Wednesday, 10 July 2013

See what I found?


See What I found?
A tiny wooden chair
Old, twisted, dirty, rough and curly
Found it near the fire circle in the grass
Do fairies us it as a chair?
I adore gathering words and questions with children – and adding thoughts onto luggage labels is something that I (and many others) love…
I often use luggage labels in projects for children (and me!) to add thoughts, questions, words and phrases to objects and places…

Today in the Discovery Garden at Dunkirk year 4 worked with me and we created a set of poems for tiny objects we found – and we made a little Garden museum of treasures…
I love simple poetry formats that follow a set of “rules” but then take on a million different meanings when created by a group of people… There’s something so inspiring and wonderful about a group of poems all made following the same pattern - but each poem has its own beauty, inspirations, quirks and ignites its own questions.
I’ve used lots of different poetry patterns in projects and today we used one of my favourites – this was suggested by Juliet at Creative Star Learning in a really lovely blog post about outdoor poetry .   I’ve used it with adults and children (in schools and when I’ve run INSET sessions) and it produces results that are really captivating.
I’ve just been sorting through the photos I took of the children’s words in the garden – and have been smiling lots of their ideas – a million stories are suggested here I think (and a brilliant image in my head of a bug doing push-ups with a stone…)

See What I found?
A broken white jug
Broken, smooth, hard, bendy and white
I found it in the mud
Is this a piece of a jug and how did it get there?
See what I found?
A flower
Beautiful, green, pink and colourful
I found it on the floor
I wonder if it’s been an animals habitat?

See What I found
An interesting rock
Smooth, rough, bumpy, multi-coloured small rock
I found it next to some dirt
It might have come from space?
See what I found?
Two sticks to peel
Old, big, small, rusty
I found it on some bricks
I wonder that you can make something out of it?
See what I found?
A hard stone
Strong, does not break
I found it in the fire circle
I think a bug uses it to get muscles…
There are many more…
The poetry form is as follows (I’ve also changed it to “did you hear what I heard?”   and other things in a similar vein…)
First line: See what I found

Second line: say what the object is

Third line: four or five descriptive words about it

Forth line: say where you found it

Fifth line: a question about it


And the poems will flood in….

With very many thanks to Juliet at Creative Star Learning for the format and her wonderful blog posts…
We were also really pleased with the wonderful crop of strawberries we were able to pick and eat there and then today!  The Discovery Garden is nurturing us well!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Summer... long grass, wildflowers in the hedgerows, birdsong in the trees and the buzz of insects…


Summer is firmly here and this week the real heat has kicked in, which means for me that VERY early starts and then days in the shade are best for making things.  I’ve been exploring woodland and hedgerows really early to research and gather ideas for projects; and with groups I’ve been trying to find some shade as we celebrate the summer by creating things with natural materials…

An incredibly early start this morning found me up at one of my favourite spots in Derbyshire, where a thick mist covered almost everything: you could feel the hint of the hot sun waiting to appear later – it was really atmospheric.  Birds were calling loudly, a raven flew by “cronking” and there seemed to be jays foraging for food almost everywhere I looked…

The wildflowers in the woods, meadows and hedgerows are looking stunning here at the moment and I so love their names (foxglove, bladder campion, corncockle, monk’s-hood, selfheal, herb-robert, fox-and-cubs… I could go on and on…) there’s a gorgeous mixture of colours and textures and especially so when the sunlight is filtered in the early morning or evening.
With children we’ve been really exploring the properties of different plants – in terms of their colours, textures, their smells and tastes (where applicable!) and the habitat they provide.  The children I work with have been fascinated by the tiny creatures found amongst the plants – cuckoo-spit, leaf galls, spiders, damsel-flies, caterpillars and other grubs are all holding a deep fascination for them.  I’m glad to have a constant supply of ID charts and books nearby because the children can then immediately look things up and it generates some wonderful questions.


At Dunkirk we’ve been creating pictures by the wonderful technique of transferring leaf and petal pigments onto cloth with a mallet!  We deliberately allow lots of things to grow so that there is plenty to pick and make things with, as well as plenty for small creatures to use.   We also ensure there are certain areas of plants clearly demarked so that the children know not to pick from those.


The grass is really long now and I adore the textures and shades in it.  It’s a wonderful setting for photographing the grass itself but also other things placed within the grass…   there’s something really special about being able to lie back in the grass and contemplate the clouds, the birds and the sounds all around you…


I love watching the creative discoveries the children make outside when they use things like grass, plantain, clover and daisies to make things.  I’ve seen all sorts of winding, weaving, plaiting, binding and twisting going on to make things.


In my own wildlife-friendly garden I’m really fascinated by my pond at the moment, there are several adult frogs present, loads of beetles and other water bugs, damsel-flies, hoverflies, water-snails galore… and the tadpoles have almost all grown their legs and emerged as froglets…

In the Discovery Garden at Dunkirk our pond is also thriving with so many insects, I adore sitting by the water with the children watching for things, contemplating, describing and exploring the habitat offered by having a pond.
One of the other plus sides there at the moment is the abundance of fruit that is ripening – strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and more are now all becoming ready daily, so when working outside with the children there are always a few to be picked and eaten as a snack there and then.

An abundance of clover – smells wonderful, is rich in bees and also I’ve found it naturally generates a host of songs being created amongst children as they observe bees busily collecting…
Water on hand is crucial on hot days – to drink but also to cool your feet in…


And water mixed with other things generates all sorts of discoveries… last week a couple of boys showed me exactly how much dry and sand and water were needed to mix together to create a perfectly round sand ball…   They had spent ages getting their mixtures exactly right…

When there is plenty of flowers and grass it means you can pick a few select items to make things…   we’ve been creating potions, dens, garlands, adornments, bunting and adding grass etc onto double sided tape to make a selection of striped images and descriptions…    I also like the addition of sand onto some of these…

I love to use clay throughout the year and at the moment there are so many wonderful natural objects to add to it in creating figures, creatures and mystical beings…


Because the grass is long and insects thrive it means there are endless opportunities for discoveries.   One of the boys in the reception class at Abbey Campus (Dunkirk has two buildings now) found this beetle last week.   The beetle was already dead when discovered – which prompted all sorts of questions about how he had died but it also meant there was a perfect opportunity to study the beetle closely and really get a great look at the exquisite detail in the beetle’s body.


Taking objects you’ve made outside to place amongst the foliage brings a whole other dimension to them…



Monday, 1 July 2013

Pizza in the cob oven…

“Almost anything you can cook in your domestic oven, you’ll be able to cook in a clay oven, and in most cases the food will be better for it… So if you can find around two square metres in your garden, and three spare days in your life, you could build yourself something truly special.   Your humble backyard could be transformed into a Mecca of gastronomy.”
the River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens.
What a great set of experiments – firing up our new oven and cooking food in it to test out the different ways things work…
We’ve done bread and last week we made pizza.   This week we think we’ll try baked apples, roast vegetables (with fresh herbs from the Discovery Garden) and possibly biscuits… 

The practicalities of using the oven begin to take a firmer shape the more we use it.   It does take a good 3 hours to get to the right temperature to cook bread and pizza and it does need someone staying with it during that time to stoke it.  Obviously in a school this means that if we set the oven going at 9am then its ready to cook by lunchtime, which works well if you are trying to cook a class lunch in it, but not if you are wanting to make a mid morning snack!
If we want to use the oven in a morning with a class then it might be that we set the oven going at 8am or maybe we choose to cook a selection of things that don’t need the oven to be so hot.

The pizza tasted great, year 5 did a wonderful job creating small pizzas with their chosen vegetable toppings.   They made very thin dough bases but these still did need the oven to be incredibly hot in order for them to cook through.
Making bread and pizza dough from scratch is brilliant and I feel really strongly that all children should be able to experience this.   Food shouldn’t appear in an instant and good things are worth working at and waiting for!    In our modern world we have become more and more alienated from having to make things ourselves and understand the time (and joy) it really takes to create so much that we want to consume and use.   But equally we may need a few ways we can cook things that won’t need the oven to get so hot!
I’ve had some really lovely feedback and questions about the whole process of creating our oven at Dunkirk.  It’s a big team effort and I think a project like this wouldn’t work without that team of people wanting to be involved.

I think one of the things I’ve found really exciting is that the cob oven is like a work of art in its own right (and creating it was an amazingly powerful community project) but it’s a thing that is then used and takes on a life of its own.  Its not an object that just sits there – we interact with it, we create food to cook in it, we share food around it, we chatter and we build friendships by sharing it.

In terms of having a cob oven in school it has to be something that is taken on board by a team of people who will use it and look after it.
If considering building one in school, some of these things are key:
You need some funds to create a cob oven, but actually not much – most things you need can be begged and borrowed and found.  You can dig the clay up if you have the right soil (we bought ours because our soil is very sandy and we used about 10 bags because the children made cob models too), you can find stone for the base if you hunt around and you can maybe scrounge a bale of straw…

The materials are heavy to move on site – we had to move all of the bags of sand from the builders merchant, piles of the bricks which were donated and the concrete we used to set the base on a firm level.

The building of it needs to be overseen by someone who either has used cob or clay or who has an understanding of the process, (there are a few techniques that need to be in place when its built for it to work as a structure), so maybe the greater expense is actually either paying for someone to come in and facilitate the build or to attend a cob building course – or just the time to experiment a bit beforehand to get the feel for the techniques.

The building of it needs to be done by as many people as possible so that there is a real sense of ownership and an investment in it.

You can only get a small number of children round the oven when building it, so its vital there are a set of interesting parallel activities going on alongside it.

Building it is messy and wonderful fun – you need the right space, the right clothing and loads of room.

The cob oven sits on a base of stone or brick – and that has to be put in place first (we are really glad that our bricks were donated).

When built, it needs a shelter building over it, which can be really simple but it needs protecting from the elements, at least in the UK.  You can cover it with a tarpaulin when not in use.   We have a simple gazebo at the moment but are going to build a wooden structure soon.

When ready, it needs a few people willing to fire it on a regular basis (so they need to thereby understand safe ways to create fires and use fire with a clay oven).

It needs a team of people willing to cook in it and make food with the children – and to experiment!
When it's being used, there needs to be lots of other activities going on around it because there’s only so long a class will watch a fire being stoked and collect / cut wood…!
There are some wonderful websites with images and information about cob on them, I’ve found Kikko Denzer’s book vital and also the River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens.

“There is nothing in the world as satisfying to eat as home-baked, handmade bread… it seems a shame that bread has become so standard and commonplace, that we don’t even consider what a small miracle a risen loaf is…”
the River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens.