A partnership project between Bow Arts and Woolmore Primary School
The Bow Arts education team delivers an artist-led education programme in schools, working with teachers, children and young people from early years to KS5 with a focus of east and south-east London.
Bow Arts run a unique Consortium Programme, which involves a group of schools within the same borough working together and pooling resources to address shared priorities and needs in order to embed quality arts education across schools. This sustainable model has allowed Bow Arts to better understand and respond to varying school contexts and build long-term relationships with senior leaders and staff, resulting in trusting and supportive conditions for exploring and testing new models for creative learning.
Woolmore Primary School is one of the eight schools in the Poplar Partnership to have worked with Bow Arts as a consortia. Over the past four years the school has developed in-school creative projects to enhance their curricula. The project this year focused on early years, aiming to address the lack of creative play opportunities in the reception playground. The staff were keen to work with an artist to develop an artwork or apparatus that would stimulate creative exploration and play, and be used collaboratively by pupils to develop role play, gross motor, fine motor and sensory skills. From the outset, it was agreed that an artist would work with and consult both staff and pupils to develop an outcome based on their findings from spending time in school.
Planning, preliminary work and methods
Artist Kirsti Davies was selected in an interview process with a panel made up of representatives from Bow Arts and Woolmore Primary. Kirsti approached the brief initially by spending time in the school, playing with reception students in their playground and providing opportunities for the staff to make together. In this time Kirsti gained an understanding of how the children liked to play and what was missing from their outdoor space. This approach allowed Kirsti to observe, listen and explore with participants – and for participants to come to answers through discussion and making, rather than through formulaic questions.
Kirsti then began a period of testing materials and objects with reception pupils to see how they responded and played. She brought in canes, string, fabric and willow, which contrasted to the plastic toys often used in the playground. The workshops were open-ended and experimental, allowing pupils to try things out and see what happened.
In one workshop, pupils began making individual dens that morphed into one immersive environment. Some pupils were focused on producing a sturdy den, trialling and experimenting with different techniques, while others focused more on playing, naming spaces within the den, imagining their view out and their roles within their newly formed environment.
On reflection, we discovered how the workshops demonstrated the active role children play in facilitating their own creative learning, with imaginative play being an important part of experiencing the world from new and multiple perspectives. This demonstrated the importance of producing an apparatus that stimulated creative play dictated by the children and enjoyed in multiple ways.
It was paramount throughout our discussions with the Early Years teaching staff that the final outcome needed to be something useful. Teachers discussed how time was precious, and anything too delicate or difficult to use would soon be broken or discarded. Shelter was continually mentioned as something the playground was in need of.
Kirsti presented the school with two designs for their artwork – with the final design chosen by the staff and reception pupils. The chosen design is both a structure, a shelter and the starting point for creative play. It is a small sculptural building made with soft timber, ergonomically designed for the reception pupils. The ‘shop-front’ and ‘entrance’ and ‘side den’ will be used as starting points for creative role-play. There is also the opportunity to use the space for performance, outdoor teaching and other creative activities. We are excited to see how both students and teachers take ownership over their new space.
That’s a telescope, and I sleep there. I look out of my telescope and I see the big, bad wolf.Pupil’s reflection during the workshop
It is cosy and warm, and there’s a fire in here, and we are cosy.Pupil’s reflection during the workshop
The consultative approach taken throughout this project allowed a greater understanding and knowledge of the time-constraints faced by staff, encouraging us to think about keeping our approach simple, useful and effective.
Workshops enabled us to reflect on group creativity, with children playing alongside each other to enhance their lived and imagined experiences. We wanted the outcome to support this type of divergent learning, to act as a catalyst to open-ended play.
The school’s art coordinator was present from initiation to outcome. There was a feeling of trust and shared ownership, which enabled collaborative conditions throughout. For example, after sessions we would plan the next stage of the project, reflecting and responding to what happened and using this as a starting point for the next workshop.