The 'Midas Touch' Project, St Helens 2009 - 2010

The 'Midas Touch' was a pilot project developed to run for four weeks in St. Helens, Merseyside throughout March 2010. It was inspired by the ReMida project, a creative recycling centre linked to the Reggio Emilia approach in northern Italy. Funded by the Find Your Talent programme, the Midas Touch project was initially piloted as a 'Tent of Objects' at the St. Helens festival by artist Claire Weetman. Along with Project Leader, Nick Owen, Claire went on to manage the second phase of the project which we developed as the Midas Touch and involved the collaboration between an Early Years Practitioner, Laura Grindley and a Collaborative Artist (myself).

The project took place in a former clothes boutique located in St. Helens town centre over the course of 4 weeks. The team worked closely with local businesses and organisations to source recycled and reusable materials. Support was also provided by National Museums Liverpool to ensure the venue was well-equipped and fit for use as a community workshop space. The Midas Touch team worked together to make the space their own and created a storage area for materials which were cleaned and made safe for use.

The aim was to use such recycled, 'ordinary' materials and objects in a way that was open-ended and participant-led. As opposed to the practice of 'junk modelling', the intention was to introduce materials and objects as tools of play, work and learning. The Midas Touch programme intended to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary - to provoke a sense of curiosity, awe and wonder in the everyday lives of its participants.

In total, seven groups attended once a week for four weeks. Groups came from various children's/ community centres and primary schools across St. Helens. As part of a collaborative team, Laura, the Early Years Professional and I developed themes based on identified materials which we linked to learning goals within the Early Years Foundation Stage. Week 1 concentrated on 'Plastics', which involved introducing a number of objects and items made out of this material. The following week, the same materials were laid out, alongside new materials: 'Wood & Metal'. This continued so that in Week 3, we introduced 'Natural Materials' and finally in Week 4, 'Black and White' Materials.

Participants engaged with these materials in ways which were sometimes predictable and other times completely unexpected and wildly imaginative. From simply tipping, sorting, collecting and arranging to using real tools, creating musical instruments and using objects in different spaces as complex props for role-play and fantasy scenarios, the children took the adults on a learning journey and provided a valuable insight into their world of play.

Comments from adults were as follows:

"I loved the approach. I believe it's how children should learn in an ideal world - exploring their own ideas. We are there to scaffold that learning." (Reception Teacher)

"Why do we spend lots of money on expensive resources and things like dressing-up clothes when children have such vivid imaginations and are so creative? Practitioners and parents/carers need to see this project to see the importance of developing their children's skills in this way... Everyday materials + freedom = LEARNING." (Learning Development Officer)

"There was so much talking going on. Excellent way to promote language development... Great imagination." (Teacher)

What I noticed..

"The confidence - how it has grown... and the LANGUAGE." (Teacher)

"Given us lots of food for thought. We'll look to set up similar activities at the centre." (Community Group Leader)

What I would change..

"The group should be longer than 4 weeks." (Parent)

"To develop / continue at school, so more children can enjoy the experience." (Teaching Assistant)