Session Twelve: New Inventions, Dominican Convent

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The children once again came to visit me in the Lexicon for our 12th session together. The current exhibition is called Home and we took a look at the show. Perhaps it was through the eyes of the children that I noticed the bleakness of many of the pieces in the show, decay and destruction seems to be a prominent reference point. I do not know the circumstances of any of the children hence I asked them to choose their favorite pieces which presented images familiar to them. A photograph showing the construction of the apartments next to the dlr Lexicon inspired much conversation probably because for many of them this is their home.

During the construction of the igloo/dome the children wanted to create a quiet space, not a separate room where they could go to but a space where they could remain in the room with the others so they could hear the other children even if they were hidden. I feel that it is essential that the audio piece is central to the space. Our space our igloo/dome is finally complete, well in so much as the actual structure is formed the piece is now an enclosed space. One by one the children sat in the space to see and feel what it was like to be in during their session in dlr Lexicon. The next time the children see the igloo/dome it will be installed in their school. We also recorded some more of our sounds and I am yet to listen to them. It is much more challenging than I thought it would be to capture their sound.

Today we also explored further the idea of home and spaces using foam piping, cardboard boxes and large sheets of card. Almost like a giant Meccano Kit, they built, negotiated, engineered, pulled, laughed, squealed and invented something new. As impressive as the build was the discovery of using the pipes to communicate with was fantastic. They sat together on the floor with the pipes connecting them, inspiring each other their words flowed through the piping their bodies moved back and forth like rushes in the wind their laughter filling the room. In hindsight I should have recorded this.

Session Eleven:Looking At Me! Dominican Convent

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We are still unsure as to how the inside of our igloo/dome space will represent elements of ourselves. Much of my own work looks at meaning, belonging and belief and what sets us apart from others. I would like to figure out the best way to look at; who they are inside and out; how they think; what they like; what they look like and what interests them. I am also conscious of using photographs to depict the children. Child protection has directly influenced how I approach work with children and though more challenging at times it has often presented a more enriching result. The final piece will be permanently in the school and that presents a less restrictive environment. Even though we can allow photographs of the children to be used I will still explore ways of representing ourselves as it offer a more valuable experience and provides a stronger visuals reflection/interpretation of the children. In a previous session we created some lovely abstracted self-portraits from a series of photographs.
Again language will play a crucial role in how I communicate this to the children. Often we explore and understand by doing rather than just talking. In this mornings session we looked at using items/symbols from home to create small mobiles to go inside the igloo/dome. The children are going to start collecting things and today we made some sample mobiles from a colourful array of items I had brought in. We were surprisingly busy as the children were very particular with how they wanted their piece to look. It was also very interesting to watch how the children approached what they were doing. It was only afterwards that I realized that we had taken very few photographs of the session. But we do have a sample of our sound piece for this session.
One of my ambitions of this residency was to better understand how children learn and I am beginning to realize that I may need to join the class and follow their day in the classroom as a silent observer watching how Joanna communicates with the children and how they respond to her.

Session Ten: A Football Star at the Dominican Convent

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On arrival at the school this morning the children were in the yard for small break. On seeing the artist they began chanting my name, their voices becoming louder and louder. For a moment I felt like I was a football star arriving on the pitch hence I basked in the glory. My ego trip was short lived as the children required my full attention as we knuckled down to work. First we listened to our recordings of raindrops and words and recorded some more. If we are to use words then it will require a lot of practicing. As yet we have not quite figured out what and how our soundtrack will contain and be presented. I believe that over the next few sessions something will point us in the right direction. This is a good example of how my collaborative practice works. As we explore different directions and ideas the themes evolve. Sometimes it is clear as to how these will manifest but often an idea or single thought hovers waiting to take flight. More often than not one of the children will say or do something that reveals what and how something will progress.
We discussed what we could put into our igloo/dome, who it was for and what would they like others to experience or do when inside the space. In a previous session the children suggested that the space could be a place to read a book quietly or just a quiet space to be.
I had noticed the children creating stories within their drawings and decided to explore this further. Though adding to the challenge I asked them to work in small groups rather than as individuals. Each group needed to create a story, the characters, the adventures forming, the beginning, middle and end. On long rolls of paper the children through collages depicted their storyboard. Joanna supports was essential in the development of each groups’ story. Working in groups proved challenging as compromise was required. Some groups struggled more then others. One of the less vocal groups, an all boys group came to agreement very quickly and their story emerged from the paper with great detail and with much energy. They seemed to share a similar thought pattern and their story encompassed their ideas in a seamless manner. Their story remained focused and its hero was an overly adventurous spider. The other groups found coming to a group decision a little more challenging. We had asked the children to reach into their imagination to create characters and adventures. Unfortunately we were competing with some of the characters in ‘Frozen’ who kept appearing in some story lines. Ideally I feel that using existing popular characters limits the potential for real imaginative growth.
Over the next week I will talk to Joanna and see where the children’s development of stories in the classroom could potentially work more closely together with shaping something for the inside of the dome/igloo.

Session Nine: Your A Genius !

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Once again we were based again in dlr Lexicon. On arrival the children gravitated towards the igloo/dome and began to discuss the space in small groups. As we keep to a specific structure for the sessions we sat in a circle for our listening/rhythm games. We also listened to the phonetic recordings from previous weeks and practiced some more sounds. To date the sounds rather than the word play is proving more interesting but I would like to be able to incorporate words into a sound piece. Our sound piece will represent the children within the igloo/dome when others use the space. I invited the children to sit inside the space and describe how it felt. Most said ‘cold’ which is more influenced by the idea of an igloo rather than creating a new space. This is proving to be quite challenging as I can easily see the potential for something else but the children have not grasped the idea fully though it is actually their idea to create a quite space for other children. I need to learn to be more patient and less abstract!

In each session I aim to present work on different scales. Our first construction challenge in this session was to use spaghetti and blue tack to build small 3D pieces. This demanded high levels of dexterity, concentration and proved a little frustrating but despite this the children enjoyed the challenge and spent a lot longer applying themselves than I would have thought. Using house hold products such as pasta to make art fascinated the children and Holly said “your a genius Helen” I was so chuffed. This activity works better using marshmallows instead of blue tack but generally the children cannot resist eating the marshmallows making it a very short activity!

Having built on a small scale we moved into constructing on a very large scale, big enough that the children could walk and play in. Starting at a central point and building outwards the children pushed one end of insulation piping into empty milk containers that I had stuck together in small clusters. Within minutes our playground was formed and the children strengthened the structure by twisting pipe cleaners at points where the piping crossed each other. Once the structure was sound it was time to play, exploring the space they had created together.

Session Eight: An Unexpected Outcome

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On request from the children they had asked to use the stained glass pieces from under the table as permanent features in the classroom. I joined the children in their classroom to turn the windows into stained glass. Light flooded the classroom for much of the day creating colourful filters of light that danced about the classroom as we worked.
I showed the children the images we had taken of each other using the geometric filter on the child’s camera. As an artist I feel that some of them are finished pieces in themselves. It is at times like this that the experimentation process with the children discloses an artistic and creative output when is least expected. Much of my own studio work goes through many stages and is often calculated in every detail before it is executed which leaves little room for a leap of faith or perhaps the risk of failure. This is for me where the collaborative process brings confidence and spontaneity to my studio practice. With this too My decision making and curatoring skills are continuously challenged and have become more finely tuned resulting in creating work of a higher quaintly both in the school and in the studio whether that is work on my own or pieces that we create together. We look a the geometric and abstract images of each other and I note how kind the children are to each other about each piece. The pieces in themselves are also very strong and some are quite beautiful.

As my experience with early years children grows I enjoy we’re my observations of them takes us. Over the weeks the children like to working in tiny detail which is quite unusual for this age group. Usually we work on the floor but today we worked at our desks. I gave each child one side of a glass slide mount and an assortment of materials that were flat and could be used with a collage type effect. I had also asked the children to look out for things they might find in the yard whilst out on break like feathers, leaves and anything very tiny flat that we could put in between the two pieces of glass.

The children each approached their piece quite differently. Some created quickly and others tested and remade and others carefully placing one item next to each other in a very decisive manner. As the end of the session we sandwiched together our slides and next week I will bring a slide projector to look at the images on a large scale. I find that using a slide projector retains a beautiful quality of colour and detail that is often lost when images are digitally projected. Even looking at the completed slides I am eager to see the images projected and for the children to experience a slide projector!

Session Seven: Looking Out To Sea

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The coloured transparent paper has stimulated the imaginations of the children and I have been wondering how we can brings elements of this into what we are doing. Some of the children have been exploring this idea themselves and have shown us things that play with light and shadows. With this in mind I have sourced a sensory light to use as part of our introductory session at the beginning of each session. I have found listening games a great way to focus their attention and it offers a sense of achievement for the children who take turns in leading the games. This also enables all of the children to participate equally as it is not language based but sound based.
Our seventh session was in the dlr lexicon project room where I had my studio once again. The children could see and comment on the development of their igloo and my dome! We also took a look at the current exhibition in the gallery ‘Soundings’ collective memories of the sea that explores the relationship between Dun Laoghaire, the sea and its people. We used the idea of the sea and living on the sea to create a large collage today. As the children create they like to chat together and to me which gives further insight to their home life and what is important to them.
As the session drew to a close each of the children took turns to sit inside and explore the igloo/dome, testing it out for size and comfort. We also began to extend and change the shape of the structure using extra milk cartons and 2metre piping. I have asked the children to draw images of what shape the final piece should look like offering them an opportunity to change the piece quite considerably if they would like to. I’m not sure they have understood what I have asked them to do! But I will see the drawings at the next sessions as Joanna will encourage them to do the drawings throughout the week.
At times I wonder if the themes and ideas we are exploring are quite abstract and am I too demanding that the children can comprehend all of what we are doing. The process though is extremely fun and productive yet demanding that I too continuously question what and how I am facilitating.

Session Six: Rhythms & Patterns

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Following Joanna’s approach to the teaching of phonics I want to look how and if visual language can be explored in a similar way to sound. The process of this exploration will enable me to better understand how the children learn, think and process things. Repeat patterns and rhythms supports how children learn. How can I use this in visual terms? How close is the connection of audio repetition to visual repetition? As children’s inner ability to choose colour is often refreshingly simple but visually strong I had chosen to look at patterns using colour and letters. We have been recording many of the sounds the children have been demonstrating for me and each week I play back their sounds to them.

I arrived with a selection of coloured rectangles all equal in size. I asked each child to pick two colours and to make sure that one of the colours was the same as the child on their left to ensure a more gradual change in the rhythm of the pattern. The logistics on the day proved I should have done a little more of the drafting of calculations before hand as my approach demanded a lot of patience from the children. We potentially could have had chaos and this is where I noticed the change in the children since I had started working with them. They are better able to understand instructions and wait for their turn.

The children drew on the small rectangles and again their drawings depicted their families. Joanna has mentioned that even their preferred play themes revolve around the home and family. In last weeks session I realized how important Joanna’s presence is to the children. Though engrossed in their work Joanna stepped outside the door for 5 minutes whilst another teacher stepped in. The children noticed immediately and some seemed a little anxious until she returned. It is moments like these that I am reminded at how young the children are and how recent the transition to the school environment is for them.

Once the repeat coloured pattern was complete I asked the children to create similar patterns with their names. Some of the children grasped this concept more easily than others. As the session drew to a close sunlight flooded the room and saturated it with colour from our under the table pieces. The children asked to be able to take this colourful light into their classroom.

Some of the sessions offer potential ideas for art works in themselves but many are an exploration of an idea or something I’d like to learn more about.Throughout this session we took many photographs with a child’s camera I had borrowed from my son with many unusual settings for us to experiment with. Working with the children is almost like being on the pages of my sketch books figuring out where an idea or piece is going to go. It’s wonderfully exciting. Tá sceitimini orm!

Session Five: The Children’s First Visit To dlr LexIcon

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This is the first time that the children were to visit The Project Room in dlr LexIcon where I am the Artist at Work. This is a type of residency programme that supports my collaborative practice with early years children aged 6 years and under. Much of the programme centres around workshops but throughout the Artist At Work programme I will use the Project Room as my studio and invite the public in to see what actually happens in the artist’s studio. This is where the children worked today.

dlr lexIcon is the new central library and cultural centre and is three days old today. The children have been watching its construction whether passing it on their way to school or from the apartments next door where some of the children live. From the outside it looks like a ship coming into the harbor and the children were eager to see the inside. The children’s area has possibly the best views in the building.

My studio space in The Project room was set up with a mixture of finished pieces, pieces mid construction and others in the early stages of development and a few things that had sparked an interest. I had a few specific ideas of what I would like them to do with some of the materials I had in the space, huge rolls of paper and 600 milk containers. On arrival the children got down to work quickly, by work I mean asking questions of what they could see in front of them. My work looks at spaces and architectural structures associated with places of worship and places where people come together to be part of a community. We talked a lot about the spaces and places we like to be in and how and what we could build ourselves. As we discussed this I also wanted the children to be able to use their bodies to give them a sense of scale and 3D. We drew large circles and squares and built upwards. As the forms grew so too did the children ideas and they wanted to build an igloo shape but I preferred to build a dome, wanting create something less specific in order to develop their ideas and potentially create a real space for the children.
As I would be doing the construction work, (a very hot glue gun would be required) I asked the children to draw detailed plans for what they wanted me to build. I deliberately used a very long roll of black paper as working together on one piece would enable them to more aware of the ideas of everyone else and start to share and swop ideas. Using black paper and white chalk offers a very immediate and clear image often easier to read than working on white paper. The construction details were quickly sidelined for the ‘family’ who was to live inside their build. Not only do the children like to draw but they constantly want to draw images of their families, a theme present in each session. As this is a collaborative process I will often use my observations to assist directing the next session. As yet we are still in the early stages of our work together I am reluctant to make the family a dominant theme and need to explore deeper to unravel other things that the children are passionate about.
After a busy morning we take the children on a tour of dlr LexIcon. As we head into the children’s area the excitement and noise levels of the children are very high. Joanna asks them to be raindrops and a beautiful click clicking sound fills the space and also calms and focuses the children. I have been observing and keen to learn more about how Joanna works with the children, how she engages them and how they respond to her as I feel this would enhance my own practice.

Session Four ‘Tá Sceitimíní Orainn’ Dominican Convent

I feel ‘Tá Sceitimíní Orainn’ best describes the levels of excitement that floods the classroom when the children are there. The sound of the word itself bubbles with enthusiasm and mirrors the sound of the children’s chatter as it forms its shape. I like to imagine words as shapes their forms created by the intonation of the voice. The children are currently exploring phonetics that is a little like bending the sounds of the words. Using this technique Joanna has led the children through some simple words for me to hear and I am fascinated at the beautiful sounds and I wonder how and what we could create from these sounds?

The floor offers plenty of room for the children to spread out and find their own space, a green square. This is especially important when we are creating delicate or intricate things that get tangled or grow. Having their own space also helps the children to focus on the task in hand and not get too distracted by what everybody else is doing. Last week we had started to create different worlds under the tables and in this session I wanted the children to explore moving outwards and upwards. I had brought with me lots of materials that were both colourful and textured. Each child was given about three metres of coloured wool wrapped around a plastic peg. Many of the materials had a series of pre-punched holes in them, were bendy and tube like to enable the children to weave, push and thread their wool and string through, demanding high levels of dexterity and patience. This activity mirrors their structured play that involves threading, weaving, folding, bending and balancing and sorting of things together which supports dexterity and hand eye coordination. As each child finished their piece one end of the wool was knotted to the leg of their table and the other end to the piping attached to the ceiling. I had done similar activities with other children of the same age and found it a lovely way to introduce and experience spatial awareness.

The children quickly mastered this task and returned to their positions under their tables with the partners. The layering up of colours and shapes have begun to form lovely patterns and distinct styles. I was surprised at how abstract their designs remained and enjoyed how they played with colour. At the end of each session we discuss what we have been doing. As yet I am using my observations during the sessions to direct the next sessions. My aim is to allow them a much stronger role in choosing what we will do in following sessions but as yet we are still exploring and playing in order to give them a wider understanding of what art is, how we can use it and where we can take it.

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Session Three: Under The Table, Dominican Convent

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Dominican Primary school is a DEIS school and is located in the centre of Dun Laoghaire town in Co. Dublin. The school has almost 200 children and 16 teachers. We have two Junior Infants classes in the school. DEIS schools address and prioritize the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities. DPS is concerned with the education of the whole person. It aims to provide opportunities for each child to reach his or her full potential, by exposing them to a wide variety of opportunities that develops and develops their overall growth and self-esteem.
There are 18 children in this Junior infant class. Each child is unique. Many have been born in different parts of the world and speak different languages.They are a chatty and busy bunch of 4 & 5 year olds. They love exploring , constructing, drawing, cutting and gluing and creating new things to enhance their most favourite pastime of all – play!
Every week they look forward to seeing Helen who joins this special world of play!
Joanna McCallig, Teacher

Prior to the children arriving in the room this morning I covered the base of each of the tables in transparent coloured paper. The children would be asked to work in twos to create their own world under the table. Using this set up we can keep the tables as they are and the children can work on them over a number of sessions.
I spent time over the last week considering how I use language and how best I can give clear instruction in as few words as possible. The teacher Joanna is wonderful to watch and listen to. Her way of communicating with the children is pitched exactly where the children are at and her approach not only speaks to the class as a whole but seems to respond on a one-to-one basis also. The children worked in pairs under the tables encouraging and supporting each other. As I worked with the children I began to realize that the different levels of English within the class was causing a lot of frustration for some of the children.
The children were given a variety of coloured, transparent and textured papers. I encouraged the children to create their own world or space. I didn’t give too much direction as I wanted the children to make the decision about the content of their space. I had hoped or assumed they would use large pieces of paper in different shapes, as the space under the table is quite large but most worked on a tiny scale, cutting up the paper into very small and detailed designs. I had also brought the hands and feet from the previous week but we did not use them. The children created much more abstract designs than I thought they would.
I really enjoyed working under the tables with the children as it provided me with a lovely place to observe the children and watch how they concentrated on what they were doing and how they engaged together. At times the pace of what we are doing seems slier than normal but the children are going to take a little longer to get to know as I realize that they need to get to know me also and this they will take their time with.