum’ Award in 2015, an award voted for by families independently visiting museums in the UK. From over 800 nominations, Gallery Oldham was shortlisted to the final 20. Both programmes have been nominated for a national award at the Museum and Heritage Awards for ‘Project on a Limited Budget.’
Both GO Baby and GO Explorers continue to welcome a both regular and new families to the sessions on a weekly basis. We are continuing to develop and strengthen connections with other services in order to support a low-key way for families to access Council Services, in addition to our programmes supporting the next generation of early years professional through academic partnerships. We continue to devise and deliver imaginative and innovative ideas for families to recreate at home, supporting families and their babies after they leave the session.
Access and Interpretation Officer