Press release

Can ‘Art at the Start’ improve a child’s wellbeing?

Published on 28 June 2019

Babies and toddlers can aid science and brush up on their painting skills as part of a major University of Dundee study

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Vicky Armstrong, a PhD researcher at the University’s MiniMeLab, is calling on parents from across Scotland to help her explore the links between art and a child’s ability to develop relationships.

The art psychotherapist from Aberdeenshire is seeking parents and children to participate in Art at the Start, a project that is charting how participation in creative play assists with social wellbeing in youngsters.

Hosted in conjunction with Dundee Contemporary Arts, Vicky says that exploring their creative talents with their primary carer could provide a crucial insight in to how children develop.

“The quality of bond between an infant and their parent or guardian in the first three years of life lays the foundations for a child’s social, emotional and biological development,” she said.

“Positive experiences in early life help children to feel safe and supported in their relationships with others. There is a growing interest in how the arts impact upon our wellbeing and Art at the Start is examining the links between a child’s participation in art, their interaction with parents and guardians, and their behavioural patterns.

“Ultimately, we want to understand what is happening when children are making art with those closest to them and how this interaction impacts upon the long-term wellbeing of the child.”

Art at the Start sessions are embedded within the DCA’s learning programme, allowing youngsters to get creative with materials including shaving foam, spaghetti, jelly, and paint. Working with fellow MiniMeLab researcher Holly Rumble, Vicky hosts messy play, sensory and creative sessions for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers.

Sessions are free to attend, though places should be booked in advance via the DCA website. The team are also posting project ideas online to help parents get creative with their children at home.

Dr Josephine Ross, coordinator of the MiniMeLab and an expert in Developmental Psychology, said, “Understanding how our children develop a sense of self is incredibly important. Research such as Vicky and Holly’s allow us to deconstruct this process and evaluate the impact of specific early experiences on children.”

Another aspect of the study is an art therapy group for families where the relationship between the child and their parent or carer is deemed vulnerable. Referrals to those sessions can be made by medical professionals, social workers and health visitors, often relating to circumstances such as postnatal depression or mental health issues, though parents can also self-refer via the project website.

Vicky’s research is being funded by the University’s School of Social Sciences, while Holly’s studies are supported by the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences.

Further details of the Art at the Start play sessions, including dates, are available via the DCA website.


Press Office, University of Dundee