Monday, 6 June 2011

St.Teresa's Primary School, St Helens

Do heroes date? Are most of today's toys virtual? We wanted to start an intergenerational conversation at St Helens, so Phil and I worked on an activity for children to engage older people in discussion. Last Wednesday morning we were given warm tea and welcome by Years 5 and 6 at St.Teresa's Primary School, Four Acre.

We chose themes that would connect across the decades. Year 6 listed Heroes - they selected and justified their personal heroes:  varying from Zeus, to 'my Nan' to Jesus to tweenpoppers JLS. The children drew an image symbolizing their choice on a paper plate,  taking care to leave room on their artwork for the older person to write their reply in circular form. For Year 5, we discussed Toys and Games, resulting in a diverse and at times disturbing mix of computer games and classic children's toys. From the delightfully monikered Killzone 3, to one girl who chose her Grandma's Whip and Top. Phil attained a level of doubtful cool because he'd played Assassain's Creed.

One of the creative challenges was to draw in the round - to make a drawing with no top or bottom, that could be viewed from all directions; it's a great stimulator to set projects in which the world is seen in a slightly different way.

I was saddened to hear several children hitting the 'I cant draw' wall. They needed lots of reassurance and encouragement. Where do the problems set in? I believe that all children can draw, I see children aged 0-5 before starting school who delight in mark making, colour and texture, seeming more interested in the process than the end result. Where and how does this change? Unfortunately confidence is easily knocked. Sometimes this problem is added to by the very people who are trying to assist. I've sometimes seen classroom assistants trying to help out by drawing for children. We have met many older people over the years who cry out 'I can't draw', citing the fact that they haven't done anything arty since school. Many recount how a teacher's or parent's throwaway criticism put them off for life.

Kung Fu Panda in a heart.
One of the boys I worked with insisted he couldn't draw, however he was full of enthusiasm for the subject (his hero was his saviour Aunty, who he symbolized with a Kung Fu Panda that she gave him, enveloped in a heart) With encouragement, he conquered his fear and designed this delightful plate. The hard won pieces are often the best; they depict their own struggle.

We asked the children to imagine they were reporters, and brainstormed with them a list of questions they would like to ask older people about the theme of Heroes or Games. Their questions showed imagination and some sophistication. I would love to be a fly on the wall for the conversations they'll have with the older people they choose to work with.

Over the morning the two groups produced thoughtful work, enthusiastic and engaged. I look forward to the seeing the finished artworks. Thanks again to the school for making us feel so welcome, and providing pencils, pens and those essential cups of tea.

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