Dear Zoo

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Quite often I like to use a picture book as inspiration for my Toddlers sessions- this works well with the older preschoolers- especially if they recognise their favourite story (although inevitably it can be a little harder to engage the wee babies with these sessions!) Reading aloud can really bring the group together in preparation for the art activity and really is a practice I should use more often (even for non-story related sessions). Popular books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Elmer and Fox in Socks are all great for visual inspiration but even simple board books, flap books and pop-ups can be a good starting point. Dear Zoo is now a classic in British culture and the group love taking turns in guessing what animal lies behind each cage, basket or hutch! The more absurd the pet the funnier they find it! So the challenge was to think of even sillier options the zoo could have sent. I had made pre-printed ‘animal boxes’ and childre were invited to draw a pet inside. Adults were encouraged to talk through their child’s choice and discuss why it was so silly. There was ‘luggage labels’ on front of the doors to write their reasons!

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Weave Parkhead!

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It was great to see the work of Weave Parkhead! accumulated in a local gallery, providing an accessible art experience to the community who were so integral to the project. Events like these have sadly been almost non-existent in the Parkhead area so it was such a pleasure to visit this right on my doorstep on a lazy Saturday morning! No struggle to get public transport, find a babysitter or make a daytrip of it. I could just pop in, enjoy a wee chat and a coffee, and browse the artwork. Although most of the people I met that morning were linked to the project in some way I’m hopeful that over the week they had some new visitors. It is our aim that the Parkhead Residency will be able to promote and encourage similar events in the area- opening a door to artworld and revealing its many opportunities.

For more info on Weave Parkhead!  here is a link to the project’s website!

Parkhead Toddlers- Printmaking

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Before…

Since Spring 2015 I’ve been helping run creative, messy, playful art sessions for the Toddler group based in Parkhead Nazarene. It’s one of the cornerstones of the Residency programme-each session introducing the babies and toddlers of Parkhead to new (sometimes first!) artistic experiences. I have always loved working with this age group but having my own son at the same stage has definitely provided me with a deeper (perhaps more realistic!) perspective of engaging with these little tots. It really can be a challenge to think of an activity which very small babies can participate in as well as older pre-schoolers. I suppose the most successful of my sessions would now focus on providing ‘experiences’ versus ‘activities’ for the children and their families/carers. My ‘Printmaking for Toddlers’ session probably best encapsulates this approach.

Is there anything more exciting to a toddler as a large expanse of clean white paper and the instruction to ‘get messy’?! Rather than little individual pieces I find the novelty and ‘team’ aspect of a large roll of lining paper so much more inspiring to little ones- they have not yet entered that stage of being precious in their ownership (and to be honest parents are mostly happy they don’t need to negotiate home a soggy A4 painting!) A large canvas is usually a new experience (often rarely available at home) so this allows for a bit more freedom and the introduction for new ‘techniques’. Printmaking with this age group makes so much sense as they often have not yet developed the grip and dexterity to hold paintbrushes or even crayons yet. I get together recognisable toys, household items, stationary and (apart from being fun!) little hand are able to reach out and grab easily. With very little help they are able to stamp, roll, slide, scrub, bash away to their hearts content into the paint and paper! Once you have tried this once you will see the printmaking potential in every toy or bathroom accessory! My particular favourite is the sea urchin-like stamp you can make with a shower puff! The kids however, love to drive toy cars through the ink and across the paper, stamp Duplo blocks or- lets face the inevitable- their hands!

 …Somehow we also acquired the church’s doorstop…

Family Art Afternoons

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Family Art Afternoons ran over the summer holidays in partnership with Parkhead Nazarene and aimed to create free, fun art sessions in those (often long!) weeks for parents and children. I hoped to introduce new art techniques to the families, while also keeping their school learning fresh and empowering parents to share skills with their children.

With posters for the Summer Reading Challenge all around our local libraries I thought a bookmaking course would be a fun way to tie in with this campaign to keep literacy skills fresh over the long summer break. Bookmaking is such an empowering skill to learn- the confidence storytelling gives a child is substantial- and the additional accomplishment of constructing their own physical book, for others to hold and read can really boost their self-esteem.

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The first challenge was to invent a lead role for their narrative. I decided to make this a collage activity (as the year goes on you will soon learn my love for collage and my strongly held beliefs about its role in community arts!) To make their main character easy to reproduce throughout their picture book I knew I was going to have to rely on some sneaky photocopying shortcuts. In keeping with that theme of cut-and-paste reproduction I thought collage would be an effective way to adapt basic characters with new elements. The girls especially rose to this challenge and really got into the spirit of collage’s anarchic fun- making fabulous mad hatter ladies, shopaholics complete with designer handbags and Disney-esque singing, dancing, perfume bottles.

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Storytelling and illustration was the theme of weeks two and three. Encouraging the children to plan ahead and be ambitious I was keen to get the bare bones of their stories down on paper- with the option to go back and add later- so that they had something concrete to feel proud of, to read aloud and share. Continuing with collage and introducing paints and other drawing materials the room became a hive of activity! The parents were great at getting alongside their children encouraging them- and very importantly helping with spelling and handwriting! Knowing some of the group were just at the beginning of their journey with written English- I introduced sets of letter stamps to release the pressure of ‘handwriting’ and to open up conversations about the basic alphabet and spelling. There is something about those little wooden blocks and the process of stamping that allows people to return to the tactile, mechanical elements of the printed word. Children laugh as they get a stamp the wrong way round- a ‘d’ becomes a ‘p’ or a ‘G’ and an ‘e’get confused. We all fumble about with the stamps, get smudgy fingers and the pressure around literacy suddenly releases.

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Their stories ranged from super-powered footballers to family-loving tigers. Each story formed by little teams of writers from a family throwing themselves into new creative territory. Once covered and paperback bound they enjoyed spending the last week decorating their front covers. As the realisation hit that they were taking home their very own book the group was encouraged to recognise their achievements. Over the month they had not only grown close as a group but families had found quality time for each other and parents had been given a boost. And that is something to be be celebrated, just as much as the art.

“The classes were great for the children to express themselves and meet new people. It was fun and the children learned new skills.”

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