Opening hours

PS² is open during the Festival daily from 4-7pm for the public

Crèche course

new environments for play. In association with Young at Art and Belfast Children's Festival

Anne-Marie Dillon, Caragh O'Donnell

Ends 15 March 2013

Crèche course is a playful and practical research project investigating, how artists, parents and children can transform the environment for play in (self-organised) playgroups at low-cost and easy to replicate.
It is also in part an academic project, as it looks into the social and economic conditions which enable or reduce good play environments.
And it is a collaborative project with parents, guardians and their young children to develop good play spaces. Spiralling costs and affordability of childcare in times of economic slowdown are the social and political backdrop of this project. The planned closure of the University of Ulster's crèches in Magee and Jordanstown underline the dilemma on a local level.
In parallel, how artists, their curiosity and imagination can propose new and different environments for play for young children forms the creative backdrop of the project.

 PS² went through quite a lot of changes in the last three weeks.
First we set up a very traditional living room with a big couch, a table, four chairs, fireplace and a carpet to make it look just like home. And we stored some material in another space, cardboard, paint, paper, tubes and sand. No toys.

During the test run between the 25.02 - 07.03, the babies, toddlers and parents filled the room with activities, play and screams; and the corridor with prams.
In daily sessions, artist Caragh O’Donnell and Anne-Marie Dillon developed the space and the homemade toys together with the parents/guardians and children.

They introduced reclaimed materials and organized the room into different zones: a paint corner, the sandpit, a sheltered area at the window and so on.

Phase 1: Test runs, 25 February- 07 March

First session: Monday, 25 February 10-12am.

Parents with children are invited to help developing the play environment together with the artists. Starting from the set up of an average living room (sofa, table, chairs, fireplace..), the test run looks at simple but imaginative ways to change a domestic space into a magic world. Simple and ready available materials will be chosen as building blocks and toys and explored for their multifunctional use. We will inform interested parents about possible times for these introduction and testing sessions. If you and your child (0-3) would like to be part and contribute to this project, please contact: Participating parents and their children are invited to use the afternoon sessions (2-4) in the crèche during the Belfast Children's Festival. All sessions are free. Phase 2: Dream runs, 08 - 15 March 2013

Part of Belfast Children's Festival

During the Festival, crèche course is open daily between 10am - 12pm for sessions with up to 8 kids (age: 0- 3). Please book through the Festival or click here. The play environment, developed during the test run, is ready to be used by children and their parents/guardians. These crèche sessions offer an alternative to more common and established provisions for play. They should be fun for the children, open a dialogue about play for parents and stimulate the debate about childcare provisions, self-organized play groups and environments for creative play. For more information about Belfast Children's Festival see.

Over the days, chairs were taken out and replaced by cushions and sand brought in. The table toppled to become a boat, then the sofa turned into a tunnel and paint wall. Out of recycled materials, shelves were built and a high raise platform; the curtains started to flow and the rice and spaghetti pretend cooking spilt over everything. Like in a proper course, there is some learning: what works? What is tolerable? Where are the boundaries? Do we need to contain elements of play in safe zones and quite literally in containers or will it regulate itself?

Now during the Belfast Children Festival, the crèche is used and tested every day to its limit.
Children don’t need to be taught how to play, it’s easy for them.But for adults, parents and guardians this is often quite difficult and has to be rediscovered or learnt.
Interactive play with children is both fulfilling and exhausting.

Project description

Crèche course is a playful and practical research project, how artists, parents and children can transform the environment for play in (self-organised) playgroups at low-cost and easy to replicate. Existing models and set-ups of close by community based playgroups are researched as a starting point for new and creative models of imaginative play, its material and environment. The project connects artists and PS² to communities and in reverse, participants from different communities to an art space. The project aims to establish mutual links between nurseries, the participating parents & toddlers and the art space. It promotes play as a cultural activity and advocates for more and better provisions at a time of decreased affordability of places in nurseries.
Crèche course is seen as part of a wider interest of PS² in the subject of play, primarily for children, but also as a tool for artists. With past projects about a desired and much needed urban playground in Belfast city centre/ Cathedral Quarter and the ongoing support of a self-organized playgroup in the rural village of Ballykinler, this is a further approach to the issue. It is hoped that the project will stimulate the debate about conditions of play, raise awareness, and explore practical models to find local and shared solutions.

Crèche course is driven by artists, their curiosity and sustained link to the force and potential of play and enacted imagination. There are of course many experts, individuals and organisations working in this field. There are also exceptional art and artist projects about childcare, early education and play; from the Bauhaus movement in the early 1920's, alternative and utopian models in the 60's and 70's to contemporary contributions, establishing self-help and neighborhood projects. Andrea Francke's Invisible Spaces of Parenthood (2012) or the comprehensive documentation by MoMA 'Century of the child' (2012) are two recent examples. Play is a human expression and activity which connects all of us. There are many social and financial obstacles to allow a childcentred playful environment. This project tries to kick the ball high up and cross the road. Who picks it up? For more information about the Belfast Children's Festival click here.

Project phases

Phase 1- Research in communities 21 January – 23 February 2013

Research into existing forms and set-ups of community based playgroups. - Open call for interested parents/ guardians with children. aged 0-3years to participate and actively contribute to the crèche course sessions in PS². - Cross disciplinary forum: artists, parents, child minders, Young at Art, architects, interested groups. What is good play, what are the conditions for it? How is it locally achievable and how? Phase 2- Test runs in PS²

25 February – 08 March 2013

Recreating nursery environment in PS² (Donegall Street) as observed in Phase 1 (real world). - introduction and settling in phase for participating parent&toddlers (1-2hours daily). - Careful transformation of spatial conditions, development of multi-use play materials, zones… (from real world to magic world) - Experimentation, collaborative construction, alterations, improvements, possibilities and impossibilities, safety and adventure. - Use of simple, cheap and easily available materials. Phase 3- Dream runs in PS²

08 - 15 March 2013

Belfast Children Festival: daily 10am -12pm sessions for 8 kids (age: 0- 3) + sessions for participating parents (2-4pm). PS² is open from 4-7pm for the public. - Daily morning/ afternoon Crèche Course play and experimental sessions for participating parent&toddlers in PS² (duration 2hours). - Refinement of space, arrangements and play materials. Phase 4- Evaluation, dissemination 18 – 28 March 2013 - Editing of Crèche Course Manual, print, distribution. Crèche course is funded by Belfast City Council and Young at Art.

Background Urban playground

Practical research where to play in the city centre, Leander, Celia and PS², Belfast, 2010.

Step 1: Buy (unnecessary) equipment.

This image shows the main misery and danger for urban play: priority is given to the cars.

Step 14: Unplanned sandpit, Bank Street, inner city Belfast. Note the balloon given for free during the research session. Street Society- a one week design research office: Playground in an urban area, 2010. With architecture students Queen's University, Belfast. Client: PS². Brief: - investigate models and best examples of city playgrounds -find a possible location/ s in Belfast city centre -challenge the idea of a kids playground in new, creative ways -make proposals for design, material, cost and timeframe -analyze the feasibility -look into maintenance and security For more information see:

Projects in PS² including elements of play and the construction of playful scenarios. From left to right: 'make city make'- Caragh O'Donnell, Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashell, 2008; 'ATTIC SANDCASTLES'- Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashel, 2011. Left- Ballykinlar: Creating space for self-organized activities.

PS² placed an office container on the village football pitch. It is used by different groups, here by an ad hoc formed mother&toddler group. Ballykinlar, 2009. Right- Ballykinler: Links Garden, 2012. Community garden with kids as the driver of the project.