Thursday 22 August 2019

Sensory journeys for early years and children with autism

Children can hear different sounds at the interactive art installation
Children can hear different sounds at the interactive art installation

Celine Naughton

Neil Diamond may have had a hit with it, but tiny tots will be making a beautiful noise of their own at a sound sculpture set up in the foyer of the National Concert Hall from 10am-12.30pm.

The brainchild of artist and early years educator Helen Barry in collaboration with musician Eamon Sweeney, ‘Sculptunes’ is an interactive art installation in which children under five can crawl, climb, pull and push, discovering a world of different sounds as they play.

Having road-tested prototypes at various crèches, the pair modified their initial designs to meet the needs of the musical munchkins, many of whom, despite not having yet mastered the art of speech, made sure their voices were heard.

“We had planned to build a supersize structure, but the babies responded best to a playpen size,” says Helen.

“They love to crawl in, stand and hold themselves up, and as they pull, pump or put pressure on certain objects, they hear different sounds and feel vibrations.

“The children figure out how and what they want to play with. One piece works by putting pressure on foot pedals but, because the babies are so light, it needs two of them to do it. Even at such a young age they collaborate to make the noise they want to hear.”

She hopes the workshop sparks ideas for parents to encourage kids to have fun with everyday household objects, whether it’s banging pots or rattling an egg box with an object inside it.

Sculptunes is not a music workshop, and the children are not learning to play an instrument. It’s about exploring sounds, colours, textures and vibrations, and giving children a sense of achievement by expressing themselves creatively.

There will be three Sculptunes pieces in the foyer of the National Concert Hall on Saturday for Cruinniú na nÓg. Two are called ‘Periscope’ and one is ‘Childcophony’ which, as the name suggests, is capable of facilitating a spectacular amount of noise.

Across Dublin in Cabra, meanwhile, sound artist Slavek Kwi is working with performer Niamh Lawlor and Helium Arts to create an “immersive, multisensory experience for children with autism”, titled Soundscape.

With a mix of ordinary objects and natural materials, the pair will take children and their families on a sensory journey where they are free to explore sounds and textures in a way specific to each child’s developmental needs. 

“Each child is extremely individual and you need sensitivity as to how to approach them. In these short sessions we will be experimenting all the time, trying to look at the sensitivities of the child and how they can develop,” Kwi says. “In nature we are surrounded by sounds but they are always calming. We hope to replicate that experience here.”

⬤ Sculptunes, National Concert Hall, 10am-12.30pm.

⬤ Soundscape, age 5-8, Cabra Library, Navan Road, D7. 10.30-4.10pm. Booking essential.

Irish Independent

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