Working With Artists & Creative Practitioners

A cre8us legacy site

The end and the beginning June 17, 2012

Filed under: Background,Cre8us — purpleclaire @ 11:14 am
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My work on this blog site has for now come to an end but please do keep using it and passing onto others.

This site has been set up as part of the legacy of Cre8us and the amazing work from artists and creative practitioners who worked as part of the Creative Partnerships programme in the Cre8us area.  The case studies blogged and within these pages are for you to be inspired by, learn from and ask questions.

Please do get in touch if you’d like anything more from this site or have something to offer.  Please post responses if you wish and pass onto others that you think would find helpful.

I hope that for those who have been accessing the site you have found it helpful and will continue to do so.

Thank you to all the people who have contributed, read and forwarded onto others.

It’s the end of the regular posts looking back at Cre8us and Creative Partnerships but I hope very much its the beginning of something else.

Claire Marshall
Creative Agent for Cre8us 2007 to 2012

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Nicola Richardson – The impact of The cre8us Way on me May 29, 2012

I often liken myself to a child in a sweetshop when it comes to my work; variety keeps me smiling. This might seem a whimsical and unfocused approach, but it has been the crux of my practice and far more focused than it may seem on first glance. Often people query what it is I do, what is my ‘main’ practice? Ideas, fundamentally; the sweets in my sweetshop. Ideas have always been the starting point for my own work as an artist, but also working with anyone; artists, pupils, teachers, someone’s nan, the ideas are where work begins. As an artist I draw concepts and starting points from what’s around me and how I experience these things. Then develop how I might present my subsequent ideas always considering the best medium in which to do this, and I see no reason to change this approach when working with others. What is noticeable with this approach, is that no two projects have the same beginning, middle or end.

In 2005 my career was in a big research and development phase. I was in the process of figuring the above out, not quite tying all of my strands of work together and providing more waffle than succinct answer to the question ‘what do you do?’. I had worked on a number of different projects in schools, young people organisations and with community groups, and was spending a lot of time reflecting on why some projects felt more successful to me, and others fell short of satisfying even though feedback was good. I realised it had a lot to do with how integrated the work was to the children’s learning, and whether I had the opportunity to work with the teacher, or they just took my presence as an opportunity to catch up on marking… I heard of this thing called Creative Partnerships and luckily got involved from the start with their project linked with the International Children’s Games hosted in Coventry.

Cre8us has given me amazing opportunities to explore and develop my practice through the projects I have worked on, but also through an unbeatable CPD program and links with exceptional schools and practitioners.

The main development in my practice which underpins all others is the skill to really understand what I do, how I do it, and why I do it. It has moved me from unconsciously to consciously competent, allowing me to have a bigger impact on my own learning and that of others.

I will always be more of a talker and visual person, than a writer and so for me ‘The Cre8us way’ has made my practice look like this:

I know it’s a bit bonkers, with blurred beginnings and ends, but I think that is important. While seemingly chaotic on the page, in practice it is calm and calculated with a buzz of excitement thrown in for good measure. While there is an overarching order to things, the exact order of all the components is always dependant on the people involved.

While my overall practice has developed over the last 6 years with Cre8us, I think there are three key elements that have become crucial to my practice.

Collaboration

I have always enjoyed collaborating with others. Working with Cre8us has given me the opportunity to explore why some collaborations work better than others. Many people talk about collaboration, but many people are simply referring to working on the same project at the same time, in the same room. To collaborate there needs to be an acknowledgement of what everyone is bringing to the collaboration: ideas, energy, skills, knowledge. Then there has to be a process of sharing all these things and a response to a starting point (an enquiry question, a challenge etc). The process is about building on ideas and everyone being open to what is offered. What comes out of a collaborative process should be something new that is bigger than just one person’s voice.

Questioning

Questioning is key to all of my work, and crucial to ending up with the right project. It is also a key part in collaborating, so would be wrong to have one without the other. Some people feel the need to always give answers, but when starting a project we don’t always know what they are. Asking the right question at the right moment will lead to great outcomes. When you start working on a project, you might have a feeling on what needs to happen, or where change needs to happen. However it is more powerful, and more likely to have an impact if people come to their own understanding and conclusions. While working at Studley Infants the Head asked the Reception teacher why working with me had been so successful, and she answered “she asks me the right questions”.

Student/Children’s Voice

I was lucky to be part of a CPD program called Invited Disturbance where we worked with Angela De Castro exploring clowning as a way into building relationships. It was an amazing CPD opportunity, and the biggest phrase I took away was ‘to be in the moment’. As adults we often have a stop switch, which impedes our enjoyment. We over analyze. The process of growing up takes out the fun of playing. Invited Disturbance gave me the opportunity to understand why I form good relationships with children, how to be more successful at it and support other’s to do the same.

Working with hundreds of children to empower their voice, and to enable them to make meaningful decisions, I realised early on how important it was to work with adults to listen to them right from the start. For student voice to work within any organisation there has to be an advocate within and the right forums and structures for children to be consulted and heard.

My approach as a practitioner has often blurred into the role of Creative Agent, and in 2008 I became one. My style and approach didn’t really change (apart from a bigger pile of paperwork), but the role enabled my work to become more strategic, and enable me to consider the bigger picture within an organisation while setting up projects.

The very nature of being Creative lays out a never-ending path of development and discovery. I am lucky to be on that continuing journey with four other exceptional practitioners I met through Cre8us. Collectively we make up changing cultures, named such because that is what we do.


Email: nicola@changingcultures.org

Website: www.changingcultures.org and www.vortex-creates.co.uk

Phone number: 07958291162

Photos are from:

Cardinal Wiseman School, History with Year 7

Exploring how to make history more relevant, for pupils to be able to discover for themselves rather than just be presented with facts.

Stivichal Primary School, Maths project, whole school

Exploring creative approaches to maths.

Studley Infants School, Year 2 sculpture project

Exploring what ‘child led’ really means when producing high quality finished work.

 

Pyn Stockman – Creative and inspirational delivery of Maths May 13, 2012

Brooke School – Enquiry Question

Can the intervention of three practitioners in different artforms, one for each class, help KS4 staff to increase confidence in the creative and inspirational delivery of Maths and help develop children with complex needs as co-constructors of learning?”

The project, what happened – a personal reflection on the work

Who was involved?

The project was based at Brooke School in collaboration with Years 10 and 11 and staff. All students had a range of additional needs. 3 artist were contracted 2 visual artists one who was to primarily focus on the outdoor space, a textile artist and myself whose focus was drama. I was also given the role of lead artist.

What were you trying to do or achieve? What went well?

My focus and way of delivery and in a lot of ways my practice, was to make an offer and pretty much see what happened. Constantly looking for the way the students engaged with the tasks. It was also important to me that in each session there was a reason for doing the math – We were secret agents with codes to crack, cases to open and bowler hats to wear (an exceptionally popular theme) that came out of observing the students on the very first day when they took part in imaginative role play at break and lunch time.

Having an element of surprise – something to discover, uncover, reveal – was key to my sessions and provided a hook and a focus for the math. Even when we were working imaginatively – secret agents on a mission uncovering the answers to fairly difficult mathematical problems to provide them with the code to put into the padlocked case – it was the context that kept them focused and the fact that it was a real situation.

I was very keen on the students being able to ask questions and set math problems themselves. From this grew the idea of making games – big physical games with quiz leaders and then as we were making games we also planned a party that took place just before the Christmas holidays. It was these contexts that were a real strength of the project – a way of framing the work.

Students worked with a budget, they shopped, prepared food, set up the hall, explained their games to each other, played games and used the money they had made (featuring their faces) to buy food from the buffet – expertly run by three of the students.

We also adopted a school based reward system of raffle tickets but with a particular focus to identify student’s achievement in line with the project criteria. So at the end students received prizes, but I think most of all we had fun.

Additionally to this the project was really collaborative. From the outset and because we needed to, working across 3 classes with 3 artists. Keeping everyone informed about what we were thinking, how it was going. Using the collaborative way to really understand how the students were responding and making our practices as transparent as possible to staff.

The final phase of the project saw Deb focusing on the outside area assembling and creating sculptures, Michaela exploring time and making a big trellis work with myself looking at the idea of creating an adventure game (with maps) around school with the idea being that ultimately a similar game could be created outside once the garden area was complete (something that would be ongoing after we had left).

In some ways the mapping and the clues and questions drew together many of the student’s previous experiences whilst acknowledging that we were now working with some different students who were very able.

Each day ended in a large group feedback session and it now felt right to hand this questioning over to some of the students along with the photography/documenting.

The key point to legacy is all about handing it over, giving people the opportunity to practice skills while you are still there.

What has changed for you?

I have become a more confident practitioner generally speaking and look for ways of encouraging exploration and learning in all my work – I am less prescriptive and try to find the question or exploration that is needed to learn a skill. It’s significant and important. I also realized how interested I am in increasing confidence in students – the confidence to take risks, I guess and that I see this as at the root of much of my practice.

I was really pleased to be invited back to Brooke in the summer term to deliver another project for their less confident students who are looked after children. We made a ‘performance’ I am including the audio for this as one of the main storytellers was a student that when I first arrived at Brooke was very nervous of speaking up and would not have his voice recorded at all.

The main change for me was to view all my projects in a similar way, to be constantly looking for the learning and encouraging and asking questions at every twist and turn. I also now have a major focus on how to capture it and what to do with it once it has been captured.

Working with Enquiry questions: Once I began working with enquiry questions I found a deepening and expansion of my educational practice. It provides a focus for the work from which everything else can grow. It’s also worth noting that there is the central question that has to be broken down and then there are all the other questions that arise from the first. In addition as a practitioner you also have your own questions.

If we take the idea of developing the students as co-constructors of their own learning and if the 3 different art forms achieved this, then we have a specific focus to reflect on.

As lead artist it was partly my role to facilitate discussion and collect this evidence. Much of the evidence was anecdotal so it was about looking for patterns and using raffle tickets – something students could identify with as a way of collecting data. There was a strong theme that certain students responded to certain activities more than others. For some it was the physical work preparing the garden, for others it was working with materials sorting, ordering, whilst for others it was the role-play and framing of the session. What we all did as artists was look at where the engagement was occurring and respond to this in our planning and developing the next session.

What I discovered in my own practice was that by listening to the responses that the others had in their sessions I looked for ways to incorporate elements into my more ‘drama’ based work in order to engage the students who had shown a preference for working in a more craft based way. The maps are perhaps the strongest example of this.

I saw other cross over’s happening too – the groups really enjoyed being secret agents and everyone responded to a session on disguise where hats were available for hire but where the students had to keep a tally of the amount that they had in stock and the amount that was out on loan. Michaela used the hats for them to wear for photographs to go on the money she made.

Reflection: A key thing for me is don’t reflect in isolation – it’s a skill that needs to be out there – plan a session so that reflection is part of it and make it fun. I like audio recording as a way of capturing instantly, but it can’t stand alone and for some people it’s not appropriate. My favourite example of this is one student sat quietly drawing on a white board what he drew was a picture of himself as a café owner selling the food we had prepared that session as party practice. By the side were all the costs and sums. He had told me that he enjoyed everything but it struck me, by the drawing, his real feedback was that he had engaged most in that role. He talked about this later on. I also used a series of photographs to reflect with one student about a wonderfully creative process he had been on and that showed up in the images. It helped him become more aware of and able to articulate the journey.

I think there are several points to reflection: What you have observed, what the staff have observed, what the students have observed and what the students have experienced. Personally I think it is useful to check in during a session, at the end and later on when as a practitioner you put it all together, looking for patterns and using it to help your planning. (see attachment)

It’s also really important to share reflection: Part of my role at Brooke was to collate and provide an overview for everyone at the end of each day: it was an email to everyone who worked with the children drawing out the main points of what had happened and then following it with a brief overview of what would happen the following week. It also provided staff with the opportunity to ask questions.

It’s also just as important to share it with the students. I often had impromptu chats with people because I had noticed something. This idea was taken further by giving it place within the project structure.

The extra reflection we used at Brooke was in creating the display – every 3 weeks (approx) we printed a selection of images staying with our group, instead of getting together in the hall for the large group reflection session. We asked them to look for what learning was happening, this was recorded on ‘Looking for Learning’ cards and added to the image that had inspired the comment.





A Student talking about Masks and Numbers

A student talking about his Snooker Table with Goals game

Buster Saves The Day


What has changed in the school?

I think that the way the display was implemented – the idea for this was a total collaboration between us artists and was a kind of montage of images, comments and stuff from the project, all displayed on washing lines using pegs. Staff were always commenting on the display, as were students. It was a visible living growing montage a report of what had happened. As pictures were taken down and new ones were added they were kept and at the end of the project and placed into 3 photo albums along with comments and all the raffle tickets.

Pyn Stockman


Email: dramask@gmail.com

Website: www.dramask.com and www.secretcityarts.com

 

Kate Morris – Recycled art to help develop the curriculum and learners May 4, 2012



Email: kate.morris7@ntlworld.com

Websitekatemorris.carbonmade.com and tonimorris.carbonmade.com

 

Louise Braithwaite – Developing practice for working with children with disabilities April 27, 2012

Welcombe Hills School, Stratford upon Avon
A setting for children and young people with learning disabilities aged 2-19

CRE8US CHANGE SCHOOL PROGRAMME 2009-2010

LOUISE BRAITHWAITE
Freelance musician, workshop leader and creative project manager


Working as a practitioner on a Cre8us project taught me more about my creative abilities in 20 weeks than I had learned in the previous 20 years. Reflecting on the experience, my learning came about through the opportunities for collaboration and risk-taking which the project’s construct enabled.

I’d worked as a music practitioner for several years before I became involved with Cre8us, as an orchestral musician and workshop leader with Orchestra of the Swan. I already had a particular interest in working in settings for people with additional needs. I’d designed, led and managed school projects and had almost always worked with other musicians.


Collaboration
A year or so before the Cre8us project I’d introduced Welcombe Hills to the Music Technology associates of Town Hall Symphony Hall Education, and we’d explored working together in series of three or four sessions. This led to some really interesting work and, though we’d all recognised that the students both enjoyed it and were able to achieve new things, further collaboration wasn’t possible at that time. The school had also begun to work separately with film specialists from THSH.

With the involvement and financial support of Cre8us, the school took a bold step. They invited a collaboration of live musicians from Orchestra of the Swan (a partner in the school’s specialist status), film and animation specialist Jonathan Lee, and Mat Beckett- music technology specialist.

Collaborating with other experienced creative practitioners was fantastic because each individual brought a different creative viewpoint and skill to the work. Before Cre8us I was making my way in the dark really, going on instinct and taking what I could of the training and networking which came my way. I knew that I was concluding projects feeling a bit dissatisfied and that there was more substance to be had, but couldn’t quite put my finger on what was missing. In common with a lot of freelancers, I seldom got to see how other practitioners worked or how they assessed themselves, and the educational work of other artists seemed difficult to access. I’d had great conversations with supportive and encouraging teachers, but these were disjointed and rushed because of time pressures and interruptions. It could be difficult to make meaningful observations or to implement changes in projects which lasted just three or four sessions. Working with my co-practitioners and Cre8us over a long-term project gave me the tools to identify and implement positive change.

Cre8us scheduled routine planning and reflection sessions within each school day which were facilitated by our Creative Agent, Nikky Smedley. In reality they were free-ranging creative conversations, pretty similar to the ones I was having in my performance practice. Ringfenced time was set aside with teachers to ask questions, examine progress and problems, and simply to imagine. The discussion time seemed incredibly generous compared to my previous experience. I felt that I should be offering Delivery all the time! It seems obvious now, but it took a while for me to realise that being able to talk in depth and to explore the needs and responses of the individual students carefully made the quality of the work better. Quite often, the ensuing class activity produced the answers to questions which had been left open in the discussion. It also enabled us to reflect in the context of the earlier planning, allowing us to draw sound conclusions and take decisive action for learning in future sessions.

I now schedule much more time with school staff to jointly plan and monitor the work we’re going to do, and I have the right vocabulary to explain why this is so important to meaningful outcomes for a school, its pupils and practitioner. If you’re only looking to tick boxes in the curriculum, you miss so much other valuable learning. I’ve learned to work much more effectively with teachers. I’m better placed to support them objectively, better understand the pressures facing them, and am better able to support the assessment of pupils’ development.


Risk Taking
As a performer you take a risk every time you go on stage, but the rehearsal process manages out most of the unknowns to produce a polished ‘product’ for the audience. Workshops aren’t like that. Cre8us workshops are especially not like that. Thanks to the Unknown and Untested, they’ve been among my most satisfying musical experiences.

Before Cre8us, I’d planned session outlines in consultation with teaching staff and shaped them to work with curriculum goals. I’d noticed that when it was possible to go with the flow of what the pupils brought to the day, they were better engaged because they could influence the activities. I loved being led by the class. The downside was that this ‘risky’ method didn’t always sit well with class teachers. It sometimes led to moments of excitement (often interpreted as disruptive behaviour) and I sometimes struggled to find the right language to explain the learning which had taken place. I didn’t want the students to ‘sit down and keep still’ all of the time- it seems to contradict the effect of music on the body and mind. The absence of a Product felt like a tension. Given the pressure on teachers to account for pupils’ learning and behaviour, this is completely understandable, but I felt limited by it.

With hindsight, I needed to find a way to manage the attitude that a Music project should, inevitably, result in a high quality performance after two or three short sessions. I knew this wasn’t achievable given my genre and style of working, and I felt uneasy about a ‘product’ being the only means to demonstrate shared learning, alongside the loathing some students have of performance situations which can put them off joining in at all. I found it hard to put a voice to the real learning that was taking place from week to week within sessions, which frequently had nothing to do with the musical or curriculum aims of the project. They were associated with social and teamworking skills, problem solving, constructive discussion, creative thinking, confidence and self-esteem. I hadn’t yet been able to phrase these things in a way which would make the value of the sessions per se tangible and clear to senior stakeholders. I needed to be able to explain the benefits of risk-taking, going away from the session plan, and for the children’s creative choices ‘in the moment’ to have more weight, regardless of where they might or might not lead.

Finding myself with Cre8us in a special needs setting which supports holistic learning and celebrates every individual achievement was a gift. It enabled me, with the support of teachers, practitioners and the Creative Agent, to develop a flexible creative practice which I can explain, promote, justify, enjoy and- most importantly- evidence, thanks to Cre8us’ rigorous evaluation programme.

Cre8us put the Creative Process at the centre of everything that goes on by formally recognising that risk-taking is integral to learning and the development of ideas. The way we were supported to work led us to all manner of unexpected places and, by virtue of putting the students centre-stage and without limitation, allowed them to show us just how well they could achieve. They told us in their own unique ways what they liked and didn’t like and, in doing so, helped us to learn to look and listen in new and better ways. There is no greater challenge than to be asked to seek out Student Voice with students whose ability to communicate is severely restricted.

Not planning too tightly, and not seeking to create a concert-quality musical artistry each week were potential risks at the start of the work. I was fortunate in working with an excellent team of colleagues from Orchestra of the Swan- always willing to take a risk, always concerned about high quality workshop delivery but not worrying about artistry out of context. Able to improvise, relaxed about safe physical contact with their musical instruments, having an endless supply of ideas and encouragement. Tactile, sensitive and intuitive individuals. There were sessions which were challenging and difficult, but we took the learning from them and moved forward. The wider experience of our co-practitioners Jonathan Lee and Mat Beckett was a tremendous resource, and we worked hard to understand one anothers’ artforms so that we could support the students to combine the resources effectively.

We learned from teachers that Welcombe Hills valued our involvement as much for our personal qualities and non-verbal communication skills as for our musicianship, and in sharing that they have given us insightful, personal learning.

At Welcombe Hills, the idea of a performable Product had never been at the forefront of the school’s priorities for my practitioner work there. We shared our work with the other students when the pupils and staff felt that we’d made something they’d like to see, not with that being the aim at the outset. Within Cre8us, this really blossomed. The students were agreeable to a final Sharing of work in progress, demonstrating the types of activity they’d taken part in, much like an open session, and showing the films and audio work they’d created. I felt completely supported by the staff and the programme as a whole, and there was no pressure on anyone in the room. The response was overwhelming and moving.

In the sharing, the students (aged 10-16) danced with string ‘laser beams’ to improvised music, starting and stopping with the sounds; drew and painted free-form shapes whose shapes and textures beautifully mirrored the improvisations we played and – in reverse – drew shapes for us to characterise in music. Seeing this happen so naturally, with such synchronicity between a silent student and musician had a marked effect on the audience. We sang and played a song we’d written together called ‘Chocolate Land’, using well-developed language like, “Drink the chocolate river, choccy fox, lick it up in little drops”; and showed their films of a sad Hobo Oboe Snowman who finds new friends to cheer him up, and a Flying Carpet ride through the school. The response of parents and teachers was tremendous.


What have I learned?
I used to have quite a limited definition of myself as a musician who used the oboe as my means of expression. Through the challenges and formal reflection of Cre8us partnership work, I now think of myself very differently.

Having the mirror of reflective practice and the supportive honesty of co-practitioners, pupils, teachers and my Creative Agent, I learned that I’m a creative individual, not just an interpreter of other peoples’ compositions. I can be a producer, a catalyst for others’ creativity; I can use no instrument or any instrument or a piece of junk to stimulate ideas; I can make lots of sound or no sound, make it organised or chaotic and not worry about the restrictions of classical performance.

Initially, I was worried about the absence of pressure to create a ‘product’. I thought we might just meander through the programme and not be able to support any real learning. My more-experienced co-practitioners and our Creative Agent’s insightful observation showed me that learning will happen in most situations. The skill lies in identifying that learning (which may not be related to the musical aspects of what you’re doing at all), feeling confident to do so retrospectively, and having the skills to properly document the work and the learning.

In learning environments where time pressure and assessment can have such a high priority, it’s unusual and liberating to be encouraged to try new things; to not have to plan work to fit a curriculum; to stay away from a formula you know to be successful, and have someone ‘holding your hand’ while you walk the ensuing tightrope. Cre8us gave me that and, what’s more, celebrated the risk for its own creative sake. You can learn far more from something that doesn’t work the first time than from something that does. I suppose that’s the essence of the creative process which Cre8us helps to promote- the learning is in the doing of the thing, the journey, and not the finished product.

I now have the confidence and methodology to assert that a Learning programme is exactly that. It isn’t a series of rehearsals for a show. Preparing a performance calls for different skills.

I was allowed to take risks- that is, not to produce a concert performance, and even not to play my instrument within a session. I no longer feel guilty about making that choice because I have a better understanding of my creative ability. The students pushed me- deliberately and accidentally- to stretch my imagination, to make original and familiar things happen, to respond to them musically, physically, verbally and silently, and to laugh and enjoy the times when things didn’t quite work out.

I learned more about orchestral musicians’ ability to communicate without speech and to channel emotion in those weeks than I had up to that point in my life. We could sense something of what the students were saying even when they had no audible voice. We could internalise their mood and give it life in the world through our instruments, thereby influencing the experience of others. That’s what music, any art, is for. Giving voice to things for which there are no words. How did I forget?

With thanks to the teaching, support staff and management of Welcombe Hills School, Stratford upon Avon.


Creative Agent
Nikky Smedley



Artists

Freelance Musicians from Orchestra of the Swan:

Sally Harrop- clarinet

Naomi Rump- violin

Amelia Jones- violin

Tom Caldecote- clarinet

Simon Chalk- violin

Louise Braithwaite- oboe


Freelance Town Hall Symphony Hall Associate artists:

Jonathan Lee, filmmaking & animation specialist

Mat Becket, music technology specialist


Emaillnerbraithwaite@btopenworld.com

Websitewww.orchestraoftheswan.com


 

Sally Harper-Kenn – Collaborative Approach to Outdoor Spaces April 11, 2012

St John the Baptist Catholic Primary School.


A collaboration project with Year 1, Helen Dixon & Kate Kinnay (class teacher& TA) and Sally Harper-Kenn (Creative Practitioner)


‘How can we develop a creative approach to teaching and learning using the outdoor environment to foster creativity?’


From our initial discussions and planning meetings it was apparent that there was a need to develop the outdoor setting as a creative hub of investigation and child centred learning. The outdoors was not utilised and the space was large enough to use during lesson times and to develop a source of stored materials. From the schools point of view they were interested in promoting independent learners, developing an exciting space outdoors and encouraging a hands on, practical approach. Did we achieve this? Yes in some ways I think we did! We reflected well and we definitely were effective risk takers.


After a planning session with the class teacher, we decided to give the children a great starting point by collecting lots of scrap and recycled materials, which would be permanently stored outside the classroom. The children were offered the chance to work with whatever materials they wanted and with who ever they wanted to work with for the first session. They worked well in small groups and their imaginations ignited when offered several buckets, boxes and bags full of recycled materials. They enjoyed working in groups and their conversations were about cooperation and investigation, which was a positive start. The materials were arranged outside the classroom in large containers (there is now a bunker for everything to be stored) but this was a task in itself to keep it tidy and organised as the children were so excited about using it and most of it ended up scattered around the outside area. From the first open-ended session the children developed houses and dens, motorbikes they could sit on and even a rocket larger than them. They talked about their constructions in great depth, explaining how they had made it and the story behind it.


Some children found the experience a little overwhelming, given the open space, the fact that they were outdoors and to them, given free reign. For these children they needed a little more guidance to progress, so over the next couple of visits the children worked individually in the morning learning how to join and connect how to imagine in 3D and inspiration for building structures. This seemed to work very well and gave all of the children the knowledge to build and construct for themselves.


As the sessions developed it was obvious that the children were not only enjoying the making and building but also the feeding back of information. In the afternoon we would work for an hour to finish off outside then the remainder of the afternoon was set aside for evaluating and developing ideas for the next session. As this idea progressed the children got much better at telling their story, being able to articulate to their peers their ideas and reasoning for their work. I think the class teacher was inspired by this and started to include this into her model of teaching on days when I wasn’t there. From these plenary sessions the children developed ideas to build dens and houses (this tied in with the theme running through their learning for that term) and this then progressed into ideas for housing in general resulting in animal and bird houses created from the recycled materials.


So while these sessions were taking place could we document other areas of learning? With the structure building came about role play, the children started to make up stories about who lived in the buildings and these characters they brought to life by dressing up in some of the fabrics collected with the recycled materials. Some children were more interested in the mathematics of getting the buildings to stand, adding windows and developing construction techniques.


To push their learning on further and to develop other ways of using the outdoors the children were offered different materials to experiment with. As the maths coordinator, the class teacher was looking at different and interesting ways of using the outdoor space which she could then use and adapt for future sessions. To give the project the sustainability and assurance that the space was going to be utilised we designed a set of tasks for the children to work with linking it to the building they were already doing and to link with curriculum tasks. The weather had impacted a lot on our sessions, often working in the rain or being very cold. To utilise these effects we set about creating rain gauges and looking at the transfer and flow of water using drain pipes. Each activity was documented and the children recorded and shared their findings. This also started a discussion about environmental issues and we returned to our original discussion about the use of recycled materials.


As a frequent visitor in different schools, this was a great opportunity to work with a class teacher and TA who were keen to try new ways of working and to not plan for every second of the session. They were open to new suggestions and ways of developing the children’s interests and ideas, they were also very good at communicating ideas in between session via email, so I had an idea of what learning had taken place when I wasn’t there. I learnt a lot about how children use spaces and why and given more time to develop the project we could have utilised these findings more.


Before the project finished Year 1 invited Year 2 to come and join them for an afternoon of sharing ideas. The area became alive and a hive of activity with year 1 explaining what they had done and how and working with year 2 to create new structures and to rebuild some of the original structures from the start of the project.


The materials, once the project finished were still available for groups of children to access and were stored in a bunker to keep them in easy reach which will hopefully keep inspiring the children and staff to utilise more of their outdoor space and to develop the children’s interest further by offering open ended activities.


Sally Harper-Kenn


Email: www.sharper-arts.co.uk