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.

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