Session Eight: Independence & Stability

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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.



Session Seven: Building A Playground

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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.

Session Five: Outer Space

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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!





Session Four: Spaghetti Structures

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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.

dlr Primary Arts Rathmichael N.S with visual Artist Jane Groves.

8.3.17 Session 9,  ‘We’re all going to the beach’..

As I drove to the school I thought that we’d definitely need our raincoats for our trip to the beach this morning but as we left the classroom all wrapped up and ready, what a delight! the brooding clouds had disappeared revealing a brilliant blue sky and a warm sun to shine upon our adventure! whats more Miss Mccoy, the ever fantastic Steff, the children and I were joined by Sams mum Jana, who happens to teach mindfulness meditation amongst other things! ( many thanks Jana)

Before setting off I had asked the children to bring along their visual diaries to create not only a record of the beach itself but ,maps of the journey, some noted smells, others sounds, some looked at different emotions, colours or signs of spring.

Theres something about a beach that breaths an extra burst of energy into children, the excitement was palpable, so for a bit of grounding we started with a mindfulness exercise led by Jana

After getting a sense of our bearings, from Dublin to Wicklow, looking out to Dalkey island and talking about the people who may have lived there and the marks left behind, I invited the class to create their own mark on the on the beach, looking for treasure around them and collaborating in the creation of a sculpture. The exciting thing about this is that out of the classroom setting  is that the children are not only free fabricate things in a different way but are learning in a experiential  way, asking questions like, ‘ what is this rock made from?’ If you dig down will you find water?’ ‘does the sea break things down?” How do tides work?’ etc


As if I had panned it ( I hadn’t! ) some of the children found a deposit of clay soil on the beach,  we were able to see where clay comes from. I had bought some refined clay with me and invited the children to create some sea creatures with it, together with any stones or shells they could find.

we gathered together again and after talking about the sea changing from land to water ( discussing the petrified forest off this coast) Jana finalised with a little mindfulness meditation before we headed home. taking a lot of inspiration with us! 

l love making art and learning outside its sometimes where the best things happen!


dlr Primary Arts, 3rd Class Carysfort National School  8th Dance Session, 23rd March – Smooth & Rough !

dlr Primary Arts, 3rd Class Carysfort National School 8th Dance Session, 23rd March – Smooth & Rough !

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

Today we started with the two dances that comprise our warm-up, and the students really DANCED them.  They are now well-versed in the vocabulary of these dances, which have been part of nearly every lesson.

Following this we revisited the Fiesta dance, which was the focus of our first several lessons, but we haven’t done since the February mid-term break.  We took some time to review the movement and revise the partnering parts, so that each pair had a 32 count phrase of their own making that included a jump, a turn, change of level and contact with each other.  Once we had a look at their phrases, one half of the class at a time, we did the whole dance from start to finish.  It was amazing to see how the students have grown into theses three dances.

After the break, we focused on improvisation with attention to texture and time…moving “smoothly” for 8 beats, and holding for 8 beats in whatever shape/pose the movement dictated.  Encouraging changing levels, and facing, the element of space could also be explored.  Smooth didn’t have to be slow, some students moved at different speeds over the 8 beats.  We then tried moving in an opposite quality…”rough”…again moving for 8 beats and holding for 8.  Rough had a more rhythmic, angular, quicker, sharper quality about it.

This led to a paired improv.  In each pair one person moved for 8 beats and held a pose for 8 beats.  While they moved the other person observed their movement, so when the first person stopped, the other person moved, taking something from the first person’s movement and interpreting / adding to it in their own movement.  After 4 or 5 of theses exchanges, they swapped, so the other person became the initiator.  We did several rounds with the “smooth” texture and then several rounds of “rough”.

We did this with one half of the pairs at a time, so they had more space and also the other half could observe.  After each round we took time to hear observations, both from the “audience” and from those doing the improv.  They observed and remarked on choices that were made, e.g. to repeat movements, when someone was or wasn’t really moving as a response to their partner, things they found humorous, and impressions they had, such as someone’s “rough” movement looking robotic.

We finished with each group copying in pairs, one person in the pair moving from choices of smooth or rough or stillness, and the other to copy in the same moment, to be as precisely the same as they could possibly be.  Again we did this in half the group at a time, followed by time for observations.  The copying overall seemed easier, as one student observed, they didn’t have to remember what their partner had done.  It required a more immediate response.

No one seemed to find it hard to improvise movement, their confidence in moving from their own resources has grown, and they seem more at ease exploring dance on dance’s own terms.

Ms. Barry has made a cool collage of photos and dance words.

Dance Collage Carysfort NS 3rd Class

Ballinteer ETNS – Session 6 – Artist: Tunde Toth

13 February 2017

Assistant Arts Practitioner: Kim Jenkinson


Following on from previous conversations and sketches/mind maps in the diary we continued with a fun process of Blind Drawing: children were asked to try to draw each other (connecting to ideas of portraiture) while not looking what they are drawing – we placed a sheet of strong paper over the pencils to create `blind drawings`. As it often happens, some children have been a bit slower to `let it go`, draw without control and `perfection`. Others just had fun straight away, having a good laugh at the outcomes… The important experience of no right or wrong and the acceptance of whatever the outcome combined with the understanding of the senses – and what happens when one of the senses is restricted…


Thanks again to Criona Murray the class teacher: there is another beautiful display awaits everyone in the class room and the spacious corridor area leading to the class room!! She did find the time to select and mount(!) prints by each child for a striking display that truly shows the quality of the work done by the children!