Tag Archives: participation

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.

 

Listening to children and young people

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The news this week filled me with hope, and the main reason was that record numbers of young people chose to vote. I have worked in the field of children and young people’s participation for over 15 years. For many years I ran participation work, commissioned by our local authority. For years I heard policy makers, politicians, budget holders tell me they wanted to hear from children and young people but all too often their actions showed us something different. If children and young people feel like their voices won’t be heard, then they won’t speak out, they won’t participate. But there appears to be a change taking place. Finally, young people feel like someone is listening to them. Finally, they are recognising they do have a voice, and they have a right to partake and give their opinion.

My specialism for years in the participation field was in how we listen to the youngest of children, I have delivered a ‘ listening to young children’ training course, across the country for many years. I know that if we get it right in the early years, then we are providing children with essential life skills.

Listening to young children is a joy, we can and should involve them in decision making about a wide range of areas, including:

Staff recruitment
Staff appraisals
Resources we buy
Follow their interests for our planning
The design of our rooms/ outdoor spaces and buildings
They can help us plans menus etc

Over the years I have seen some inspiring examples of listening to children in the early years. I have worked across many sectors, and I always argued some of the best participation practice was coming from the early years. I would like to believe one of the reasons we are seeing a change in Young Peoples voting today is because those young people were the three and four year olds sixteen years ago that were listened to and had a voice in their early years setting. In early years we are making a difference.

 

 

Enjoying the moment and practicing gratitude.

 

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At times life can feel busy, fraught as if things are happening and I get caught in them rather than actively taking part in them. During this month I have been trying hard to feel present, to enjoy the moments and to practice gratitude. I have started a journal this year, a journal to write down the things I am feeling grateful for. This practice of gratitude helps me to see the good moments, even in a day which has felt very hard. This last week has had some wonderful moments to be grateful for, a walk in beautiful sunshine with my daughter, excellent feedback on Mummy’s Got Bipolar book, children joyfully engaging in an activity, attending a protest march, watching beautiful sunrises as I arrive back from my daily swim

This last week it has felt particularly important to be grateful for the life I have and the opportunities I have. Last Sunday we spent time with a close friend who is dying of cancer, the conversations were around the time she has left, the things she wants to do, her regrets about what she hasn’t done but also the joy of the life she has had. These conversations brought to the front of my mind the importance of enjoying the here and the now, the importance of embracing and loving the life I have. I am also aware as a woman in the UK I am so fortunate; I run my own business, I have the freedom to be creative and try new things, I feel safe in the area that I live and in the job that I choose to do. I don’t agree with the politics of the leaders of my country, but at least I am not hearing that our Prime Minister is advocating the groping of women and the verbal mockery of disabled people. For this reason, I took part in the women’s march in Bristol  yesterday, to celebrate the fact that I am free to protest, I am a strong, healthy and able woman who can have her voice heard and I can speak out against injustices.

This poster from yesterday felt like words of truth for me, I am grateful that I am a strong woman, that I am surrounded by strong women who are my friends and that I have raised two strong daughters. For these things, I am very grateful.

Developing well-being through outdoor play and stress and anxiety kits

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My job is hugely varied, which I love. This week I have been creating stress and anxiety toolkits for older children and teens. Delivering participation and well-being training to Bath YFC and being creative outdoors with my nurture children. The focus with all of this has been thinking about well-being and promoting well-being.

I have worked in the field of participation for many years, by listening to children and young people, giving them a voice and enabling them to feel that they are special and unique, we know this enhances their well-being. We also know that many children and young people suffer from huge pressures and stresses and often feel very anxious, particularly at this time of year with exams affecting both primary and senior aged children. With this in mind, I have recently been developing some stress and anxiety toolkits, and I have been asking young people to trial them for me, with excellent feedback.

In my nurture work, I have been making the most of the sunshine and enjoying outside spaces with the children. This week we were making nature pictures, collecting small things from outdoors that they found and sticking them onto a card with double sided sticky tape. This is such a simple and wonderful activity. It was delightful to see the wonder and excitement the children expressed as they found their treasures and made a picture out of them. It’s brilliant to observe these children concentrating, engaging, being curious and creative and talking with enthusiasm about what they were finding. These are children who at the beginning of the school year found it hard to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, and now were engaging for around 40minutes. A very joyful experience and a great sense of their enhancing well-being.

 

Image of a nature picture