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Part 2 – Announcing the 2020 Arts in Education Portal Documentation Award Recipients


Image copyright: Artist Helen Barry - artist in Residence project with Rowlagh Playgroup, Neilstown 2019

Image copyright: Artist Helen Barry - artist in Residence project with Rowlagh Playgroup, Neilstown 2019

The Portal Team are delighted to announce the second recipient of the 2020 Arts in Education Portal Documentation Award. We are very excited to be working with each recipient in the coming months to document their projects. These projects will be showcased on the portal as the documentation progresses.

About the recipients….

Project title: Crossing the Line

‘Crossing The Line’ is a year long collaboration between 9 early years children, artist Helen Barry, Lead Educator Audrey Fagan and the multi-practice team made up of special needs assistants, therapists and medical staff who support the children attending Pre-School One in the Central Remedial Clinic School. Their collaboration began in October 2019 and together they have been exploring, playing, experimenting, learning and creating through an experiential and multi-sensory programme of creative engagements that responds to the individual and group cognitive, emotional, developmental and medical needs of the children. They are creating enabling opportunities to build the children’s imagination, language and ability to think creatively. The programme’s enquiry will explore the perpetual visual and aural palette of sensations and frequencies through which we interpret the world around us. Helen’s position as artist-in-residence in the CRCS is being supported through her YPCE Bursary, awarded by The Arts Council in 2019 and is also supported by the National Concert Hall.

The ‘line’ we refer to in our title ‘Crossing the line’, is the physical mid-line of the body that needs to be crossed, e.g. the right arm crossing over in the left area of the body and vice versa, this is essential for the development of using both sides of the body together. We are there to grow and support each child to reach their full potential. We are there to give freedom to their investigation. As much as the artist brings the creative know how to this collaboration she too is learning a deeper understanding of the physical and cognitive developmental aims whilst observing the pedagogical practice that enable how these goals can be supported and achieved.

A few words from the artist Helen Barry

Creativity may require the dexterity of the fingertips but it is with every pore of their body that the early years child absorbs, explores and responds to the world around them. Through play they learn and if learning is work, work is play! Why then do some of us continue to learn this way and others take a different direction. My methodology and approach to working with early years children is governed by my preferred learning style; I am a kinaesthetic learner and the early years child is my idea co-creator. We don’t just need to touch it, we need to be in it, outside of it, hear it, wear it and be it to truly understand what it is we are doing or even just thinking about doing. Nothing is impossible there is little separation between the physical and the imaginary.

My belief that children bring with them their own narrative underpins the approach to my collaborative practice. The work evolves through a process of exploring shredding, questioning and observing the children at work. First I observe, I play and I listen to both the children and the adults in this environment. My methodology relies on the knowledge and observations of early years educators, specialists and parents with whom I engage. It is only then that I offer a multi-sensory and multi-disciplinary palette of interactive engagements, tools, sounds and textures that supports the exploration and development of their narrative. It is the children’s responses to the aesthetic and aural palette that I bring that drives the direction of the collaboration and shapes my response back in the studio.

‘I may not be able to hear you, but I can still be listening’.

Hearing impeared Visual/sound artist Alison O’Daniel USA.

My current artist-in-residence with the CRCS is supported through a YPCE Bursary awarded by the Arts Council in 2019.  Alison’s words are a driving force to what my ambition is for this YPCE Bursary*. Her work challenges us to look at the worlds of others not from a ‘loss’ or ‘lack’ of sound, sight or motor or cognitive skills considered ‘important’ or ‘normal’ but from the position that everything exists on the horizon; a perpetual visual and aural palette of sensations and frequencies through which we interpret the world around us. This exploration began in early October 2019 and as we play together and create together we shall discover, learn, reflect and be open to where the journey takes us. To date I am having a wonderful time engaging, playing and observing the responses of the children and their relationships with each other. I am astounded by how young the children are yet so acutely aware of their empathy and the care they give to each other. Sometimes it seems that what is emanating from their emotional bond has an actual physical presence that should I reach out I may be able to touch it.

*My ambition is to design and create works that stem from the textured language informed through researching and expanding my understanding of what exists on these horizons through two new residencies, one with the Central Remedial Clinic School (CRCS) primary school facility and the second with the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Unit of Stepaside Educate Together Primary School. ‘Crossing the Line’ involves the CRCS and will focus on the collaborative process in the school and hopefully share elements of what happens during the response time in the studio.

I am a visual artist and a trained dancer. My collaborative work with early years children is intrinsic to my practice.  I have over 35 years experience through creativity and play with small babies to older people in residential homes. My work draws from the nuances and disciplines of various art forms through collaborations and interactions with other arts practitioners, e.g. Jessica Kennedy of Junk Ensemble, Alex Petcu of Crash Ensemble. My work stems from the audience it is aimed at yet my ambition is to ensure that this work remains sustainable within the same critical and aesthetic platforms of professional arts spheres.

‘Sculptunes’ interactive sculptural installation in the National Concert Hall 2019

‘Spine’ for promotional purposes 2017 (3 mins)

‘The Kaleidoscopic Child’ 2018

A few words from lead educator Audrey Fagan

Children have a natural disposition to wonder, to be curious, to pose questions, to experiment, to suggest, to invent and to explain.  The child with additional needs is no different.  I trained as a National School teacher and began working in the area of special needs in 1996.  I taught all the age groups and it wasn’t until I began teaching the early years students of my school that I really found my purpose.  I have immersed myself into their world of learning, exploring and discovery.  I have read books to inform my methodologies and children’s learning styles.  I have googled the internet for inspiration and like-minded individuals in the fields of education and the Arts.   To play and work with children with complex needs, fundamentally, beginning and sustaining positive relationships is the basis for all their learning.  Relationships between them and you, between each other and between their parents and you!  Building relationships involves creating “an environment in which children feel secure and confident enough to take risks, to explore, to take part in challenging experiences, and to direct and co-direct their own learning” (NCCA, 2009 p.28)

I attended ‘Space Invaders – International Early Years Arts Festival in Farmleigh Estate back in June 2014.  I attended as many of the workshops I could and one of them, was Helen Barry’s workshop.  To this day I use the many wonderful and intriguing ideas she passionately encouraged us to engage with – threading lengths of wool with various coloured pieces of foam and paper/pasta and then creating a dome-like overhead structure with them, building with boxes and insulating foam piping, decorating clear umbrellas with stickers and/or paint and/or scarves, tracing our body shapes onto coloured paper and sticking these along clear cellophane in the outdoors!  Needless to say, I returned home a very happy teacher, discovering like-minded creators who worked with younger audiences to open and ignite their minds through multi-sensory experiences. Since then, I have attended many workshops/seminars/training for the early years, each time asking more questions, making more discoveries, implementing many ideas and adapting them to the special educational needs of the children I am fortunate to work and play with every day.

In September, 2018 I thought of re-connecting with Helen, having read about her project ‘sculptunes’.  I learned of ‘The Kaleidoscopic Child’, Helen’s new project and one that would suit the children in the school.  Last February 2019, Helen arrived at our School and within an hour had created an amazing, colourful, interactive piece.  Many classes, ranging in age from 3 to 12, with multiple disabilities enjoyed and interacted with Helen and her performance.  Comments from teachers and SNAs afterwards included –  ‘I didn’t know if the children would stay focused for long but they did!  There was just enough looking and observing and then they (the children) got to explore’

‘Brilliant!  Thought Helen was lovely with the children.  She didn’t rush them when they were looking or touching or just listening’

‘There was something for every child – Lewis wanted to figure out how the tubes made sounds with the pump and then Conor was so happy listening to the drum that sounded like the sea.  Milly loved the shiny mermaid material and Molly could have beat the dome-shaped metal drum for ages!’

Our children have a primary physical disability but many have multiple disabilities, including ASD, ADHD, emotional and behavioural and a visual or hearing impairment.  Engaging with the children requires a multi-sensory approach so each child can participate,explore and enjoy at their pace and level of ability.  It is about creating an enabling environment, one that enables all to play and create.

“Relationships are at the heart of early learning and development” (NCCA 2009 p. 27) Creating a rich, learning environment, giving time and space to the children and reminding the adults of ‘being in the moment’, sitting, waiting, being still to catch the glint in the eye, a flash of a smile as a child processes, absorbs, reacts and responds to the creative experience.  Teaching children with complex needs requires an holistic, creative approach, all their senses need to be engaged and a trusting reciprocal relationship with their educators enables all involved to be open to this. This is the essence of what we hope to document.

The documentary award will provide us with the potential to show how children living with profound and complex needs are, as with all children, need and want to play, to learn, to engage, to explore, to create, to communicate, to belong, to make and have friends, to be happy and secure. They are, as all children are, mischievous, eager, curious, playful and reckless, have selective hearing and are full of devilment!  We as the adults, are there to offer the space and freedom, the creative environment to cross the line.

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