Artist Kirsti Davies worked with Woolmore Primary School Art Coordinator Laura Coates and Reception children to respond to a brief to design and build an interactive artwork for their school playground.
Laura tells us: “It all kick-started with myself putting forward the needs of the school and the staff for something to vamp up our early years area. Kirsti listened and honed in on a few words that were used repeatedly such as ‘structure’, ‘role play’ and ‘shelter’.” Kirsti adds: “Laura was really open to activity ideas and did her best to support me; I met with pupils, teachers and management to discuss and create something which would be useful and enhance the school playground.”
Throughout discussions, it was important that the final outcome needed to be something useful and Shelter was continually mentioned as something the playground was in need of.
Kirsti explains that: “By working directly with Laura I was able to build an understanding of how the children would interact with the final piece, which ensured that it would be relevant to them.” Laura says: “Inviting an artist in with a deep set understanding of play and also eco-environments meant that she could transform the space and add something that is truly lasting and in line with the children’s needs.”
Kirsti spent time in the school interacting with the reception students, discovering how they liked to play and what might be missing from their outdoor space.
Time was spent ensuring the children were involved in all stages of the process, as Laura explains: “Kirsti took time to show the children steps in the construction of the project and invited them to be inquisitive about what they were doing. She modelled how the power drill worked and let the children handle the wood and screws so they could begin to understand how their new play shelter was being put together.”
Through a series of workshops, Kirsti encouraged the children to experiment and build dens with different materials such as canes, string, fabric and willow, which contrasted to the plastic toys often used in the playground. Laura tell us: “Many of the children were exposed to new resources and materials and new ways of joining things together, so not only was Kirsti equipping them with new experiences but also new valuable skills they could take with them to use in their play.”
The workshops demonstrated the active role children play in facilitating their own creative learning, which showed the importance of producing an apparatus that stimulated imaginative play dictated by the children to be enjoyed in multiple ways.
Kirsti tells us that Laura brought an “openness and enthusiasm to the project” and that “the whole relationship was relaxed and supportive” while Laura describes Kirsti’s approach as “eager but also very pragmatic, full of energy but also caring and calm”.
Kirsti presented her designs to the school and the final design was chosen by the staff and reception pupils. The artwork is both a structure, a shelter and the starting point for creative play. There is also the opportunity to use the space for performance, outdoor teaching and other creative activities. Both teacher and artist clearly got a lot out of the whole experience as Kirsti tells us: “Making mega dens really was great fun! It also helped me to learn about the ability and imagination the children” and Laura adds: “It’s completely and utterly perfect for both the children and the adults working in the setting. Kirsti met the brief and truly excelled. We are all absolutely delighted with the outcome.”
We are excited to see how both students and teachers take ownership over their new space. Read more about this exciting project here.