Building Brilliant Brains – making an App

Building Brilliant Brains logo

In 2006 I was artist in residence in  Eyes Monsell area of Leicester city. Built as a council estate in the suburbs of Leicester, Eyes Monsell is one of the most deprived wards in Leicester and based on national quintiles of the Index of Deprivation 2010 bit is within the 5% most deprived in England. There are high rates of teenage pregnancy, with over 1300 children living in poverty.

One of my main roles was to be part of a ‘Stay and Play‘ parents and children – to find creative ways in which engage children under four with their parents with movement and play. By far the biggest question was: how can I engage parents in a way that means they develop child-led play with their children?

By far biggest barrier was the smartphone. How do we get parents off them and interacting with their children? Oh for goodness sake Put down that smart phone! New Research into the impact of children’s attention spans when parents own attention ‘wanders’ is a current hot debate.

Fast forward to last night, when I met with an App developer and a Illustrator to move on our project to create an app that will help parents and professionals build school ready, emotionally resilient, connected brains. Based on the improvisations of Turned On Its Head artistic practice Michelle, our Illustrator, has created animated images for parents and children to look at and then do. She came to my Little Movers sessions, watched, drew drawings and asked questions and distilled the sessions into short animations.

Oh no what am I doing? Adding to the horror that is lack of parental engagement? I think not. Parental engagement is often regarded as the missing link by educators, that elusive ingredient in the educational journey.


Over the course of my residency in Eyres Monsell we realised that we couldn’t change the behaviour of the parents and I wouldn’t want to ‘tell them what to do’. We were after authentic engagement which meant the parents feeling motivated to join in and enjoying themselves – what bigger motivation is there than that? If you love it you’ll get involved.  We tried many ways;

  • Removing all the chairs (didn’t work)
  • Really messy play (really made everyone laugh – great!)
  • Spacing out the seating and placing the creative material around each chair (so that children were playing literally at the feet of their parents)
  • Procuring props that meant the parents had to get involved to create the experience (very successful)

But the phones still remained a barrier. The staff at the children centre and I always said – what if they had a game on their phone that meant they could engage with their kids? Both at the stay and play and at home? What if the game was so enjoyable that children actively went to their parents and pestered them to ‘do the game’ again and again.

Fast forward to June 2016 and a visit to Harvey Girls who support young mums. We took our Sponge Play workshop out to them (ideas based on our new touring show) and I realised we’d made the assumption that parents know how to play (improvise). Is ‘lack of parental engagement’ a lack of confidence? Is a workshop with a creative dance practitioner enough to engage them, meaningfully? What potential could an App have on their skills in playing? What impact could it have on their attachment bond with their children? Organisations are developing apps to help educators communicate with parents. What if the App also communicated the play and also neuroscience behind it in bitesized chunks?

That’s what Building Brilliant Brains the App aims to do. Find out more our website.