Category Archives: Project News

Playful Gardens Report

We were delighted to be involved in running Playful Gardens in 2022, along with NHS Tayside, Barnardo’s, DCA, Scrap Antics, Dundee Botanic Gardens and lots of other amazing organisations who joined in. You can read our repot on this pilot project to offer inclusive family play days below.

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We’d like to thank Tay Radio’s Cash for Kids and University of Dundee Festival of the Future, whose generous funding made the Playful Gardens days possible.

Book cover image of a baby painting

New Art at the Start book!!!

We have been working with some amazing families to develop the ideas from our Home Art box project into a book, to encourage more families to try art making with their very young children. We have been testing and co-designing the activities with the families and a great photographer, David P Scott, has been capturing images. The first versions of the book are now ready and it’s looking amazing!

Photographed by David P Scott. All rights reserved.

We are going to be giving out 200 copies along with the art materials to get started to families across Dundee with our charity partners and through library book bug sessions and Dundee Botanic Garden open days. The Universities’ Festival of the Future has made this launch possible by funding bags of art materials.

art materials

We really hope this book will reassure parents that art is possible with even the tiniest babies and encourage them to have a shot. We are always emphasising that art making with wee ones is about the process of exploration not the final product and there are so many benefits from giving it a go. And it is really fun for the wee ones and the big people too!

Photographed by David P Scott. All rights reserved.

This book has been made possible with funding from the University of Dundee Impact and Development Fund and the Scottish Graduate School for Social Sciences Impact Award.

Art Boxes

Over the Covid-19 restrictions Art at the Start have been sending out boxes of art materials and ideas to try at home to vulnerable families. The first 50 were funded by Vicky’s School of Social Sciences research budget and then we were lucky to win funding from the University’s Public Engagement Seed Fund to do 100 more. The boxes contained everything that families with young children would need to try 12 different creative activities and were designed to encourage positive interactions and help wellbeing during the pandemic.

A report looking at our preliminary findings from interviews with parents who received a Home Art Box has just been published. We saw several benefits including increased parental confidence to make art together and increasing connections between parent and child.

Our report – ‘Art boxes supporting parents and infants to share creative interactions at home: an art-based response to improve well-being during COVID-19 restrictions’ – is published open-access in Public Health and is free to read here:

We are really happy that the Art Boxes are continuing to develop and receive interest. We have done follow up packs with the International Women’s Centre and are now working with Amina, funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery so we can continue to reach local families. We are also looking at adapting boxes beyond the pandemic and creating a book resource based on all the ideas and the feedback from families.


Botanic Gardens Collaboration

Inspired by the current exhibition at the DCA by Stuart Whipps, we have collaborated with the University of Dundee Botanic Gardens to offer families from Homestart and Dundee International Women’s Centre free visits and creative activities when they are there.

There is now an amazing mud pit for wee ones to explore, try out some messy play, and use their imaginations to create small muddy worlds.

And we have left activity packs with ideas for mud painting, creating rubbings and making art from leaves.








Happily the mud area is open to any visitors to the Botanics and you can now also pick up a worksheet with a rubbing hunt, crayons and a hedgehog to create with leaves from reception so please do visit with children and have a shot. The botanics is such a beautiful space to visit and the mud area is in a lovely cosy greenhouse so it’s perfect if the weather isn’t great.

We have also made 0-3 activity packs for the DCA create space which tie in to the exhibition. The Create Space is free to book for your family during your visit to DCA and you will be able to play and try out the packs. You can book online through the DCA website here

Art at the Start and Dundee Science Centre

All this week Art at the Start, DCA and Dundee Science Centre have teamed up to do science and art activities, all themed on art and looking. You can find them all on the science centre’s home learning portal here

You’ll find some colour theory, optical illusions, remembering games and more. There are also links to older ones activities that connect with previous exhibitions at DCA.

Home Art Boxes

During the social distancing measures for Covid-19 we have had to end all our public messy play sessions and all our art therapy groups. We are posting art activities that are easy to do at home on our website and posting these regularly on social media. To keep up to date with these you can follow us on Twitter @ArtattheStart1 or on facebook @artatthestartdundee

To keep offering support to families who were due to have art therapy we have developed a scheme of Home Art Boxes. The first 40 boxes went out to families in May. These were packed in Vicky’s garden and delivered out to families at home with lots of baby friendly art materials and a pack of 12 activity ideas to try together.  This week we were awarded Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Seed Funding to roll these boxes out more widely and keep reaching families who will benefit. We are collecting feedback to evaluate if families found these beneficial.


Postponing Groups

We have sadly had to take the decision to postpone all our Art Therapy groups, home visits and public messy play sessions for the time being to help social distancing in the Coronavirus pandemic. We are really sorry to all the mums and little ones but of course everyone’s health and wellbeing is our highest priority.

If you are home with children and looking for activities we will try to keep posting suggestions and you can check our recipes and ideas page for a complete list. You can also follow us on twitter @ArtattheStart1 where we will be posting ideas. We hope you can enjoy some quality time together being creative during this difficult time.

Publications and conferences!

Holly has been working with Dundee Contemporary Arts on a couple of projects, and it seems Autumn is the time to share them!

Engage Journal

Firstly, she interviewed Sarah Derrick, Head of Learning, about the development of the learning programme at DCA over the course of 20 years. This article has been published by Engage, the National Association for Gallery Education:

43: Profession and Practice


Talking About Art

Secondly, Holly ran a project at DCA earlier this year exploring the impact of the Create Space on family learning. The full report is now available here: Talking About Art Full Report

Thanks to all participating families!

Engage Conference

And finally, Holly will give a short presentation on Talking About Art at this year’s Engage Conference in Newcastle, as part of the Soapbox session on 5th November, sharing her findings with gallery and museum staff from the UK and beyond.

Unlocking Culture: an entitlement for children and young people

Art at the Start on BBC Scotland

The Art at the Start team had a visit from BBC Scotland’s The Nine team.

Reporter Louise Cowie joined us for a messy creative session at DCA last week and then visited the Minime lab with her own mini me. The program aired on BBC Scotland last night. Catch it on I-Player here


All the little ones had fun with sensory play trying rainbow rice, a dinosaur swamp of jelly and peas and some cornflake farm land. Then we tried some messy painting with shaving foam marbling and bubble printing.


We had a great time and the little ones have all enjoyed seeing themselves on the TV today!

Creative, messy session at DCA

We ran our first session of creative and messy play for parents and preschoolers at the DCA this week. We are looking to see if there is an interest in these kinds of sessions for parents and toddlers so we will be doing monthly sessions and see what the feedback is. We would love these to be something that was always available. All our little ones at this weeks sessions were amazingly creative (and their grown ups very good about how messy we got them!).
 This week we responded to a beautiful painting of colourful circles in David Austen’s Underworld exhibition. We made paintings by printing circle shapes using lots of different objects pinched from the kitchen or the recycling – tubes, bowls, corks etc.
  Some little ones also experimented with their own ides for how to make marks using cars and tigers!

We then tried making bubble paintings by blowing into cups and bowls of painty, bubbly water and printing it onto paper and by blowing coloured bubbles to try and catch and pop on paper.
We will post the recipe for bubble paintings in our next post so you can try it at home.