How to Catch a Moonbeam and Pin it Down: Arts and Creativity in Early Years Conference

5 June 2017 at Birmingham City University


The conference was a culmination of the two-year Arts Connect Moonbeams early years’ programme across the West Midlands. This included: a regional Mapping of the early years arts and cultural provision; a cross-sector Roundtable to identify priorities; a year-long professional development course to develop emerging leaders with 12 early years practitioners and 11 artists paired in early years action learning settings; a series of public Seminars focused on different art form areas; Tour & talk visits to early years settings to look at good practice.

The Conference

On the morning of 5 June, 2017, 220 delegates from across the UK, Denmark, Canada, Malaysia and Ireland made their way to Birmingham city centre to the light and airy venue of McIntyre House, part of University College Birmingham, for the How to Catch a Moonbeam and Pin it Down: Arts and Creativity in Early Years Conference.

The conference day started with Chair, Beatrice Merrick the CEO of the British Association of Early Childhood Education, reminding us that respect for children was core to creative learning before she introduced delegates to the two morning keynote speakers, early years experts; Professor Christine Pascal, Director of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood and Dr Susan Young, an internationally renowned early years music expert.

Professor Pascal talked movingly about the impact of the Moonbeams programme, challenging delegates to liberate their practice through retrospective planning so that originality and innovation sit at the heart of the learning process. Key to this approach she said was trusting, respecting and listening to children, allowing them to lead and shape their own learning and through Moonbeams such freedom is possible.

‘Art is not some sort of add-on’ Dr Susan Young quoted Grayson Perry as she opened her keynote. Dr Young then explored the idea that early years children can be taught, but that this process should not be about control or passivity, teaching should be intentional, purposeful and giving of yourself – it is an active, vital process. Dr Young suggested also that in teaching the arts to very young children we need to understand that the child is not the centre, the adult is not the centre, the world is the centre and that art is a way of a child finding their place in the world and then living well in that world.

After being moved, empowered and energised by the morning keynotes, delegates could choose from 12 varied and creative seminars and workshops, presenters represented a range of quality programmes from across England including ‘Let’s Play’ with Helen Moylett, co-author of Development Matters, and four workshops run by early years practitioners and artists from the Moonbeams programme.

An excellent early years themed lunch was followed by delegates attending more fantastic workshops and seminars from Forest Education from the Danish Perspective given by Søren Emil Markeprand, Director of Forest kindergarten Stockholmsgave Centrum and Mikkelborg; Denmark to getting to grips with clay at Clay Feast run by Katie Leonard, Education Programme Manager, British Ceramics Biennial, Stoke-on-Trent.

A Moonbeams afternoon cream tea was then followed with a profoundly moving and inspiring keynote given by the greatly admired and much loved Sir Tim Brighouse, former Chief Education Officer in both Oxfordshire and Birmingham and former Commissioner for London Schools. Sir Tim argued that early years education was incredibly valuable – what impacted on the child in their early years impacted for life, he spoke of campaigning against the malign influence of tests calling upon us to not ‘ask how intelligent a child is, but how are they intelligent’ and asked the delegates to hope that we can soon look forward to a time when we will move from the age of confusion and anger to the age of ambition and partnership in education.

The day ended with delegates being led in song by Trish Power, Music Specialist, singing A Yele Mama, a song from South Africa.

Delegate Voices

‘I am truly inspired by the whole process and thankful for everything I have learned. I will always remember the 5th June as being one of the proudest moments of my teaching career’

‘A fantastic experience, to be immersed in the creative arts mind-set, listening to inspirational speakers and meeting wonderful arts colleagues from around the country. My brain has been buzzing ever since.’

‘I was reminded how important it is to listen to the voice of the child & how to inspire children daily to ensure they have the opportunity to engage imaginatively in the world around them.

Partners of the Moonbeams programme were the Centre for Research in Early Childhood, Birmingham Nursery School Teaching School Alliance and Britannia School Alliance , University College Birmingham and The Mighty Creatives (the East Midlands Bridge) who both part sponsored the conference .