Sunday, 29 January 2012

the wonder of clay

Clay – real clay – is one of the most versatile, exciting, tactile and expressive materials.  It has an elemental quality that children find fascinating and absorbing.  It can be shaped into a million things and can therefore be used to express so much and to explore endless ideas.

I use clay a lot with groups of all ages, both inside and outside and on a small and large scale.  Sometimes we fire it, but most often we don't.  We use it - and then its either allowed to crumble back into the soil or we re-constitute it and use it again (endlessly).

I used clay a lot on my fine art degree and adore the multitude of things you can do with it.  It absorbs energy and imaginations.  It's calming, soothing, appealing and invites you to explore it in so many ways.  It’s a material that speaks to you with so many voices.

Children tend to be deep in thought when they use clay and I’ve watched and listened to so many children using clay over the years – language flows and words spill out as children become so eager to describe what they are discovering.  High energy children find a place to ‘land’ with clay and they are absorbed by it.  Clay can turn into anything in imaginative play and is wonderful as children explore ideas about their world. 

It has so many states of being – it’s wet, sticky, dry, crumbly… it squelches, it cracks, it rolls, it flops… it takes imprints, it can be really heavy, it can be tiny specks of dust…  you can paint with it, draw in it, build huge towers with it, stick other things into it…

“The most effective resources for the development and use of imagination and expression are open-ended and versatile, so that they can be used by the child to represent whatever he or she wants.”
“Playing and Learning Outdoors” by Jan White.

Friday, 20 January 2012

drawing, exploring images and finding ways to make your mark

"Children are sensitive to how materials ‘speak’.  While drawing is a form of thinking, it also involves responding to and exploring the language of materials.  Clear / fuzzy, strong / delicate, velvety / powdery, bold / spidery, dark / pale  - different kinds of lines influence how children draw.  Each material has its own character, its own range of possibilities... Drawing thrives when children can draw regularly and for as long as they like."
Ursula Kolbe, "It's Not A Bird Yet.  The drama of drawing".

I use drawing so much with groups that I work with.  It's such a powerful tool in reflection, gathering ideas, in communication and in making your voice heard.  There are so many gorgeous materials to use and so many rich surfaces on which to draw.  For children the language of drawing is endless and the purpose for drawing changes and develops all the time.  Children may express things such as movement through strong marks (I remember a wonderful drawing of a car which was all centred around the fast lines which depicted that childs ideas about the movement of cars).  Drawing materials can be so rich that a lot of drawing is connected to exploring this - maybe scratching and rubbing into oil pastels or enjoying the depth of darkness in charcoal...  

Children often communicate in such depth through their drawings - and, in turn, drawing is a powerful way to focus on other things (whilst we draw our thoughts sometimes wonder and enable us to assimilate other things).  Places and spaces for drawing are so important.  Opportunities for drawing alone and with others are vital.  For young children, having an adult draw alongisde you can be incredibly rich - if the adult is listening and enabling you to develop your ideas.   


Sometimes small people and creatures can explore drawings...  Sometimes pictures
are created specifically as a place for tiny figures to explore...  and
stories are created all the time as this happens...

With groups I frequently use other things to draw with - wool, sand, soil, water and so much more...  When you are free to arrange things and change your mind, then it opens up huge possibilities for creativity and ideas to flow.  When you can keep changing your mind it enables you to test out so many things - and to maybe link with other people around you.  I've seen so many wonderful ideas emerge from a class of children and a ball of wool...    (especially when you can work on big paper whilst music plays and you get cosy sitting or lying on the floor on big cushions...)

 “What can we learn if we open our eyes and ears, and challenge accepted notions about specific stages in children’s drawing?  What can we discover from close attention to children’s words, sounds and body language as well as their marks and images?

Children often use drawing as a powerful tool for thinking.  In different ways and at different rates, they develop a range of mark-making skills and strategies, and use drawing for various representational purposes in their quest to make sense of themselves and their world.

From birth, children are intent on learning about themselves and their world of people and things.  Their drive to engage with others is boundless.  Unceasingly curious and eager explorers, they use every possible means – and this of course includes us – to learn how to make sense of it all.

How might we respond to early mark-making?  What is there to see?  How can we show the same degree of interest that we show in realistic drawing?  We can begin with a look at the actual ‘doing’ – the movements, the vocal sounds, the sheer sensuous pleasure of playfully handling sheets of papers and markers.  And the utter surprise and delight in seeing what happens.

It may last only moments, but mark making involves more than just ‘making’:  it’s as much about perceiving and responding too."

Ursula Kolbe, "It's Not A Bird Yet. The drama of drawing".

Monday, 16 January 2012

the wonders of worms

Worms can teach us so much - and hold a strong sense of fascination and wonder for so many of us.   I've met so many children who are intrigued by worms and who will happily spend hours searching for them, watching them and making homes for them. 

So much of my work takes place outside and it feels so special that whilst we are exploring and making things we also happen across so many other things.  We might be outside planting living willow or making dens or searching for autumn leaves - and almost always children will encounter worms - and will take time to really look and watch and chatter about them.

Worms often are some of the first creatures children can get really close with and watch - and they need time to really look and observe them.  A love of the natural world is fostered by experiencing all the wonders it has to offer - and sharing these with others.  We need real, hands-on and powerful experiences which enable us to make relationships with the world around us. 

Children might need some adult facilitation to help them look at and possibly to hold worms in ways that ensure the worm stays happy (!) - but I find children generally are fascinated and want to look and they do want to treat worms carefully.  Its often our interactions with other creatures that enable us to think about how we would like to be treated ourselves. 

I've worked with so many children, in so many different settings, where worms have played a huge part of sessions.  I've know children spend hours searching for worms, describing them in amazing detail, giving them names and really looking at their habitats.

When creating a living willow dome last year with the foundation unit at Dunkirk Primary we used dibbers to make the holes for the willow - and in the process we found so many worms.  One child spent all morning watching them, absolutely fascinated - chatting away about the names, shapes, ages and sizes of the different worms he found.  He was really interested in their homes in the ground and didn't want to go home and leave the worms.  He'd been talking about the family connections between the worms and, when home time came, without any prompting he created holes to place the worms in and whispered goodbye to them.

Other children also became fascinated in watching the soil pass through the worms.  We make compost in school and the children are so interested in how the worms enrich and create soil. 

I've known children to create birthday parties for worms - a way of giving a really valued celebration to show how much you care.  Worms can be almost any shape - and children love to see these.  Worms can be curled up small and then uncurl and become longer then you ever thought possible.

Worms will find their way back into the soil - and if you take time to watch they will disappear before your eyes as they burrow back into the ground.

I think there's such a crucial set of things to be learned from spending time with worms.  Its a vital part of connecting with the natural world around us and fosters our sense of wonder and fascination. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

the endless possibilities to be found in natural materials - and why such rich discoveries happen when there are plenty of loose parts and lots of time

“A “loose-parts” toy, as Nicholson defined it, is open-ended; children may use it in many ways and combine it with other loose-parts through imagination and creativity…. Nature, which excites all the senses, remains the richest source of loose parts.”

Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv.

I work with natural materials as much as possible, they give rise to endless fascination, discoveries and explorations.  They can alert all the senses and connect us to the world around us.  So many aspects of life in the 21st Century mean we are at great risk of losing our connections with the natural world and this is further compounded by the pace at which we are often asked to live our lives - whether we are young children or adults... 

If you take time to stop and look - there are wonders and treasures to be found everywhere around you.  There really is a story underneath every stone...  I love working with children and the endless ways in which they find these stories and how they love to share them.  Adults sometimes rush by things which children will notice and stop to question.

Natural resources can be found in so many places; you can work with them there and then or have the delights of collecting things to use later.  In my work as artist in residence at Dunkirk Primary and Nursery School we use natural materials as much as possible - inside and outside.  Autumn leaves are used to make endless dens and patterns and costumes outside - and then back in school we look at them on the light box, we draw and print with them, we use them with clay, we make mobiles... 

“Natural materials have very high play value and contribute to all major areas of development.  As a resource for play they are entirely open-ended and can be used
in a myriad of different ways.  They allow children to make sense of the world
around them – first through direct contact with its elements and then as play
materials for following their own interests and creative ideas.  What other educational resource does so much, and for so little expense?”
“Playing and Learning Outdoors” by Jan White.

On an exploration of the local area we found acorns galore and the children were bursting with their enthusiasm and delight in the different properties they found within them. 
Acorns with hats, acorns that were smooth or wrinkled, acorns in a rainbow of colours, acorns that had a face on them, acorns that could turn into a space rocket or
a house, acorns with grubs living inside them... 

But if we'd rushed past the place of acorns (or not gone out for a walk at all) we would never have found out so much.  And life is a richer place when you make time to find acorns that look like a catterpillar...

“Any natural place contains an infinite reservoir of information, and therefore the
potential for inexhaustible new discoveries…”
Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv.