Leaving them to their own devises. Workshop Two with axis: Ballymun

“Seilmide” has been curated by visual artist Helen Barry and is supported DCC Arts Office, DCC Community & Enterprise Dep., axis: Ballymun, Wee Care Day Nurseries crèche and Graffiti Theatre Company.

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My second session Workshop Two with the crèche in axis:Ballmun was once again held in the open space of their Dance Studio. ‘Seilmide’ is a collaborative process between a visual artist and early years children. It was towards the end of the session that I realized that I had not actually acted enough on my own observations during Workshop One with the children in Wee Care: – better to stand back and let the children explore it for themselves more, allow them to take the lead.

The materials in this workshop provided the children with a more individual focus rather than in Workshop One that required teamwork to build a large single structure. The session began by inviting the children to join me under a very large transparent dome shaped purple umbrella with lengths of purple see-through fabric attached. Together we moved about the space changing our pace, size and movements. We compared ourselves to different animals moving about hidden under the beautiful purple canopy. The children participated in a very playful manner but as a visual artist I felt a little uneasy or perhaps awkward at acknowledging my own skill level, thinking that an actor or storyteller could draw out more from the children at this early part of the workshop. I have also a background in dance and should draw more from my dance experience to develop the initial elements of play and exploration of our chosen theme.

After our adventures beneath our purple canopy each child was invited to take a large see-through plastic dome-shaped umbrella of their own. They walked, ran, danced, followed and spun around the large dance studio. We grouped together folding ourselves away into tiny coils protected beneath our umbrellas. Again we imitated creatures that carry their homes on their backs: seilmidí, tortoises, turtles, lobsters, crabs, armadillos and even a grainneóg (hedgehog) was compared too. We talked about what it would be like if we, too, carried our home with us.

I suggested that the children would build the umbrellas into one structure and create a larger space, warren or den that they could explore. I had also, in advance of the workshop, attached several other umbrellas together creating a singular shape of beautiful geometric patterns. Neither initially seemed to appeal to the children. I had thought that they would be curious to wriggle underneath the grouping of umbrellas. But no, they were too attached to the spaces beneath their own umbrellas. Following their interest in this I brought out a variety of dry art materials and colourful see-through fabrics and invited the children to personalize their space or ‘home’. The girls in the group seemed more involved in creating their world within the umbrella than the boys who began to explore the umbrella structure I had built.

Towards the end of Workshop Two as the two crèche workers and I were packing away everything we left the children to their own devices providing free time to play in and explore what they had made. Without any need for instruction the children created and explored what I had hoped they would create during the workshop itself. They used the umbrellas to create a den/home/base in which they played together in this world that they had created. When I joined them they invited me into their ‘home’.

When everything was packed away we sat together and talked about what we should do in Workshop Three. The children are becoming more confident in expressing their ideas and what we should build. They wanted to build Towers and when I asked who lives in towers, the children said ‘princesses live in towers’ and ‘we live in towers’ which, living in Ballymun, many of these children live have lived towers or would know someone who did.

Following Workshop Two with the crèche in axis:Ballymun I began to question the limitations of verbal language with early years children, still of whom are not familiar enough with specific terms and words. Perhaps I should use my own playful interaction and the materials to lead the workshops thereby providing direction and stimulus for what I want the workshops to explore. Therefore this would reduce the reliance on vocabulary with the younger children.

The key highlights and observations of the second ‘Seilmide’ workshop were:

  • identify and follow the children’s lead more.
  • find a balance between what I hope and expect the children to do whilst allowing them to explore on their own initiative.
  • draw from my own background in dance to explore more playfully the theme of the workshops.
  • explore further the geometric patterns from joining the umbrellas together back in the studio.
  • the geometric pattern created could actually only be seen at an adults eyelevel. (explore further lights and shadows)
  • allowing small breaks throughout the workshop to talk about what we are doing along the way engages the children more and allows the relationship between them and I to develop further.

Please feel free to leave a comment or share your experience of early years arts.



Learn, Play & Create! Workshop One with Wee Care Day Nurseries

Seilmide” has been curated by visual artist Helen Barry and is supported by DCC Arts Office, DCC Community & Enterprise Dep., axis:Ballymun,Wee Care RTE creche, Graffiti Theatre Company. 

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At my first session with Wee Care Day Nurseries in Donnybrook we all learnt something new. Especially me. Despite my observations from Workshop One in axis: Ballymun it was very important that the children did ‘art’ as part of the process in building their structure.  Initially I had used the term ‘to decorate’ their structure when using more traditional art materials. I underestimated their understanding of ‘art’ and what it means to them.

Wee Care has two Montessori groups each with 12 children aged 3 to 5 years. (I am working with one of the Montessori groups for Part One of ‘Seilmide’.) Workshop One was set in their primary room, which offers a good space for building on a large scale and for moving around in. The workshop structure was the same as in axis: Ballymun but we spent more time focusing on the technicalities of the construction and problem solving to ensure a more robust and solid structure. The children were given time to play in each part of the structure as its construction progressed. The higher part of the structure, a dome, was much more solid and we used pipe cleaners to join the insulation tubing where they crossed over, enabling the children to have a practical understanding of how to build a more solid construction that clearly held its shape.

We all gathered together in our dome structure and talked about what we had built. What did it feel like, what had we built? ‘A space ship’, ‘An igloo’, ‘A place to play in’, ‘A place to sleep in’ were some of the children’s suggestions. I asked if we had built a ‘house’ or ‘home’ or somewhere we could live? It could be lived in and played in explained the children but we hadn’t ‘built’ it we had ‘made’ it! To ‘build’ it we would need tools, diggers and bricks they explained. I explained that we already have tools: our hands- they are the best tools to have. With our hands we can twist, pull, bend, make, create, tie, dig, hold, balance, cut, poke; we can build and do many, many things with our hands.

The discussion with everyone inside the dome before a final play and deconstruction worked well as the children were more focused and had not become tired or hungry as yet. What I had anticipated would be a final 10 minute play changed completely when the children started to ask whether they could have some stickers, feathers and crayons to do the ‘art’ piece now. I had a supply of art materials with me though I deliberately had not brought them out. Aileen and Lisa, the crèche workers, explained that the children have strong ideas about what ‘art’ is and that it was an important part of the process for them to use traditional art materials to make their mark. The dynamic of the group completed shifted when they were using art materials, each child becoming more focused on what they were doing on an individual basis and less so on the interaction of the group. The space became much calmer, the children more absorbed, making their own decisions and not following or waiting for my instructions. This time also enabled me to talk with each child about what they were doing and why.

We started the deconstruction whilst some of the children continued to decorate make their chosen box. Primarily with the assistance of the boys, we dismantled our structure, insulation pipe by insulation pipe. As this process continued all of the children worked in harmony placing all the different materials together in a very organized manner. They didn’t need any instruction, they just did it collectively, without, it seemed to me, the need for any verbal communication. Each of the ‘Seilmide’ workshops are designed to take about 45 minutes. This timeframe was based on my previous work with early years children when realizing that their attention span extends far beyond the 20 minutes often recommended for this age group.Workshop One in both of the crèches have even challenged the 45 minutes timeframe as both workshops both workshops far exceeded this time both lasting an hour and 15 minutes.

Once again the children and their crèche workers were enthusiastic and imaginative collaborators throughout the investigative and creative process.  The key highlights and learning of the first ‘Seilmide’ workshop in Wee Care were:

  • the talking about and mimicking a Seilmide (Snail) at the beginning of the workshop.
  • the added time given to the construction and problem solving element benefited the structural quality and the practical understanding of building for the children.
  • the sense of teamwork when working on the construction and deconstruction.
  • the testing out new materials to fix the structure together.
  • playing with our friends in our structure throughout the process.
  • the importance the children place on ’art’ as an essential part of the process.
  • taking regular breaks to sit and talk about what we were doing.
  • the extent that the children talked a lot about using bricks and wood.
  • the children’s ability to focus both on given tasks and on their own initiative.
  • the need for more time to talk and listening to the crèche workers.

As I start to process my observations from Workshop One in both of the crèches I am inclined to allow the children have a stronger say and a greater active input into the direction Workshop Two takes while remaining within the workshops format and contributing to my artistic vision.

Please feel free to leave a comment or share your experience of early years arts.

Investigating & Building Big! Workshop One with axis: Ballymun

Seilmide” has been curated by visual artist Helen Barry and is supported by DCC Arts Office, DCC Community & Enterprise Dep., axis:Ballymun,Wee Care RTE creche, Graffiti Theatre Company. 

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My first session with the children in axis: Ballymun crèche confirmed that early years children think and build big. Every movement from a finger wiggle, sounds, pulling of a face or full body gesture imitates and expresses their thoughts and ideas. Always clear and direct! I need to let go of my own ideas for each workshop and allow theirs to take over, how could I have forgotten!

The 12 children aged 2 to 4 years walked and bounced two by two into axis’s dance studio, a huge room with an extremely high ceiling and flooded with natural light. Inviting everyone to sit on the floor amongst the very large cardboard boxes we talked and moved about like Seilmidí (Snails) and wondered what it would be like to carry our homes on our backs like they do.  Using ‘home’ as our ideas tool, together we set to work constructing, moulding, pulling, dragging, inserting, pushing, balancing, looking, listening and laughing.  Our aim was to build a structure that we could live in, sleep in, play in, eat in or just be in. We used an assortment of cardboard boxes, with pre-cut colour coded circles into which we inserted long lengths of insulation piping.  I was surprised at the level of dexterity of some of the children, especially those working in the small team who constructed the large dome shape. This team required very little instruction and moved confidently and quickly to form the structure which was tall enough for the children to stand up in.

At 20 feet, at its longest point, 4ft at its highest point and 2 feet at its lowest point the children crawled and rolled through their structure, some taking time to lie under the multi-coloured canopy, others racing round and around and a few wriggling on their bellies exploring the space they had created. A number of the children preferred to stay in the higher part of the build and others claimed a cardboard box in which they hid and decorated with more traditional art materials, leaving their mark.

An essential part of the process for the children was to give time to playing in and investigating our structure. From time to time things fell over and needed a little more support.  In a similar workshop later in the week with another crèche we will spend more time in the initial construction stage, looking for solutions to better interlock the insulation piping, using stronger cardboard bases and test running the use of pipe-cleaners twisted over key points that could strengthen our structure.  And I will give less time to using more traditional art materials to decorate the space as, though this allows for the individual child to add their mark, it distracts from the concepts of building and construction of a structure, a home, a space to be in.

The children and their adult companions (Amy & Sharon) were enthusiastic and imaginative collaborators throughout the investigative and creative process.  The key highlights and learning of the first ‘Seilmide’ workshop were:

  • Talking and mimicking of a Seilmide (Snail) at the beginning of the workshop.
  • The construction and problem solving demanded by the process of the build.
  • Playing with our friends in our structure.
  • Investigating and exploring our structure.
  • The excitement of de-constructing the structure, more so the children rather than the adults!
  • When using traditional art materials there needs to be one for everybody, especially the glue and scissors.
  • Wool, string and long lengths need to be shortened to avoid tripping and slipping.
  • Less time to be allocated to the decorative elements of the structure*.
  • More time required to discussing our structure before the de-construction stage.
  • The children talked a lot about the sky and suggested using this as part of a workshop.
  • The dance studio’s size provides a fantastic open space with little restrictions and provides an opportunity to be in a different space to the daily crèche environment.

* I would give less time if any to using more traditional art materials to ‘decorate’ the structure. The dynamic is very different when the children already know each other through their daily interaction at the crèche. During a similar but smaller scale build with early years children and their parents, the ‘decorative’ process provides an opportunity and time for the parent and child to engage together rater than the focus being on the relationship between the children.

Please feel free to leave a comment or share your experience of early years arts.

Seilmide (Snail) An Introduction

Seilmide” has been curated by visual artist Helen Barry and is supported by DCC Arts Office, DCC Community & Enterprise Dep., axis:Ballymun,Wee Care RTE creche, Graffiti Theatre Company. 

Seilmide (Snail); a creature that takes it’s house/ home / shelter with it.

 Seilmide” is a two-part project, designed for early years audiences specifically created for them through a collaborative process with them.

Visual Artist Helen Barry

My work uses sculpture and drawing to explore the architectural spaces of buildings and spaces where communities and people come together, buildings of prayer, churches of different faiths and mosques etc. These buildings offer an array of architectural symmetry, geometry, pattern, mathematics and colour. As part of my investigation I have been collaborating with early years children. Together we have taken the concepts developed in my studio, our imaginations and building tools and created a stimulated world of dens and playgrounds that can be lived in, hidden in, swam in or gone to the moon in.

In turn what has been created through this collaborative process, the spontaneity of the children’s decision making and movements creates a dynamic and flood of creativity and confidence that both informs, challenges and ignites an excitement in my own studio practice.

Part One:  ‘Seilmide’ (Snail) invites crèches to engage in a collaborative process with me exploring the concept of ‘home’ through construction, problem solving, play and lots of imagination. Three crèches through Dublin will participate in a series of workshops. ‘Seilmide’ is child led and through observation and discussion each workshop will determine the content of the next workshop.

The workshops in the crèches are a creative engagement for the children and will broaden the creative experience of the caregivers whilst supporting Aistear; the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework & HighScope an international curriculum for Early Years. Their aims and objectives will shape the key markers for the development, delivery and evaluation of the sessions whilst providing a shared language between the artist and the crèche workers. The collaborative process with the children will explore how children look and perceive home, shelters, dens, playgrounds and safe spaces through play, construction and building. The initial structure of the workshops will be the same yet the dynamic, responses and pedagogical development of each group will be different and will influence the direction within the crèches, each having different outcomes and learning. The observations, responses and what has been created through the collaborative process will become the seeds for the collaboration of the visual artist and axis arts centre in Part Two of “Seilmide

Seilmide” is supported by DCC Arts Office, DCC Community & Enterprise Dep., axis:Ballymun,Wee Care Day Nurseries RTE creche, Graffiti Theatre Company.