Monica Muñoz Artist's Blog: Supporting Movement and Connection

We invited this years’ John Coolahan Early Years Artist in Residence, Monica Muñoz to tell us about her experiences so far as part of this initiative...

It’s really exciting to be the John Coolohan Early Years Artist in Residence at The Ark: a year long project providing movement, dance and creative experiences for children aged 2-4 and their carers/parents. For the past 6 months during my residency I visited different early years settings and mother and toddler groups in partnership with The Ark and the Creative Hubs from Dublin City Council. The Creative Hubs seek to sustain high quality arts experiences for children, schools and families to access in their library and locality. It was great to meet the children, staff and parents in their own environment; a huge part of my approach was to encourage everyone’s awareness to their bodies, giving creative opportunities that allow children to feel and physically interact with the environment in a sensory-based way.

Some of the dance sessions were inspired by developmental patterns and low level locomotion, allowing everyone to crawl, roll, slide, wriggle, push, pull and jump. These patterns of movement really support a child's organisation in an efficient way of learning and developing through movement. They also remind us about what's going on at their level, because as practitioners they encourage us to come down to the ground, to be close to the floor and be at the same eye-level as the children you're working with. This also helps to develop a kind of relationship and communication that creates a different kind of interaction. I was getting a lot of the ideas from the animal world, choosing a very concrete theme, for example, going to the sea, allowing them to spark their imagination in a physical way. We might emerge from having been a sea creature, a fish, an octopus or a crab, into being a child at the beach and we'll play and jump and dive in the waves. Once we've explored those lower levels it's easy to come up and go back down. So, it becomes part of our movement language.

Occasionally I used narrative to take young children through those movements in a way that makes sense to them. Partly it's because the landscape of movement for children is just so varied and there's no one way of doing anything. I think copying is a big way that kids learn, but they all had their own ways of interpreting a creature or an animal. And there's usually so many variations. I could never have thought of all of those things. It's really fun to be able to invite a child to share what they've come up with and for everyone else to have a go at copying. Often what I find is other children will want to share what they've created and for everyone to copy and try their idea. Goal driven activities can create a real sense of strain because there's a product that we're aiming for, or a movement that we have to achieve and it's not that we can't end up there, learning to arrive there is what is the pleasurable part of the journey. I think with early years, that my interest is being in that place of pleasure and joy, which so many and the majority probably of the children I've worked with are in.

Atmospheres ranged from calm & delicate to energetic & wild, with a keen sense of attention maintained throughout! The collective response was wonderful, connecting a true diversity of age and ability within the early years settings. One of the things that is brilliant about working with this age group is that they are already incredibly creative. Children are born exploring and discovering – the residency with The Ark taps into these innate abilities to explore and discover.

For the mother and toddler groups I tried to take the families on a journey to feel confident about movement and physical interaction as a positive, life-enhancing experience. The best way I can do that is to give them a meaningful experience themselves, to feel that intrinsic joy and connection. It is quite clear the big impact of the pandemic on the children; sensory deprivation, loss of opportunity to play, anxiety about other children or touching things, washing, being close to people… For parents and early years educators well-being has also been low, having to cope with never ending changing rules and restrictions. So for this reason and now more than ever I have witnessed a new resilience from everyone… one that values being more present and connecting in a physical way.

I am really looking forward to stepping into the second part of my residency and deepening my own understanding with a keener sense of how to support and perceive underlying relationships between children’s feelings, movement and creativity.