Category Archives: creativity

Participation art and children

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A few weeks back I wrote about an art project I worked on with my husband Iain Cotton. The project was a letting cutting piece for St Michaels primary Winterbourne. I worked with Iain on the participation of the children in the school. We got every child in the school to design a letter. Iain then cut these letters into a large stone.

 

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The stone is now finished and in place on the school grounds, most of the carving took place in Iain’s workshop and then he finished the last line on site, so the children could watch him carve. He also painted the letters on site. The response from the children and the school has been wonderful, children have recognised their letters and excitedly told Iain which one was theirs, they have shown so much joy and delight that their letter is on the stone.

This was a wonderful project to be involved in, each child in the school had a part in this art piece. It was so inspiring to see how every child was able to create and design their own letter. The younger children took such delight in playfully making letters with plasticine. Plasticine enabled them to manipulate and design a letter in a way they would have found hard with writing. The older children were able to be very imaginative and creative with their drawn designs.

At a time when creativity is having less of a place in education, it was wonderful to work with a school on a creative project and to leave a lasting legacy with the school. Who knows some of the children we worked with may one day become artists, letter cutters or designers, but hopefully we left them all with a very positive memory about their involvement in an art project.

 

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Participation, art and children

 

In the past, I have collaborated with my husband Iain Cotton on various creative projects. Iain leading on the art and I lead on participation, drawing on both our skills and passions. Last week we had the opportunity to work together professionally, Iain has been commissioned to create a sculpture for Winterbourne Primary school. This was to be a project which involved the children.

We wanted this project to involve the children’s creative ideas, the aim of this project was to be creative, participative and inclusive. The idea was for Iain to carve words, chosen by the school, into a large sand stone boulder. It was very important to us both that all the children in the school would be involved in this project. We decided to get each child in the school to design a letter. There will be one letter for every child in the school.

The words that are being carved are:

 

St Michaels Church of England Primary School Winterbourne

Learn
Care
Enjoy

 

Enjoy the present
Educate for the future
Inspire with Love

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

We had many discussions about how we could involve the children in a meaningful way, this project was about inspiring the children to think about how letters are formed, about designing and creating. We wanted each child to design their own, unique letter. Iain will then carve each individual letter onto the stone. One of the challenges with this idea is, of course, the varying ability of the different ages. I knew that in reception and year one there are some children who would find it very difficult to write a letter, for this reason, we decided to use 2 materials, we used plasticine and coloured pens. I have used plasticine many times in participation projects, it is an excellent tool for children of all ages to use. It holds it’s shape well and works across the ages. With the children in reception and year one, we gave each child a letter which was in their name. This was important as they would be familiar with the letters in their name and were likely to be used to writing it. We knew for the children in the lower years it would be a challenge to design a letter, but our hope with using plasticine was that the children would be encouraged to be more playful with the material and this would come through in the letters they made.

With the children in reception and year one, we worked with small groups, enabling us to give them more support and attention. We involved our youngest daughter on this project, she is on a gap year and we knew an extra adult would be very helpful. Iain started the day with an assembly, showing the children photos of his sculptures and letting cutting work and introducing the idea.

We found such a joyous enthusiasm from all the children. We worked with the whole school over two days. The children in the lower years mainly used plasticine, this worked really well as it enabled them to be imaginative and make clear letters.The children from year 3 upwards mostly used pens to design their letters, but for those who found that hard they were able to use the plasticine and found a freedom with that. The children from year 2 upwards began to experiment and design a bit more using plasticine and drawing. With children in year 3 and 4, they really enjoyed making pictures with the letters, we had dinosaurs, cats, a shark and a flamingo as part of the letters. With years 5 and 6 we were seeing a stronger graphic design, with bolder, stronger shapes. They had more of an understanding of translating their design into stone carvings.

The process of designing letters with the children was wonderful, it worked across the ages, enabling children of different abilities to be involved.

Next stage of the process is for Iain to translate this all into carvings!. The letters from the lower years are going to make up the sentences at the bottom of the stone and then will go up in year groups. With the older children’s letters being used at the top of the stone. By putting them together on the stone in year groups this will help each child to find their letter, but also gives a lovely image of the children’s work developing across the ages.

It has been a fantastic project to work on together, it reminded us both of the joy of bringing participative and creative practice together.

 

Once this art work has been finished and installed, I will ad an updated blog posting.

 

Mental wellbeing

 

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This week I have started writing the last chapter for my new book on the wellbeing of adults who work with children. The chapter’s focus is on mental wellbeing, so often when we are stressed, anxious and are wellbeing is low, we lose focus on how we look after our brain. An important aspect of looking after our mental wellbeing is through ongoing stimulation and learning. The learning doesn’t have to be about formal learning; it can be about learning new skills, and mental stimulation can be through creative and cultural engagements. However, this needs to be an intentional act, an area that we actively think about and choose to partake in. When we are deeply tired, this can feel very hard, but maybe that is the time when we most need to engage and help our mental wellbeing,

Yesterday I posed a question to early years practitioners about how they improve their mental wellbeing. I had some great responses about engaging in learning through books, web training, reflective practice with colleagues, being involved in yoga, gardening, knitting, spending time outdoors.

I have recently been working on my metal wellbeing by extending my learning and my creativity through foraging!, since a study trip to Denmark around seven years ago I have become fascinated in foraging and what you can cook and make from the foraged food. This spring I have been experimenting a lot, some more successful than others. I have discovered a few foraging people on Facebook who I now follow. I have made nettle soup, nettle cordial ( not a success!) dandelion and wild garlic salad, wild garlic and nettle pesto, wild garlic bread and dandelion salve for tired muscles; the dandelion salve that one was a great success foe my general wellbeing. Today I am going to make a nettle and honey cake, and I will see if the elderflower in our local playing field is out for me to make my yearly elderflower cordial. I love the creative process of experimenting and making new things with my foraged goodies; I am fascinated around what we can eat and make from the weeds in my garden and the lanes around my house. It is engaging my brain in a way that is gentle but enjoyable, and for me, it is a great way to switch off from work and my nurture cases.

My encouragement today is thinking about how you are looking after your mind and your mental wellbeing, what could you do today that would gently help your mental wellbeing?

How do we help children have a good wellbeing?

 

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Wellbeing is a term we hear a lot about for adults and young people, but we don’t hear so much about it for young children. We know that the rates of teenage mental health problems are rising alarmingly, we are aware that children and young people are feeling increasingly stressed and distressed. I passionately believe if we can help young children to have a good wellbeing then we are setting them off on a great start in life. To help children have a good wellbeing we need to be intentional about it.

One critical aspect of a child having good wellbeing is by them knowing that they are loved, they are loved for the unique and precious individual that they are. Parents and Grandparents clearly have a crucial role in letting children know that they are unconditionally loved, but I also believe that Key workers, Ta’s, children’s workers also have a role in showing children that they are loved and wanted. We show this through the words we use, the way we hold children. Part of my job is as a nurture consultant; I have seven children and schools that I support throughout the year. Every time I see one of my nurture children I ensure I show delight in seeing them that day, I smile at them, I look them in the eyes and tell them how lovely it is to see them today, how much I have been looking forward to our time together.

If you work with children, think about how you welcome them each day. By showing warmth in your smile and your words, through noticing how they look; maybe they have a spiderman hat on or a new hair band in their hair. Through seeing things that are important to the children and telling them how delighted you are to see them, this helps a child to arrive feeling wanted and loved.

In my new book Promoting Young Children’s emotional wellbeing, I explore a few essential ways we can further help to embed this. Below are a few examples:
Playing outside– there is so much research showing the need for children to spend quality time being outside. Giving children opportunities to explore, discover, climb, run. As parents we can do this by taking walks each day, going to the park, going to a field. Playing bubbles outside is a joyful and cheap activity to do with children outside.

Sensory play– giving children the chance to explore with all their senses, children learn through exploring and using all their senses. A very simple example of sensory play is play dough; you can buy this very cheaply or make your own ( there are many recipes on Pinterest)

Using emotional language– We need to help children understand their feelings and emotions, by using emotion language and giving them an emotional vocabulary we are enabling them to understand their feelings and also other peoples. From babies we can start to talk about their feelings e.g when a baby is crying to be fed we can respond with gently saying ‘ it’s ok I know you are feeling hungry, I am going to feed you now’. With a toddler who is crying because their parent has left them at nursery we can say ‘ I can see you are really sad that Mummy has gone, she will be back later I am here for you now” .
Un-rushing & stillness– Our lives are often very busy, and our children’s lives are often busy too. We need to help children to find times to rest, to experience moments of stillness. Are there spaces in your setting or your home where your child can lay back and relax or daydream?. You can also use Yoga and Mindfulness with young children both of these practices help children to find stillness. CBeebies have a children’s program called Waybuloo which teaches different yoga poses.

Being creative– creativity is an essential part of wellbeing.We need to give children the space to be creative and to be creative with them. Find times to sing and dance with your children, dancing and singing together with your toddler can be a joyful experience. Giving children the opportunity to experiment with paint, chalks, making things with cardboard boxes, these will all help your child’s wellbeing.

Be co-explorers – Children have a passion for learning and discovering, they need adults around them who want to learn and explore with them. I believe one of our roles as adults is to be a co-explorer and adventure with our children. Children are great at becoming fascinated in something, this might be the snail and sticks on the road as you are walking to the shops, or it may be a fascination with dinosaurs. As adults, we can show interest and delight with children and learn alongside them.

Our wellbeing -And finally, if we are going to help children to have a good wellbeing we need to pay attention to our wellbeing. We need to take care of ourselves; we need to ensure we are eating well, exercising, having rest and doing things which make us happy.
I explore all these themes more fully in my book, this is available from Tuesday 21st March, it can be ordered from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

I am also discussing these in a workshop in Bath at Castle Farm Cafe on Thursday 6th April at 7pm,  book tickets on their website.

Creativity and well-being

 

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I have been exploring over the last few months how creativity enhances our well-being. One of the chapters in my new book has a focus on creativity- ‘Promoting young children’s emotional health and well-being- a practical guide for professionals and parents’, due to be published in March by Jessica Kingsley publishers. I believe if we want to encourage children to be creative and we value the benefits to creativity then we need to discover and nurture the creative side in ourselves. It is very hard to fully encourage creativity in children if we don’t have our own creative experiences/ opportunities.

Last weekend I delivered training with the staff at Hopscotch nursery on creativity . We started the training by thinking about how each of them were creative, at first this was quite a hard exercise, but through encouragement and discussion they were all able to think of things- for some it was the creative way they used make-up, for others it was the creative way they baked or played an instrument.

If Art and music were subjects you dreaded in school and you felt you failed at them, then the word creativity can bring with it many negative feelings. This was how I felt early in my career . Fortunately, I met and then married an artist- Iain Cotton he helped me to see that creativity is so much more than being able to draw or dance. Creativity is more than just the ‘arts’ .Creativity is as much about how you view the world, how you engage with life, how you have creative ideas and problem solving as well as how you make things.

Being creative is not always about the end product, it is about the process, it’s about the ideas, it’s about the active doing. I believe this is what enhances our well-being, actively engaging, taking part. Research has shown that participating in creative activities can improve physical and psychological well-being (Swart 2015).

As part of the training, we engaged in different creative opportunities, ideas that the staff could use with the children. One of these was exploring our senses through painting with food. This was very popular with the group. This activity is great to use with babies and children who put everything in their mouth. It involved homemade edible paint ( natural yoghurt with food colouring), spices, fresh herbs, fruit tea bags and fruit ( raspberries and blueberries). It was wonderful to see how the team fully engaged in this and had fun exploring and engaging in this activity, the laughter, the enjoyment it brought, this was a good moment of enhancing their well-being.

During this week in my nurture work, I am going to be using the food painting with my nurture children, one girl has asked me to bring in custard to use. I am hoping they and I will get as much fun and laughter and enhancing our well-being as the staff in the training did.

Photo taken by Lucy – owner of Hopscotch Nursery 

Offering resources to children which look beautiful

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During this week I have been thinking about resources for my nurture work, thinking about the individual needs and interests of the different children.I have also been writing training and organising photos to go into my book- Promoting young children’s health and well-being, which will be published soon by Jessica Kingsley publishers. The thread in all of these activities is giving careful thought about the resources we offer to children and how we can make them look inviting.

I believe if we want children to get pleasure from the activity, if we want children to learn to value and look after resources and if we want children to have the opportunity to create beautiful things then we need to offer them resources which look attractive, beautiful and inviting.

I love it when I see creative areas in classrooms and nurseries which look inviting and attractive. In Reggio Emilia ( a town in North Italy who are have developed a creative pedagogy) they give a lot of thought to the resources they offer, how they look, how they feel etc. I visited Reggio over ten years ago and took away with me the idea of presenting materials and resources to children in a beautiful way.

During this last week, I have been developing a new resource, inspired by Reggio practice, it is a resource tray of small parts. I will be using this in training I am delivering, I also plan to use it as one of the photos in my book. I have made a smaller version that I will be using in my nurture work. The idea of a small parts tray is to offer resources that children can use in their creative making.The aim is that it looks interesting, tactile, inviting and will encourage children to extend their creative activities.

Photo of small parts tray taken by Iain Cotton

Growing new ideas

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One aspect I love about being self-employed is the freedom to grow and develop new ideas. Sometimes these work, sometimes they don’t, which can be hard, but I really value the space to be able to try and the space to be able to think creatively. Over the last couple of years, I have realised that I really enjoy the creative process of thinking and developing new projects/ resources and I am learning to be braver about trying to push these forward and see if they can grow and take off.

Over the last year I have been working with my husband and 2 close friends on developing one of these new ideas, it started as an idea for a children’s illustrated book to explain Bipolar to children and then developed into the idea of making this into an animation as well as a book. Over the last 5 weeks, we pushed forward a crowdfunding project to fund this idea. We knew we were being highly ambitious in the amount we were trying to raise and we were really unsure if it would work ,if anyone would want to back it. We didn’t raise the full amount we needed, but we did have pledges for half the amount .

When you try out a new idea, you often don’t have a sense of whether it will work, it can feel really risky, you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position of risking rejection and criticism and that is very hard. The flip side of that is people do support you and you discover that people love you and believe in your idea. That has been my experience, as a group working on the Mummy’s got Bipolar project we have all been deeply touched by the support we have been offered, the generosity of people. Alongside this the incredibly moving comments from strangers telling us that they didn’t know how to tell their children about their Bipolar, messages of encouragement from people living with Bipolar telling us there is a great need for this project.

This morning I went for my usual Sunday morning walk around the meadow at the back of our house. This is a space where I can think and reflect. This morning I noticed a small horse chestnut tree sapling growing on the edge of the meadow. I loved noticing the beauty of this tiny new tree and the possibility of the great tree it might grow to become. We have been really encouraged by the support we had through sharing the idea of our project with others; our project feels a bit like that tiny tree, I still don’t know quite what it will become, but we are going to try and continue to see if we can make it grow.