High Expectations: An Interactive Exhibition for Very Young Children

  • Exhibitions

9 July - 22 September 2024

Admission Free

High Expectations is an interactive display for very young children created by artist Helen Barry and children from Ozanam House Early Learning Centre. This exhibition has arisen from an artist-in-residence programme undertaken by the artist at Ozanam House Early Learning Centre at Mountjoy Square.


This year-long initiative is a partnership programme between North East Inner City and Hugh Lane Gallery, which ran from May 2023 to May 2024. The residency involved weekly sessions at Ozanam House Early Learning Centre with three groups of children, and each month the children, their parents and early years educators visited Hugh Lane Gallery where they creatively engaged and responded to artworks and the gallery space.

High Expectations is a wonderful demonstration of how the synergy between artist-led creative engagement and early years’ methodologies enhance and support the development of the early years’ child. This year-long investment has used a child-led approach and has offered us an insight into the curious and enquiring mind of a child. We have witnessed how the impact of creativity offers the child a new way in which they can make their mark, find their voice and stamp their feet to a rhythm we have co-created with them and for them. We would like to invite you and your early years child to spend time looking, touching, exploring and responding to the different things in this gallery space/room.

“The most important relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. This is my starting point” – Helen Barry. Helen’s practice is underpinned with an ambition to raise awareness of agency in every child. She uses a multi-disciplinary and multi-sensory approach to provide them with the stimuli and skills to connect with their own voice in order to embed a deep-rooted positive sense of self. This is something she has witnessed in early years educators’ practice and is also mirrored throughout early years’ practice/methodology. Throughout the project, building confidence, self esteem and self-awareness/independence grew in the children as their language changed – “Look what I can do”, “I would like to try that”, “I can do that” – were commonly heard remarks.

The High Expectations Residency was funded by NEIC with additional support from Hugh Lane Gallery.

This programme is being evaluated by independent evaluator Susan Menton Curtis, who will produce a report that will be available in August. With this evaluation and report, we will continue to learn how best to work in partnership to provide very young children in our community the best artistic experience at these very formative years of their lives.

Aistear is the early childhood curriculum framework for all children from birth to 6 years in Ireland. It uses four themes to describe children’s learning and development: Well-being; Identity and Belonging; Communicating; and Exploring and Thinking. High Expectations met all four themes in numerous ways but the theme of Identity and Belonging was the most apparent throughout the project. Identity and Belonging focuses on children developing a positive sense of self and to feel valued and a part of their community. Through the work carried out in the workshops with Helen Barry, the children developed their confidence and sense of worth. Regular visits to the Hugh Lane Gallery allowed the children (and their parents) to have a real sense of belonging to an environment that is rich with culture, history and beauty, at the heart of their community. The regular visits undertaken as part of the programme have enabled the children to build a relationship with the gallery staff and to be comfortable in the building whilst understanding the way people behave in a gallery space in order to respect the safety of the artworks. Through this programme, we have seen the independent return visits of the children and their parents to the gallery.

The outstanding outcome of this project was the building and strengthening of relationships. Relationships between the children, the artist, the Hugh Lane Gallery, Ozanam House, the parents and the relationships formed amongst the parents themselves. This project greatly improved communication between all of the stakeholders and built their confidence in many different ways. For some, the confidence to visit the Hugh Lane Gallery on a Saturday, for others, the confidence to try new skills that had been learnt from artist Helen Barry.




  • Ozanam House

    Ozanam House Early Learning Centre aims:

    “To be a safe place where people learn, grow and develop, a place that serves their needs and enriches their lives in a supportive, fun and caring environment.”

    Ozanam House Early Learning Centre is part of Ozanam House Community Centre that is governed by The Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It has been providing high quality, affordable childcare, education and support to families in the North East Inner City since 2002. The Early Years Educators work in partnership with parents and guardians to ensure that each child’s interests are valued and developed so that every child is given the opportunity to reach their full potential.


  • Acknowledgements

    Debbie Keegan, Manager, Ozanam House Early Learning Centre
    Anca Oltean, Early Years Educator, Ozanam House Early Learning Centre
    Katie Farrell, Early Years Educator, Ozanam House Early Learning Centre
    Judi Hackett, Early Years Educator, Ozanam House Early Learning Centre
    Danielle Byrne, Support Educator, Ozanam House Early Learning Centre
    Lauren Keenan, Support Educator, Ozanam House Early Learning Centre
    Salomatoy Boymatova, Support Educator, Ozanam House Early Learning Centre; and many students throughout the year
    Irma Grothius
    Derek O’Keefe, Hugh Lane Gallery
    Megan Scott, artist
    Tamao Oka, artist
    Jessica O’Donnell, Head of Education and Community Outreach, Hugh Lane Gallery
    Cleo Fagan, Education Curator, Hugh Lane Gallery
    We would also like to give special thanks to the amazing parents and guardians who not only supported the project, but got involved in a way that far exceeded our expectations.


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Wall of Light Orange Yellow Sean Scully 2000