Again this session was focussed on getting to know each other.
We returned to humming introducing the idea of different volumes signified by how high my hand was and I noticed the children liked to do this physically themselves too. Then we improvised name songs as each child’s name cards they made the previous week came out of the bag and I helped put them on. We also played with creating silences in between names with the children holding up a white card to signify this.
I showed them a couple of my sketchbooks, and talked about how I use them to reflect on my work / generate and develop ideas. When I showed them the book I am using for this project and showed its empty pages and said I was excited about what we might do together, they began to talk about what they like to do creatively. They mentioned: Painting (agreement to this was unanimous), Collage, what they called Junk Art – using recycled materials to do three-D work, Drawing and Writing. We talked about how writing evolved from drawing and thought about cultures where letters are still images.
I then took them through a process of making their own simple books for drawing and reflecting and collecting ideas. They chose from a selection of coloured and white paper and card that Deborah provided. We folded the cover first, all working together. Then we folded the pages to go inside. While the children began work on using the books to depict their self and five important things about them, Deborah and I and the SNA put hole punches in the papers and helped them string Pipe cleaners through to “bind” the books. This also means the books can be reopened later to add more pages.
After the break the children returned to their task, and then before I left I introduced them to a hedgehog puppet I made recently in response to their having shown and told me about hedgehogs they had made with clay some weeks ago. I had also shown them the research for this puppet in the sketchbook earlier. This puppet gave me a chance to look at their work individually and hear what they had been doing.
I was interested to see that in addition to the task I had set of them drawing about themselves a couple of children, perhaps inspired by the book form or the fact that they have already done storyboards with their teacher on another occasion, used their book to tell a story.
Deborah and I have decided that, in response to the discussion earlier we will devote the next session to painting.
Today was an hour long session to allow an opportunity to meet together and begin a process of getting to know each other. When I first arrived I had a quick look at some of their art work and then I invited the children to guess my art form, through asking me questions and my questioning them in response. This was quite informative, allowing an understanding of their ideas about Art, and creating opportunities to discuss what they have used and enjoyed before. It was interesting to see that they had an understanding of abstract art, and a lot of experience. I am not sure they came to an understanding of what it is I do, which is fine (I am not always comfortable with the various definitions of this myself!) it is useful for this process to have a very open understanding, to allow for lots of possibilities of what might happen.
I then asked their advice on how I could learn their names, and we agreed that they would make name tags, but saved that for the end of the session. First I thought it might be fun for us to sing our names. We started with breathing, as breath carries song, and this served also to calm everybody down a bit. Then we began some humming and gradually opened it out into singing notes and then to the children singing parts and then the whole of their first names. Afterwards they worked in their table groups to prepare a little song of their names, and then they performed these.
One of the things Deborah had expressed an interest in at our artists / teachers meeting was my use of Irish, and I had brought along a finger puppet called Bean Uí Croí and she then sang her name. She was a lot more chatty about it and it took a little while for the children to locate her name among her long song in Irish. One of the children translated her name for those who didn’t understand and then Bean Uí Croí / Mrs Heart allowed the children to take turns passing around her little velvet covered heart. They were very gentle and careful about this, so it became a very quiet, lovely ritual.
Afterwards the children each chose a coloured piece of card and did beautiful drawings of their names onto them. Several children hid Pikachus on the back of their names.
Materials we used
Small squares of coloured card
Pocket Finger puppet
20th March 2017
Artist: Helen Barry/Teacher: Sharon Smyth
I would have to note that there has been a sudden increase in the children’s independence. Previously Ms. Smyth and I will rearrange the classroom furniture prior to the session commencing. This week Ms. Smyth asked the children to do it. And with such swiftness and co-ordination I was taken aback. She had already noticed and wondered how much of this newfound sense of awareness of being part of a group and approach to tasks is being influenced by the creative process. We try to build in time for us (the teachers and I) to talk about the impact of a creative approach on the children’s ability to learn, focus and communicate with each other.
Once the children had rearranged the desks they went out for a quick break to run around and be ‘ready’ for the session ahead. The insulation piping had been introduced in the previous session and we had focused on building an independent structure, so the children knew how it worked. I was aiming to be more experimental this week, having tried out some ideas I was still not sure if something would work or not. But I was hoping the children would find a solution for me. I had also hoped that we would have had more time for the children to have ‘free-play’ with the materials to but we ran out of time.
We started by using the piping to connect us all together. We looped all the 30 pieces of piping around and through each other. The challenge then was to see if they could move about in one unit. We moved backwards, forwards, to the right, to the left and round in a circle with lots of laughter. Our warm up finished I showed the children the cardboard semi circles I had brought with pre-cut holes that were just the right size for the piping to push through. We divided the class into 3 group. Each team was given a cardboard semi circle, 12 pieces of piping, 6 chairs and lots of Velcro straps. Our aim was to build 3 domes structures. My design was flawed the domes kept collapsing in the centre. The cardboard was perhaps to heavy or as the children pointed out the ‘pipes are not stable enough’. I had never seen or heard the children study the collapsed domes so with so intensity. They were very vocal in their suggestions offering different ways in which we could make our domes more stable. I was I would have to say somewhat consumed with not being able to get the domes to hold but Ms. Smyth was delighted with the children’s response. It is often when something doesn’t work when we learn the most.
I am learning a lot about myself whilst I work with this class and their teacher. Ms. Smyth has provided a wonderful space in which we learn, make mistakes, find solutions and create together. I would like to emphasis how crucial the relationship between and artist and the teacher is to the success of the collaboration.
In the week prior to this session I had been offered some willow cuttings. I suggested to the class that we would revisit the idea of domes again in the next session. Domes being a structure that has frequented my work for many years I was delighted to have the opportunity to plant a willow dome in the school grounds. For our next session we shall head out of doors and plant a willow dome. The dome will grow with the children as they go through primary school. I too will remain in contact with the school and visit them to help maintain or ever changing dome structure in the coming years.
27th February 2017
Artist: Helen Barry/Teacher: Sharon Smyth
At the end of our previous session I had asked the children what would they like to do next. Many of the children asked to do more construction and sculptural work. A number of the children asked to do the spaghetti structures again. Thinking sculptural and having a preference for creating on a larger than life scale I brought along my 2metre insulation piping and cardboard boxes.
We started the session with some gentle stretches and balancing exercises. I also introduced some breathing exercises to help the children focus and bring down the dynamic a little. This is always a good thing for me to do also. We were sitting in a large circle with plenty of space between each child. The children always find the lengths of insulation piping intriguing. It is always essential to allow the children to play a little first before we use them to construct with. As with most children their age and younger very little instruction is required. The pipes and cardboard boxes are colour coded and with a little direction the structure builds before them with them in charge. I find that this construction workshop offers the children a fantastic sense of achievement. It is very solution driven and requires great team co-operation whilst providing an understanding of the design and engineering of a solid structure. This initial workshop will give the children skills they will require to create large scale builds themselves in future sessions.
I had brought other pieces for us to exploring the building of structures further but we decided to give the time to playing in the construction and we would continue exploring for our next session.
13th February 2017
Artist: Helen Barry/Teacher: Sharon Smyth
Our rocket was coming to completion. I needed to attach the rocket head and rocket base to the main body of the rocket. With all parts attached it was going to measure almost 9 feet in length. The attaching of all the parts demanded a lot of patience and teamwork. It was a delicate task and each stage did not need all the children working at any one time. Hence it was important to create some other task to enable all of the children to be engaged in the process. Using a huge hoop with which I did a little warm up with (see photo). We drew and cut out a very large circle on sliver foil. I then invited the children to draw around and cut out their hands from the silver foil. The hands would become the stars in our galaxy and the very large circle the moon. We had come so far there was no point in cutting back now.
I asked one of the children to take charge of the camera and document the session. With lots of moving, balancing, holding and propping up we had all the parts firmly attached together. Before suspending the rocket from the ceiling our final task was to attach the portraits of the children onto the outer shell of the rocket. We literary have been to the moon and back for this session. Though I will be more careful in the future as some of the children thought that once our rocket was complete we would be actually travelling to outer space in it. There were a couple of very relieved children when we clarified things.
It was some feat to get the rocket suspended from the ceiling. My bragging of a wonderful high ceiling was now not such a great thing! But with a little tugging and a lot of sweating we are now on our first mission to outer space.
Artist: Helen Barry / Teacher: Sharon Smyth
6th February 2017
As I reflect on how we came to arriving in outer space I cannot recall but ether way I am delighted to have arrived here. Without a doubt expeditions to outer space are a must for everyone’s imagination. We all, myself included have allowed ourselves to become carried way with where our ideas have taken us.
Having done some extensive calculations, worked through lots of ideas and collected several more bundles of plastic containers in all shapes and sizes we were ready to build the final piece of the rocket – the rocket head. The children were invited to work in small groups or as individuals. I had my equipment at hand a very hot glue gun and with strict instructions not to touch the glue gun we were ready to start.
In the previous session the girls had had the opportunity to explore different ideas of construction; how to build things upwards and outwards and how best to balance things. Having had a practice session the children were much more adapt t choosing specific shapes of plastic for their designs. Ms. Smyth remarked that some of the children remained particularly focused on their pieces. Many of the children worked on their own and had very clear ideas of what and how they were going to build their pieces.
I was surprised at how decisive the children were. Again their approach was grabbed with both hands and worked through to completion. There is some discussion between the children but it is nearly always about the work we are doing. At times this group reminds me of a group of artists in a studio rather than children in a classroom.
When the children had finished their pieces we took everything into the centre of our huge classroom and looked and discussed each piece together as an overall group. There were some really beautiful pieces and some clearly demonstrated the children’s understanding of patterns and symmetry. We had completed a lot more structures than I thought we would and had to begin the discussion on which piece or pieces would make the most suitable rocket head. The children identify two pieces that they felt could be joined together that would make a perfect rocket head.
All the other pieces also looked fantastic displayed across the wooden floor that we decided that all of the pieces should become part of our voyage to outer space. Hanging everything will be next weeks task!
Artist: Helen Barry / Teacher: Sharon Smyth
30th January 2017
It is always with a little trepidation that I embark on a session with a teacher other than the normal class teacher especially with the younger classes. For the younger end of the primary school the teacher is crucial to the dynamic to the group, He or she is often the substitute parent and without them all ‘hell can break loose’! I was relived and taken aback at how the children got about their business for this session. Ms Smyth was unable to be with the children and a new teacher came to take her place and was also a new face to the children as well as myself.
The children in senior infants requested their task for the session and just got on with it. They needed very little direction and approached the task in small groups assisting each other and supporting each other’s ideas. I have never seen a group so young remain so focused using their initiative without their core teacher present. They seemed to be so responsible with the task in hand. We were working on structures building in 3D. We had been discussing construction and designing in 3D in the previous session. I had intended to use the spaghetti structures as a very brief activity primarily because the spaghetti has a very short lifespan. But unable to buy spaghetti I discovered long pasta tubes approximately 4 normal spaghetti thick. They did not break and were very robust. They results were fantastic and some were incredibly complicated and very interesting to look at. They children experimented, talked through their ideas with each other, held and supported the construction of the different pieces. They were disappointed when after an hour it was time to move on to the next part of the session. A note for myself: it was always the inferiority of the pasta that limited the children’s imaginations and concentration not the perceived limitations imposed on children themselves.
The second part of the session we referred back to the suggestion Olivia made in the previous session in putting forward ideas for creating the cone shaped rocket head. What shape would it be, how and what we could make it from. Olivia suggested that we constructed it like a staircase, wider at the bottom and gradually building inwards. I was very impressed at how she understood the logistics of this and was able to explain her idea to the rest of the class. They completely understood what Olivia was saying. The children had brought in a large collection of plastic containers that would be lightweight and relatively easy to work with.
I rolled out a very long and very pink sheet of paper. This was our design pad. With pens, markers and lots of plastic containers the children constructed and deconstructed in small groups. We did not glue anything in place but experimented and discussed the potential of our designs in order to practice for the final designs we would glue on place in our next session.