Session One: Not As Easy As It Looks

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Artist: Helen Barry, School: Muslim N.S. 2nd Class

My arrival here was met with much anticipation as I have the advantage of having worked with over two thirds of the children previously. The children have now moved into second class and losing a few and gaining a few new students they are now a slightly smaller class size of 26 rather than 30. Through the support of an Arts Council Bursary I collaborated in a long-term residency with the children and their teacher June Kelly in 2014/15. An over view of the residency can be seen here through the link to the Arts In Education portal.

Prior to the first session I had met with their new teacher Anne-Ellen Donaghey to allow us to get to know each other and look at potential avenues that we could explore through a collaborative process. My methodology uses a similar approach to Aistear: the early childhood curriculum framework where the children lead the direction of where and what we will create. My work looks at the pedagogical development of how we learn and how that informs who we are and how we engage with each other. I believe that what I bring to the collaboration needs to be relevant to my studio practice but also what the children bring is relevant to their lives.

Prior to kick staring our first session I visited the children to discuss some ideas and meet the new children in the class. I am also collaborating with the Junior Infants this year in the Muslim N.S. hence the children have been watching my frequent visits to the school since October and have been intrigued to explore something similar a large scale construction piece that I have to date only worked with younger children. We also discussed what we have done previously together which reminded me of their stories of family and place. The children offer very detailed accounts of their intergenerational family structures and how communities can share and support each other. Through a process of construction and discussion our first session main aim was to tease out the potential direction of where and what we shall explore together and also give me an insight as to what the children are doing in the classroom.

The session itself was held in the school hall as the construction builds demand a lot of space. I demonstrated how the materials I had brought could be used to connect, balance, build, fold, etc. but it was up to the children to apply what they knew about structure and construction. The class was divided into 5 teams and given the task to build a structure of their choice that would stand secure and have the potential to offer shelter. The dynamic and approach of each team varied greatly. Some teams really engaged in teamwork were as other struggled, and one particular team’s approach displayed a great understanding of engineering. Some structures concentrated in growing upwards, others outwards and somewhere in the middle things did remain standing.

It was an interesting and challenging session. The children did admit that they found it much harder than they had thought. Getting things to stand secure proved frustrating but also gave a great sense of achievement when something stood.

On completion the children discussed what they had built and asked if they could use the materials again now they had a better understanding of what could be achieved. I did find that it is essential to provide materials that connect and fit together properly. Hence for the next session we will spend some part of the session constructing with a broader collection of materials. The next session will also be centered on discussion and identify a direction of where and what we will do together.


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