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Tell us the story of your project – What was the impetus? What was it about? Who was involved? How did you begin?

Artist Annabel Konig

When discussing the possible project with the teacher of the classes I was going to work with, we discovered that nature, observation, fabrics and the environment, were the main topics that were going to make up the project idea. Based on those, ‘weaving the walk’, was born. The idea was that each child would go for a walk with an adult and look at their surroundings differently, looking at textures, picking up weavable materials, make drawings and if they could, write words, in a notebook which would be their form of reference for the weaving we were going to make.

The frames for the weavings were made from branches that I brought in. Each child had to learn how to tie knots, measure string and create the framework. There was co-operation between the classes as some children were quite young.

Teacher Brenda Binions 

I had previously taught the children some simple weaving techniques and am passionate about our local environment, so I was excited to collaborate with Annabel on this topic. We decided on this project very quickly during our first collaboration meeting. Prior to our first workshop, I spoke to the children about the project and they were very enthusiastic. I also sent a note home to the parents, outlining our ideas and asking for their help in taking the children for a walk and gathering suitable materials for our weaving. Unfortunately the weather hadn’t been very nice, so not all children had been for a walk so we took an observational walk around the school grounds and looked at the colours and textures we could see around us.

During the first workshop, Annabel discussed the project with the children. Some of the children had brought in materials for the weaving and we looked at these and discussed their suitability, or otherwise,  with the children. When we started putting the frames together, it quickly became obvious that tying strings was too difficult for the younger children so we enlisted the help of the older classes to assist them. This lead to the project becoming a collaboration for the whole school, as, over the course of the project, all 48  children in the school had the opportunity to engage hands on in the project.

How were the ideas developed and how did the young people, artist and teacher work together?

Artist Annabel Konig

The second workshop centered on the brought in materials and drawings that the students had made. The drawings were the layout plan. Each child then made a general weaving plan, based on their own frame – some being horizontal, one vertical some large, etc. Both the school and myself had brought in additional soft, weavable materials, which were interpreted by the students as flowers, sheep, trees, grass and sky. The textures of the materials made the pupils consider what a bush might look like or a stream, a flower, etc.

At the end of the project, each child had a finished, or near to finished piece and could tell the story to someone else of how their walk was converted into a weaving.

Teacher Brenda Binions

Annabel asked the children to draw the story of their walk and then select suitable materials to represent the story. She asked them what they knew about weaving and explained the techniques that would be needed in this project. She explained the importance of tying the woven strands to support the structure of the weaving and discussed which materials might represent the different aspects of their walk.  Again, the actual weaving was a challenge for some of the junior children. So we got some of the children in the senior room to help. We also had the assistance of our SNA in the room, which helped greatly. Some of the children found it difficult to get started on selecting materials and others grasped the concept straight away and showed great imagination in representing their walk in the weaving.

After each workshop, I asked the children to reflect on what they had been doing. We discussed it first and then they wrote about it. I put some of these responses in a scrapbook, along with photographs of the various stages, to keep as a record.

When they had finished their pieces of weaving, we took them to the other class to show them how they had turned out and each child told the “story” of their walk, as represented in their weaving.

What was your personal experience of the project in terms of successes and challenges?

Artist Annabel Konig

I always learn from children, the way they interpret ideas, the way they manage to work in materials – often different than I would so I re-discover the possibilities of working. Many of the students discovered that the even though their walks were similar, how they picked the fabrics to represent elements in the landscape, altered how others understood their work. The challenges some of the students found was that in their initial excitement after the project had been explained to them, is that they may have bitten off more than they could chew in the size of their frames. Big is not always better. Successes were many for each individual child, being able to stand up at the end of the process to explain their work, finding that they were good at something event though school work generally is hard for them and, as one little boy said to me ‘I know how to tie my shoelaces now’, shows that, through an art process one can obtain life skills.

Teacher Brenda Binions

I really enjoyed this project and I know the children did too. There were challenges for sure, not least where to store the weaving frames between workshops! We were very lucky in that we had a wide selection of weavable materials, some of which I had in the school but much of it was provided by Annabel . We had initially asked the children to bring in found materials which they could incorporate in their weaving, but much of this was unworkable and in the end, we mostly used fabric strips , wool and twine to represent the landscape. The children focused on colour and texture to represent their walk. We could not have done this project without adult assistance and the assistance of the children in the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th classes. However, the children gained great skills in selecting materials, weaving, cutting, tying and describing their work.

What was significant for you about the project that is worth sharing?

Artist Annabel Konig

Process, process, process. You can learn skills that cross over into other elements of life and school subjects. Learning through creativity can often not feel like homework or hard learning, it can be done through fun and ‘outside the box’ approaches.

Teacher Brenda Binions

I always value the chance to collaborate with an artist. In this case, the project stretched the children’s creativity and expanded their skills, not just in art but in awareness of their environment, developing their confidence and collaboration with others. They each had a great sense of achievement and were delighted to show and bring home their finished piece.

Has anything changed in your work as a result of the project?

Artist Annabel Konig

Any workshop I do with children always encourages me to do more and to up the anti. Young people are so much more able than we think, once you give them the skills to succeed.

Teacher Brenda Binions

I think that as a teacher, I am inclined to keep projects small and within the confines of the classroom. This project had inspired me to look beyond the classroom and think outside the box. It has inspired me to ask more of the children and, with help from other adults and older children, encourage the children to expand their creativity.

 

Tell us the story of your project – What was the impetus? What was it about? Who was involved? How did you begin?

Helen Barry, Artist: During my introductory meeting with the teacher Ms. Smyth, Sharon offered the brief “I would like the children to do something that they would normally never do in the classroom”. The children were in senior infants and aged between 5 and 6 years. The introductory session is extremely important in understanding the context of the school, the previous arts experience of the school and teacher and the schools based experience of the artist. I would like to highlight the word ‘Space’ as used in our title. We literally explored all possible definitions of the word and still continue to do so as we have a few sessions left. It was not an intentional theme but one that grew very organically from the moment I entered the classroom. The children’s classroom was the biggest space that I have ever worked in; it was Autumn and the children were exploring intergalactic space. My first actual workshop with the children focused on spatial awareness creating spaces using huge rolls of metallic foam and moving about in these temporary spaces. I had also brought with me a variety of materials to play with and included four pieces of white polystyrene that formed the main body of our rocket. We cannot give credit to any one being for this decision other than being a something that was on everyone’s mind in the classroom so it just all happened in a split second.

Through designing and building the rocket together the children began to understand structure and stability. With these new skills and a wide range of materials we further explored scale and constructions both inside and outside of the classroom. We built different spaces focusing on dome structures, a dominant shape that frequently appears throughout my work. As we constructed our structures we were met with many challenges. As we were ‘testing’ with materials and designs it was often the children who offered the solutions to building more stable pieces. Again I found that Sharon was really positive when met with these sort of challenges, when things collapsed she felt that this is where the children learnt more as it demanded more from them and often displayed a strong voice from children who often remained in the background. One of our domes has been given a permanent home in the school grounds. We have planted a willow dome that will grow with the children throughout their primary school journey with them. The children will tend to the willow dome in the coming years and I will maintain my relationship with Sharon, the children and the school.

Sharon Smyth, Teacher: The offer of applying for the program was put forward by our school principal. Having read up on the initiative and what was involved I put my name forward to be considered. I felt that it was a great opportunity to offer my class something beyond that which my ability and confidence might allow if I were to tackle such a project on my own. During our initial meeting Helen spoke of construction, incorporating the classroom tables and chairs, rockets flying into space and using the top half of the room (from the ceiling down) to explore ‘Space’. I knew that a truly unique and exciting experience was possible for my girls, it just required a little leap of faith!

How were the ideas developed and how did the young people, artist and teacher work together?

HB Artist: The immediacy of what we created in the first session provided the impetus for what developed over several months. Each idea rolled seamlessly into the next. We tested a number of ideas that came from discussions with the teacher and the children. Our rocket claimed centre stage as its design was carefully and enthusiastically managed by the children. The process demanded group work and teaming building. Often children as young as this can struggle with group decision-making. This group of senior infants rose to the challenge and seemed to grow in maturity and independence as the weeks progressed. Their teacher Sharon provided the space for the children and I to totally explore the ‘unknown’. Sharon has such a wonderful belief in each child’s abilities and is very open to discovering new ways of learning. She also proved that she was possibly more open than I was at times to leaving structure and routine aside and just going with the flow.

SS Teacher: Helen immediately looked to tie her work in with what the class were already learning about. This gained their attention and focus while at the same time taking their learning in a new and exciting direction. I watched (in awe) from week to week as my class became more efficient in teamwork, understanding of each other’s needs and willingness to take on the ideas of those around them (a very tricky task in the world of the ego centric 5/6year old!)

What was your personal experience of the project in terms of successes and challenges?

HB Artist: From the outset the scale of the materials we were working with demanded teamwork. Explaining to each team or group what they had to do I initially found challenging but as the work developed the children worked brilliantly in small teams, responding well to each other and supporting each other’s ideas and designs. So much so that when they were working on individual activities the children would automatically offer their assistance when they saw that someone needed it. The class size was large with 30 students. Initially the children seemed very young and the dynamic could heighten very easily but very quickly they became more capable and independent as the project developed.

SS Teacher: Initially I was a little at sea as to my role within the program/sessions. I wasn’t sure how much I was to observe or work hands-on with what the class were engaging with. As the weeks passed I felt that the more I tried the various activities, got involved and even on some occasions offered advice or help, the easier and more confident I became. While I hoped my own teaching would grow in this way through the program I am delighted that I would now have the confidence to try projects and lessons that are larger in scale and ‘space’ than I would ever have dared before.

What was significant for you about the project that is worth sharing?

HB Artist: The willow dome has provided a new material and timeframe for how I work. Planting willow cuttings has given root to another similar project. Since planting the willow dome with the children in St. Raphaela’s I have planted a second willow dome with children in St. John The Baptist P.S. in Belfast. This experience has demonstrated the openness of the primary school classroom. Sharon, along with so many teachers, has proven time and time again the willingness to engage with and support the arts and creativity in the classroom.

SS Teacher: I honestly don’t know where to begin in putting into words the value and worth of what my class has gained from their (and my) entire experience with Helen. Helen is not only an outstanding artist but she possesses an incredible understanding and appreciation of how her profession and skills can be brought to life within the classroom. While I have always loved to paint and ‘do art’ with classes I have taught I now realize that my vision and understanding of what ‘art’ teaching is has never truly reached its full potential. I sincerely believe that a product is not necessary at the end of a lesson but that the process is what is important but now I embrace this even more wholeheartedly.

Our space rocket, with its initial design, exploration of materials and slow but steady assembly took many weeks to complete before it managed to hang majestically (the word chosen by my class) from the middle of our ceiling. Alongside the many artistic lessons the girls engaged in, it was also a lesson in PATIENCE. I do not mean the patience required until it is your turn to stick or glue, cut or offer an idea. It was the patience of allowing the spaceship to build and come together over time. This required hours of collaboration, compromise and debate as week by week another element was added. Indeed at one point the wings of our spaceship were thought to be stained glass windows for Christmas by those passing by the room! To have rushed this project so as to have a ‘product’ by the end of two or three sessions would have meant missing out on a world of learning and discovery.

From our rocket we moved on quite seamlessly to building domes. Again we took this step by step exploring how best to support them – building foundations, securing poles side by side. It is how this was approached that I was enthralled by. One session saw the class link themselves together and learn how to form strong bonds between each loop. How much deeper is this learning than just ‘let’s build a dome’. What has come of this in the most organic way (planting our own dome) is absolutely fascinating. Over the coming years the dome will grow and develop alongside the girls. Helen has agreed to return to the school each year and work with the class in a number of sessions to shape and maintain the structures. The learning and integration that will occur across the curriculum as both the girls and structures progress will be a very special experience and we are very grateful to Helen for her commitment of time and expertise in the project.

Has anything changed in your work as a result of the project?

HB Artist: Experiment and exploring with new ideas and materials naturally results in some things that do not work. At times I find this quite unnerving if somewhat stressful feeling that I let the children down. Sharon is very skilled in demonstrating and supporting ‘mistakes’ that don’t always turn out to have been for the best. I hope to be able to use her perspective in how I deal with challenging situations in the future. Planting willow has been a new departure in using materials. The maintaining of the willow dome will enable or demand that I will be working on a project that will grow and change over many years.

SS Teacher: The biggest thing I feel that has changed in my work as a teacher is that I would now be happy to allow my art lessons carry for a number of weeks without feeling the pressure to ‘have something on the wall’ or ‘a picture to send home on a Friday’. So many of our lessons were tied into building our rocket and yet they splintered off more often than not into lessons of their own, producing space asteroids one week and pasta based constructions another. It has also reiterated for me how paramount it is to allow children engage in as many mediums for learning as possible. What best appeals to one child’s ability to learn will not appeal to another. On so many occasions I witnessed children who struggle in the day-to-day lessons of the classroom excel in the hands-on tasks put before them. Their confidence and self-belief literally grew in front of me as they mastered new skills and understanding

What was the project about?

This project took place between St. Mary’s National School in Blessington, Co Wicklow (teacher Judy Lawler) and artist Ciara Harrison. Please see attached Appendix for background and further details of the workshops.

The project is part of the CRAFTed initiative run by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland. The main media we are working with is fabric and fibre, experimenting with fabric dyeing, tie-dye, embroidery and printed textiles. The project is process-led enabling the children to explore and experiment at their own pace through facilitated workshops. We decided jointly that the project should be documented both with the use of photography and film as well as through the children’s reflections, thus enabling the children’s voice and thoughts to be heard and seen throughout this project. This was done in the form of notebooks or artists journals, including text and drawings as well as samples from workshops.

Who was involved?

It was a collaboration between twenty four senior infants of St. Mary’s National Junior School, Blessington, teacher Judy Lawler, and artist Ciara Harrison.

How did it get started?

The collaboration came about through the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCOI) CRAFTed initiative. This is an arts-in-education programme, specifically for primary schools where a craftsperson is paired with a teacher and students of a primary school.

We initially met at a collaborative evening organised by the DCCOI in the Kildare Education Centre. The evening was facilitated by a craftsperson, who gave us a presentation on the work of CRAFTed, its ethos, aims and objectives. Teacher and Artist were then paired together where we were given time to brainstorm a theme for the project and potential activities which could be undertaken.

The idea is that the craft project theme coincides with the Social, Environmental and Scientific Education curriculum in the school (history, geography and science). We decided to base our theme on native plants, animals, trees, leaves and insects as the students were learning about these throughout the year.

What aspects of the project made you smile?

Ciara:

On the first day of the project I presented a PowerPoint to the students. This included images of my work along with text to describe my processes. I also introduced the children to the land artist Andy Goldsworthy and images of his work. The children’s reaction to his work was of awe and enthusiasm. Their questions and interpretations of the work created huge energy and in turn inspired the children in their activity afterwards. That was a very precious moment for me.

Judy:

Ciara brought along fabric samples of her work, which were passed around the classroom. Touching and looking at the fabrics was lovely for the children and it introduced them to some processes they may encounter during future workshops. The group work went well, children were collaborating and cooperating during the process and they generated many ideas through the discussion.

What aspects of the project made you feel challenged?

Ciara:

As I had not done these workshops with children of this age before I was unsure of the level of language I could use with them and how in depth I could or should go with terminology.

As it was a large group to be working with it was at some points challenging to give assistance to everyone. We did a stitching workshop one day and as this was a new activity for all the children they required a lot of one-on-one assistance. I found by pairing up the children who were more able with ones who were less so meant they were explaining the process in their own words and I think the children appreciated having that responsibility.

There are certain materials such as bleach, which I use in my work to create effects on fabric. This would not have been an unsafe material to use with the children so we had to brainstorm alternative products that would be suitable. It was very helpful to have Judy’s assistance for this as I was in charge of getting the materials for the workshops.

What insights from the project are worth sharing?

Judy:

The presentation and talk that took place on the first workshop was a very important time for the students and Ciara to become familiar with each other. It was also very important for the students to air their thoughts and interpretations and ask questions of the work they were being shown. Plenty of time was given to allow this to happen.

The talk and discussion that took place about the work of Ciara and Andy Goldsworthy inspired the children in their activity afterwards. Within the activity the chalk outlines gave form to the children’s temporal designs, using natural materials to collage their designs. The activity itself and the materials used are very accessible to children and many will be inspired to incorporate this art making into outdoor play.

The children also enjoyed the novelty of using special fabric crayons, fabric markers, fabric paint and material dyes. They were very enthusiastic about using these new materials and were very engaged in the process.

Throughout the process the children have learnt descriptive vocabulary to describe both their work and the work of other artists. It has been wonderful to hear this in the classroom. It was very interesting to look for the learning experiences in each art lesson and to learn what the children are gaining from the process.

I think the process was spurred on by the timeline that Ciara and myself were working within. We planned the workshops as we went. We would set certain objectives to achieve for the next one. Workshops were high energy and highly motivated – lots of fun for the children.

Ciara:

Judy and I stayed in regular contact by email in the lead up to the project and we continued this throughout the project. This allowed for evaluating the workshops and learning from eachother what we felt worked and could be improved on. It is also now a source of documentation, which can be used for future workshops as we will both have learnt the best ways to go about the activities from experience. Regular contact has been a very important aspect to the project.

Although Judy and I came up with a structure for the project at our initial planning evening we allowed for flexibility within this. The children’s level of participation and enjoyment was what determined how long each activity was. At the beginning of each session I explained to the class what activity we would be exploring that day e.g. tie-dye, stitching, drawing and we allowed for time for questions and stories from the children. Sometimes this introduction would be accompanied by a PowerPoint. Other times it was simply a conversation. This gave the children an opportunity to express their own ideas in what we hoped was an informal setting.

I think an important aspect of the collaboration between teacher and artist is the respect given to each others’ expertise. As Judy was most familiar with the children she could look after the discipline of the classroom and time-keeping of the activities while I could set up the workshops and assist the children in their making. This was an essential part of this project being such a success.

Has anything changed as a result of the project?

Judy:

The children have used the skills they have learnt and developed, in particular with the chalk and natural materials as a form of outdoor play in their own time. The project has been a means of enabling the children to gain confidence in their own ideas and abilities.

This was the first time I ever endeavored making an artist’s notebook ‘woodland diary’ with the children. I thought it was very successful and it was an activity, which integrated totally with the English and SESE curriculum as well as the art curriculum. The children gather lots of natural materials and found objects for the class and the nature table throughout the year, I am more aware of the possibilities of reusing these objects in creating art. This way the gathering and collecting becomes more purposeful and meaningful for the children.


!!!! Weaving the Walk

Tell us the story of your project – What was the impetus? What was it about? Who was involved? How did you begin?

Artist Annabel Konig

When discussing the possible project with the teacher of the classes I was going to work with, we discovered that nature, observation, fabrics and the environment, were the main topics that were going to make up the project idea. Based on those, ‘weaving the walk’, was born. The idea was that each child would go for a walk with an adult and look at their surroundings differently, looking at textures, picking up weavable materials, make drawings and if they could, write words, in a notebook which would be their form of reference for the weaving we were going to make.

The frames for the weavings were made from branches that I brought in. Each child had to learn how to tie knots, measure string and create the framework. There was co-operation between the classes as some children were quite young.

Teacher Brenda Binions 

I had previously taught the children some simple weaving techniques and am passionate about our local environment, so I was excited to collaborate with Annabel on this topic. We decided on this project very quickly during our first collaboration meeting. Prior to our first workshop, I spoke to the children about the project and they were very enthusiastic. I also sent a note home to the parents, outlining our ideas and asking for their help in taking the children for a walk and gathering suitable materials for our weaving. Unfortunately the weather hadn’t been very nice, so not all children had been for a walk so we took an observational walk around the school grounds and looked at the colours and textures we could see around us.

During the first workshop, Annabel discussed the project with the children. Some of the children had brought in materials for the weaving and we looked at these and discussed their suitability, or otherwise,  with the children. When we started putting the frames together, it quickly became obvious that tying strings was too difficult for the younger children so we enlisted the help of the older classes to assist them. This lead to the project becoming a collaboration for the whole school, as, over the course of the project, all 48  children in the school had the opportunity to engage hands on in the project.

How were the ideas developed and how did the young people, artist and teacher work together?

Artist Annabel Konig

The second workshop centered on the brought in materials and drawings that the students had made. The drawings were the layout plan. Each child then made a general weaving plan, based on their own frame – some being horizontal, one vertical some large, etc. Both the school and myself had brought in additional soft, weavable materials, which were interpreted by the students as flowers, sheep, trees, grass and sky. The textures of the materials made the pupils consider what a bush might look like or a stream, a flower, etc.

At the end of the project, each child had a finished, or near to finished piece and could tell the story to someone else of how their walk was converted into a weaving.

Teacher Brenda Binions

Annabel asked the children to draw the story of their walk and then select suitable materials to represent the story. She asked them what they knew about weaving and explained the techniques that would be needed in this project. She explained the importance of tying the woven strands to support the structure of the weaving and discussed which materials might represent the different aspects of their walk.  Again, the actual weaving was a challenge for some of the junior children. So we got some of the children in the senior room to help. We also had the assistance of our SNA in the room, which helped greatly. Some of the children found it difficult to get started on selecting materials and others grasped the concept straight away and showed great imagination in representing their walk in the weaving.

After each workshop, I asked the children to reflect on what they had been doing. We discussed it first and then they wrote about it. I put some of these responses in a scrapbook, along with photographs of the various stages, to keep as a record.

When they had finished their pieces of weaving, we took them to the other class to show them how they had turned out and each child told the “story” of their walk, as represented in their weaving.

What was your personal experience of the project in terms of successes and challenges?

Artist Annabel Konig

I always learn from children, the way they interpret ideas, the way they manage to work in materials – often different than I would so I re-discover the possibilities of working. Many of the students discovered that the even though their walks were similar, how they picked the fabrics to represent elements in the landscape, altered how others understood their work. The challenges some of the students found was that in their initial excitement after the project had been explained to them, is that they may have bitten off more than they could chew in the size of their frames. Big is not always better. Successes were many for each individual child, being able to stand up at the end of the process to explain their work, finding that they were good at something event though school work generally is hard for them and, as one little boy said to me ‘I know how to tie my shoelaces now’, shows that, through an art process one can obtain life skills.

Teacher Brenda Binions

I really enjoyed this project and I know the children did too. There were challenges for sure, not least where to store the weaving frames between workshops! We were very lucky in that we had a wide selection of weavable materials, some of which I had in the school but much of it was provided by Annabel . We had initially asked the children to bring in found materials which they could incorporate in their weaving, but much of this was unworkable and in the end, we mostly used fabric strips , wool and twine to represent the landscape. The children focused on colour and texture to represent their walk. We could not have done this project without adult assistance and the assistance of the children in the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th classes. However, the children gained great skills in selecting materials, weaving, cutting, tying and describing their work.

What was significant for you about the project that is worth sharing?

Artist Annabel Konig

Process, process, process. You can learn skills that cross over into other elements of life and school subjects. Learning through creativity can often not feel like homework or hard learning, it can be done through fun and ‘outside the box’ approaches.

Teacher Brenda Binions

I always value the chance to collaborate with an artist. In this case, the project stretched the children’s creativity and expanded their skills, not just in art but in awareness of their environment, developing their confidence and collaboration with others. They each had a great sense of achievement and were delighted to show and bring home their finished piece.

Has anything changed in your work as a result of the project?

Artist Annabel Konig

Any workshop I do with children always encourages me to do more and to up the anti. Young people are so much more able than we think, once you give them the skills to succeed.

Teacher Brenda Binions

I think that as a teacher, I am inclined to keep projects small and within the confines of the classroom. This project had inspired me to look beyond the classroom and think outside the box. It has inspired me to ask more of the children and, with help from other adults and older children, encourage the children to expand their creativity.

 

!!!! A Space To Grow

Tell us the story of your project – What was the impetus? What was it about? Who was involved? How did you begin?

Helen Barry, Artist: During my introductory meeting with the teacher Ms. Smyth, Sharon offered the brief “I would like the children to do something that they would normally never do in the classroom”. The children were in senior infants and aged between 5 and 6 years. The introductory session is extremely important in understanding the context of the school, the previous arts experience of the school and teacher and the schools based experience of the artist. I would like to highlight the word ‘Space’ as used in our title. We literally explored all possible definitions of the word and still continue to do so as we have a few sessions left. It was not an intentional theme but one that grew very organically from the moment I entered the classroom. The children’s classroom was the biggest space that I have ever worked in; it was Autumn and the children were exploring intergalactic space. My first actual workshop with the children focused on spatial awareness creating spaces using huge rolls of metallic foam and moving about in these temporary spaces. I had also brought with me a variety of materials to play with and included four pieces of white polystyrene that formed the main body of our rocket. We cannot give credit to any one being for this decision other than being a something that was on everyone’s mind in the classroom so it just all happened in a split second.

Through designing and building the rocket together the children began to understand structure and stability. With these new skills and a wide range of materials we further explored scale and constructions both inside and outside of the classroom. We built different spaces focusing on dome structures, a dominant shape that frequently appears throughout my work. As we constructed our structures we were met with many challenges. As we were ‘testing’ with materials and designs it was often the children who offered the solutions to building more stable pieces. Again I found that Sharon was really positive when met with these sort of challenges, when things collapsed she felt that this is where the children learnt more as it demanded more from them and often displayed a strong voice from children who often remained in the background. One of our domes has been given a permanent home in the school grounds. We have planted a willow dome that will grow with the children throughout their primary school journey with them. The children will tend to the willow dome in the coming years and I will maintain my relationship with Sharon, the children and the school.

Sharon Smyth, Teacher: The offer of applying for the program was put forward by our school principal. Having read up on the initiative and what was involved I put my name forward to be considered. I felt that it was a great opportunity to offer my class something beyond that which my ability and confidence might allow if I were to tackle such a project on my own. During our initial meeting Helen spoke of construction, incorporating the classroom tables and chairs, rockets flying into space and using the top half of the room (from the ceiling down) to explore ‘Space’. I knew that a truly unique and exciting experience was possible for my girls, it just required a little leap of faith!

How were the ideas developed and how did the young people, artist and teacher work together?

HB Artist: The immediacy of what we created in the first session provided the impetus for what developed over several months. Each idea rolled seamlessly into the next. We tested a number of ideas that came from discussions with the teacher and the children. Our rocket claimed centre stage as its design was carefully and enthusiastically managed by the children. The process demanded group work and teaming building. Often children as young as this can struggle with group decision-making. This group of senior infants rose to the challenge and seemed to grow in maturity and independence as the weeks progressed. Their teacher Sharon provided the space for the children and I to totally explore the ‘unknown’. Sharon has such a wonderful belief in each child’s abilities and is very open to discovering new ways of learning. She also proved that she was possibly more open than I was at times to leaving structure and routine aside and just going with the flow.

SS Teacher: Helen immediately looked to tie her work in with what the class were already learning about. This gained their attention and focus while at the same time taking their learning in a new and exciting direction. I watched (in awe) from week to week as my class became more efficient in teamwork, understanding of each other’s needs and willingness to take on the ideas of those around them (a very tricky task in the world of the ego centric 5/6year old!)

What was your personal experience of the project in terms of successes and challenges?

HB Artist: From the outset the scale of the materials we were working with demanded teamwork. Explaining to each team or group what they had to do I initially found challenging but as the work developed the children worked brilliantly in small teams, responding well to each other and supporting each other’s ideas and designs. So much so that when they were working on individual activities the children would automatically offer their assistance when they saw that someone needed it. The class size was large with 30 students. Initially the children seemed very young and the dynamic could heighten very easily but very quickly they became more capable and independent as the project developed.

SS Teacher: Initially I was a little at sea as to my role within the program/sessions. I wasn’t sure how much I was to observe or work hands-on with what the class were engaging with. As the weeks passed I felt that the more I tried the various activities, got involved and even on some occasions offered advice or help, the easier and more confident I became. While I hoped my own teaching would grow in this way through the program I am delighted that I would now have the confidence to try projects and lessons that are larger in scale and ‘space’ than I would ever have dared before.

What was significant for you about the project that is worth sharing?

HB Artist: The willow dome has provided a new material and timeframe for how I work. Planting willow cuttings has given root to another similar project. Since planting the willow dome with the children in St. Raphaela’s I have planted a second willow dome with children in St. John The Baptist P.S. in Belfast. This experience has demonstrated the openness of the primary school classroom. Sharon, along with so many teachers, has proven time and time again the willingness to engage with and support the arts and creativity in the classroom.

SS Teacher: I honestly don’t know where to begin in putting into words the value and worth of what my class has gained from their (and my) entire experience with Helen. Helen is not only an outstanding artist but she possesses an incredible understanding and appreciation of how her profession and skills can be brought to life within the classroom. While I have always loved to paint and ‘do art’ with classes I have taught I now realize that my vision and understanding of what ‘art’ teaching is has never truly reached its full potential. I sincerely believe that a product is not necessary at the end of a lesson but that the process is what is important but now I embrace this even more wholeheartedly.

Our space rocket, with its initial design, exploration of materials and slow but steady assembly took many weeks to complete before it managed to hang majestically (the word chosen by my class) from the middle of our ceiling. Alongside the many artistic lessons the girls engaged in, it was also a lesson in PATIENCE. I do not mean the patience required until it is your turn to stick or glue, cut or offer an idea. It was the patience of allowing the spaceship to build and come together over time. This required hours of collaboration, compromise and debate as week by week another element was added. Indeed at one point the wings of our spaceship were thought to be stained glass windows for Christmas by those passing by the room! To have rushed this project so as to have a ‘product’ by the end of two or three sessions would have meant missing out on a world of learning and discovery.

From our rocket we moved on quite seamlessly to building domes. Again we took this step by step exploring how best to support them – building foundations, securing poles side by side. It is how this was approached that I was enthralled by. One session saw the class link themselves together and learn how to form strong bonds between each loop. How much deeper is this learning than just ‘let’s build a dome’. What has come of this in the most organic way (planting our own dome) is absolutely fascinating. Over the coming years the dome will grow and develop alongside the girls. Helen has agreed to return to the school each year and work with the class in a number of sessions to shape and maintain the structures. The learning and integration that will occur across the curriculum as both the girls and structures progress will be a very special experience and we are very grateful to Helen for her commitment of time and expertise in the project.

Has anything changed in your work as a result of the project?

HB Artist: Experiment and exploring with new ideas and materials naturally results in some things that do not work. At times I find this quite unnerving if somewhat stressful feeling that I let the children down. Sharon is very skilled in demonstrating and supporting ‘mistakes’ that don’t always turn out to have been for the best. I hope to be able to use her perspective in how I deal with challenging situations in the future. Planting willow has been a new departure in using materials. The maintaining of the willow dome will enable or demand that I will be working on a project that will grow and change over many years.

SS Teacher: The biggest thing I feel that has changed in my work as a teacher is that I would now be happy to allow my art lessons carry for a number of weeks without feeling the pressure to ‘have something on the wall’ or ‘a picture to send home on a Friday’. So many of our lessons were tied into building our rocket and yet they splintered off more often than not into lessons of their own, producing space asteroids one week and pasta based constructions another. It has also reiterated for me how paramount it is to allow children engage in as many mediums for learning as possible. What best appeals to one child’s ability to learn will not appeal to another. On so many occasions I witnessed children who struggle in the day-to-day lessons of the classroom excel in the hands-on tasks put before them. Their confidence and self-belief literally grew in front of me as they mastered new skills and understanding

!!!! CRAFTed

What was the project about?

This project took place between St. Mary’s National School in Blessington, Co Wicklow (teacher Judy Lawler) and artist Ciara Harrison. Please see attached Appendix for background and further details of the workshops.

The project is part of the CRAFTed initiative run by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland. The main media we are working with is fabric and fibre, experimenting with fabric dyeing, tie-dye, embroidery and printed textiles. The project is process-led enabling the children to explore and experiment at their own pace through facilitated workshops. We decided jointly that the project should be documented both with the use of photography and film as well as through the children’s reflections, thus enabling the children’s voice and thoughts to be heard and seen throughout this project. This was done in the form of notebooks or artists journals, including text and drawings as well as samples from workshops.

Who was involved?

It was a collaboration between twenty four senior infants of St. Mary’s National Junior School, Blessington, teacher Judy Lawler, and artist Ciara Harrison.

How did it get started?

The collaboration came about through the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCOI) CRAFTed initiative. This is an arts-in-education programme, specifically for primary schools where a craftsperson is paired with a teacher and students of a primary school.

We initially met at a collaborative evening organised by the DCCOI in the Kildare Education Centre. The evening was facilitated by a craftsperson, who gave us a presentation on the work of CRAFTed, its ethos, aims and objectives. Teacher and Artist were then paired together where we were given time to brainstorm a theme for the project and potential activities which could be undertaken.

The idea is that the craft project theme coincides with the Social, Environmental and Scientific Education curriculum in the school (history, geography and science). We decided to base our theme on native plants, animals, trees, leaves and insects as the students were learning about these throughout the year.

What aspects of the project made you smile?

Ciara:

On the first day of the project I presented a PowerPoint to the students. This included images of my work along with text to describe my processes. I also introduced the children to the land artist Andy Goldsworthy and images of his work. The children’s reaction to his work was of awe and enthusiasm. Their questions and interpretations of the work created huge energy and in turn inspired the children in their activity afterwards. That was a very precious moment for me.

Judy:

Ciara brought along fabric samples of her work, which were passed around the classroom. Touching and looking at the fabrics was lovely for the children and it introduced them to some processes they may encounter during future workshops. The group work went well, children were collaborating and cooperating during the process and they generated many ideas through the discussion.

What aspects of the project made you feel challenged?

Ciara:

As I had not done these workshops with children of this age before I was unsure of the level of language I could use with them and how in depth I could or should go with terminology.

As it was a large group to be working with it was at some points challenging to give assistance to everyone. We did a stitching workshop one day and as this was a new activity for all the children they required a lot of one-on-one assistance. I found by pairing up the children who were more able with ones who were less so meant they were explaining the process in their own words and I think the children appreciated having that responsibility.

There are certain materials such as bleach, which I use in my work to create effects on fabric. This would not have been an unsafe material to use with the children so we had to brainstorm alternative products that would be suitable. It was very helpful to have Judy’s assistance for this as I was in charge of getting the materials for the workshops.

What insights from the project are worth sharing?

Judy:

The presentation and talk that took place on the first workshop was a very important time for the students and Ciara to become familiar with each other. It was also very important for the students to air their thoughts and interpretations and ask questions of the work they were being shown. Plenty of time was given to allow this to happen.

The talk and discussion that took place about the work of Ciara and Andy Goldsworthy inspired the children in their activity afterwards. Within the activity the chalk outlines gave form to the children’s temporal designs, using natural materials to collage their designs. The activity itself and the materials used are very accessible to children and many will be inspired to incorporate this art making into outdoor play.

The children also enjoyed the novelty of using special fabric crayons, fabric markers, fabric paint and material dyes. They were very enthusiastic about using these new materials and were very engaged in the process.

Throughout the process the children have learnt descriptive vocabulary to describe both their work and the work of other artists. It has been wonderful to hear this in the classroom. It was very interesting to look for the learning experiences in each art lesson and to learn what the children are gaining from the process.

I think the process was spurred on by the timeline that Ciara and myself were working within. We planned the workshops as we went. We would set certain objectives to achieve for the next one. Workshops were high energy and highly motivated – lots of fun for the children.

Ciara:

Judy and I stayed in regular contact by email in the lead up to the project and we continued this throughout the project. This allowed for evaluating the workshops and learning from eachother what we felt worked and could be improved on. It is also now a source of documentation, which can be used for future workshops as we will both have learnt the best ways to go about the activities from experience. Regular contact has been a very important aspect to the project.

Although Judy and I came up with a structure for the project at our initial planning evening we allowed for flexibility within this. The children’s level of participation and enjoyment was what determined how long each activity was. At the beginning of each session I explained to the class what activity we would be exploring that day e.g. tie-dye, stitching, drawing and we allowed for time for questions and stories from the children. Sometimes this introduction would be accompanied by a PowerPoint. Other times it was simply a conversation. This gave the children an opportunity to express their own ideas in what we hoped was an informal setting.

I think an important aspect of the collaboration between teacher and artist is the respect given to each others’ expertise. As Judy was most familiar with the children she could look after the discipline of the classroom and time-keeping of the activities while I could set up the workshops and assist the children in their making. This was an essential part of this project being such a success.

Has anything changed as a result of the project?

Judy:

The children have used the skills they have learnt and developed, in particular with the chalk and natural materials as a form of outdoor play in their own time. The project has been a means of enabling the children to gain confidence in their own ideas and abilities.

This was the first time I ever endeavored making an artist’s notebook ‘woodland diary’ with the children. I thought it was very successful and it was an activity, which integrated totally with the English and SESE curriculum as well as the art curriculum. The children gather lots of natural materials and found objects for the class and the nature table throughout the year, I am more aware of the possibilities of reusing these objects in creating art. This way the gathering and collecting becomes more purposeful and meaningful for the children.