Saturday, 30 June 2012

what happens when the sunlight illuminates and reveals things...

Natural light is a wonderful thing to work with - and it's a wonderful journey to take with children as they explore sunlight, shadows, colours, reflections and translucency. 

Children notice so much and are brilliant at experimenting and testing out different combinations of resources.  It never ceases to amaze and inspire me as I watch them experiment.  What is crucial is that children have an environment around them (in terms of physical and emotional space) that enables them to explore.

A little while ago, with Oak Class at Dunkirk, (year 2) we made kaleidoscopes as part of an exploration of toys (and looking at toys we have now and toys that children have played with in the past).  The children made wonderful things and discovered so much.

Natural light illuminates in ways that artificial light doesn’t, it brings a certain quality of colour and shade that is very special.  Maybe the fact that we can’t control it adds to this sense of preciousness.  The sun shining through a shadow screen is very different to the light from an artificial source.

The shades, shadows, translucency and colours in objects that natural light brings have a great depth to them.  Working with natural light – and taking note of it as it changes – brings us closer to nature.

The sun will shine through things in unexpected ways and draw attention to things hidden in nooks and crannies...

crayfish have a tea party

A little while ago Katy Doncaster and I created a crayfish tea party as part of a watery wildlife event at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire.  It links so well with the other story spaces we've been creating recently, so I wanted to add some images here.   We adore Calke Abbey and spent a lot of time there during our Stories Out Of Place project, researching the ways people create and leave stories and traces of their journeys. 

Calke, like many places, has hidden secrets and precious things that many visitors never see.  One of the many wonderful things about the grounds at Calke is that the ponds play home to native white-clawed crayfish, which are an endangered species.   These small creatures hide away and most people will not know that are there.  So visitors might notice the big house (which is an amazing space to explore) and the huge trees and the walled garden etc, but not the teeny creatures lurking away...

As part of an event to celebrate the watery wildlife at Calke, Katy and I set up a space for the crayfish - who were being moved temporarily whilst their ponds had some work carried out on them.  We wanted to set up a slightly eccentric place which would draw attention to the crayfish and the need to care for them; a space where people could come and chat about their experiences at Calke.  Of course the crayfish, being near a grand house, had to move into a room where they could have a grand Edwardian style tea-party...

please note : no crayfish were hurt during the making of this tea-party...

Friday, 29 June 2012

book sparrows and teeny cafes

Katy Doncaster and I have added a few more things in tucked away spaces at Scarthin Books.

Book sparrows are a bit like house sparrows but with a little less noise... (they still wait hopefully for cake crumbs though!)

Inspired by Dave's wonderful story about the transformation of the children's book room, Katy's made a wonderful tiny abode for the King of the bookshop.  You need to peep inside to see his collection of books and other things he's gathered about him...

it's mud day, it's mud day, did you know it's mud day?

It's International Mud Day.  Everyday this week I've been exploring the properties of mud with different groups.  We've painted with it on cloth and on ourselves, we've sculpted it, we've made it into potions and pies, we've mixed it with water, we've searched in it for things and the weather had it's own ideas and mixed the rain with it and gave us HUGE puddles to jump in...

There's some footage of children at Dunkirk exploring mud and associated things here:

Last summer I learnt about cob building at the Derbyshire Eco Centre and was part of a group who built this cob oven there.  It's a really gorgeous technique and completely addictive - and the bread etc cooked inside is delicious...     

  You can find so much if you search in mud

you can push things into mud and make homes for mini-beasts...


and muddy puddles mixed with sun offer wonderful mirrors...

Friday, 22 June 2012

the possibilities in a grain of sand

Sand, like mud and water, holds endless opportunities for discovery.  Children (and adults) will explore it for hours - but, like mud and water, this needs an environment that is supportive of this kind of exploration.  I've always been fascinated by watching the ways people explore beaches - they make things, create worlds, jump, roll, dig and dig and dig, mix water with sand, hunt for treasure, run, lay down and contemplate, draw and write in the sand and so much more...  You can't do all this standing next to a small sand tray (especially if it is indoors and adults are worried about sand getting onto the floor).

We're really lucky at Dunkirk Primary to have two wonderful sand areas: there's a big sand pit in the main school playground surrounded by seating and plants; and in the foundation stage there's a really big sand area which can easily hold 30 children.  This area used to be tarmac and was re-designed by the children with the staff:  we visited lots of different places and together undertook loads of idea-generating activities to think about what we wanted.  There's a wide slide into the sand, which lets children slide down side by side.  There's pulleys and containers to lift up the sand.  There's logs of different sizes to sit on and move about.  And there are spades, rakes, buckets, pots and tools of many different sizes. 

It's an amazing space to watch the children learn.  As an adult you are able to really observe and watch the children's inventions and discoveries.    

"Digging in deep sand with a long-handled spade provides a whole-body immersion in the concepts being explored and is a richer experience than reaching into a sand tray using only hands and arms."
Learning Through Landscapes

In such a big area of sand, children can work alone or with others - and therefore their play is extended all the time as they notice what others are discovering.  Ideas can gather momentum and move between children.  They can dance and jump and make sand-angels, and sit in the sand; they can bury things and dig for treasure, they can add water (children MUST be able to add water to sand), they can make small worlds and they can imagine they are in a different land. 

mud, mud, glorious mud...

there's nothing quite like it...

"hey, I've found a writing feather"

Mud is a constant source of fascination for children, I adore watching them explore it - and new discoveries emerge all the time.  Mud is a perfect example of loose parts - something that can be used in endless ways and can represent a million things as it is moved about, shaped, explored and experienced.  Mud can be wet, dry, hard, soft, crumbly, rock-solid, sticky...  children will use so many words as they describe it.

It's International Mud Day on June 29th:

It should be mud day, every day!  As Ellen Ruppel Shell says:
 "forget about swings and teeter-totters and concrete turtles - to be a real success, a playground needs a few good mudholes" (from the article "Kids don't need equipment, they need opportunity", Natural Playgrounds).

Mud can give children endless opportunities for imaginative play, for scientific discovery, for creating wonderful images and sculptural forms.  It contains so many intriguing creatures - digging in mud enables you to discover and marvel at worms and all kinds of amazing mini-beasts. 

Add water and you have a whole range of new textures.  Dig a huge hole and you have a wonderful place of discovery.  Mud is different throughout the year, frozen mud holds a whole set of different qualities to summer soil... 

With the aid of waterproofs and wellies and it's fine to get covered in mud... but it's also a really interesting thing to feel on your skin!   A mud kitchen or potion-making lab needs no expensive equipment, I've watched children explore and invent for hours with some old baking pots and tins, wooden spoons, mashers and sticks.  Pestle and mortars work really well as do whisks, ladles, sieves and tea-spoons.  Soil and containers of different sizes let children explore weight and measurement.  Gutters, pulleys, planks, wheelbarrows and buckets let children move earth from place to place. 

I've watched boys who find writing and drawing inside daunting get incredibly busy and self-motivated outside to write and draw into mud.  If you are wearing waterproofs then children who are worried about getting clothes dirty find a new sense of freedom and exploration.

"Mud is the perfect material for art and building: easy, durable, beautiful.  Unlike standardised industrial stuff, it varies a lot.  Different earths do different things - or the same things in a different way - but just about anything works, and if it doesn't work, it lets you know so you can try something else."  Kiko Denzer "Dig Your Hands in the Dirt, a manual for making art out of the earth"

Saturday, 16 June 2012

poems, pancakes and planting

Just before half term I ran an inset for all the Dunkirk staff on the school allotment.  It gave all the adults a chance to really explore the space and discover the different layers of things waiting for them.  I'd put a treasure hunt together as a way of beginning to look at some of the things in the allotment, and this generated loads of conversations - between people but also between people and plants.

There's three of us at the school with the Level 3 Forest School Leader qualification, which is really exciting in terms of the work we can develop with the children and the support we can offer each other.  We lit a fire and the inset snack was cooked on that: toast, crumpets and elderflower fritters.  It was also a wonderful illustration of why a fire circle is so appealing.  It generated some really deep conversations about the importance of calm spaces for reflection, for sharing discoveries, for just "being" and why tinkering with the fire is so captivating.        

We all gathered things we found intriguing and used a simple, but really lovely poetry structure to each write a poem about the things we'd discovered.  We placed them all together and made a little museum of allotment treasures.

What I also loved was watching the different ways everyone chose to explore the space, just as a group of children might.  Some people wanted to be alone, some wanted to be with others, some wanted time to look and observe, some wanted to get busy with tools and others were really excited by the properties of the different plants.  A space like the allotment offers areas where people can do all of those things (unlike many indoor classrooms).  People laughed and joked and shared their discoveries, but they could also find solitude and space for contemplation - and also space for being quiet.

It was a really special opportunity to explore the many issues and educational opportunities offered by nature.  It gave all of us a chance to reflect upon what the children have been finding in the nature spaces at the school, but also to look at ourselves as both adults and to think about when we were children.   

what can you hear amongst the blades of grass?

It feels incredibly special to be able to develop the allotment space at Dunkirk with so many pupils and staff.  We're discovering so much there and every visit brings new surprises.  The children spend so much time looking, exploring and sharing their discoveries - they are full of endless questions about what they can see, hear and smell.   Why are some bees bigger than others?  What is the name of this grass?  Why are there holes in the ground?  Why is this leaf smooth?  What made this mark?   

It's a real privilege to share journeys of discovery with children and vital to make time for the questions to emerge - and equally vital not to rush into answers.  Children's questions are usually incredibly astute and often illustrate just how attentive to detail children are.  They notice so much - and very often the things they notice are things adults often rush past.

Working on the allotment with the children is also an illustration of how crucial it is to return to the same place again and again throughout the year.  It lets you get to know a place incredibly well and you peel away layer after layer as you explore.  It also lets you really get a sense for the seasonal changes of a place - and to see how familiar things are different as the weather and seasons change. 

For children, there's also the incredibly important aspect of routine, repetition and ritual in returning to the same place.  Children need time to revisit places and activities and to test them out over and over: each time they learn new things.  They work like scientists do, testing out hypotheses as they scrutinise the things they discover.  

We've loved watching all the wild flowers emerge on the allotment.  We've planted lots of things to attract wildlife but of course hundreds of plants have found their own way to us.  At the moment there is an area of clover, covered in bees.  The children have been so interested in this - and we've found safe places where we can sit and watch the bees without hurting them (or us).  The children have been fascinated by the many different kinds of bees and just how different they look.  "Why are some bees bigger than others?" asked one of the reception boys a couple of day ago.  He watched the bees for such a long time, making up a song about them, noticing how they weren't all yellow and black stripes.   

We're lucky also to have Nottingham Canal run at the back of the allotment.  We're busy making a pond at the moment and although that's not complete yet, because the canal water is just beside us, we are getting so many dragonflies, damselflies and other interesting creatures.  The place is full of birds too and forms a crucial place in the wildlife corridor of the area.  

The allotment is a place where stories emerge - from the children and adults as they discover things and also from the place itself.  It's in the middle of the city, but it feels like another world.  Everywhere you can see signs of the things that happen when people aren't there!  Every day there are new things waiting to be discovered.