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.