A Life Beyond Plastic: The Sequel

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Yesterday I had a joyous day with Fulbridge School celebrating their second year as a Creative partnerships School of Creativity. This year their programme has focused on developing more opportunities for active learning and child centred creativity in the Foundation Stage.

Karen Burton, Lucy Cawthorne and Clare Scott, the 3 reception teachers, have worked in partnership with creative practitioners Gizella Kate Warburton and Ian Etheridge since last September. They have been supported by monthly training sessions from the Mary Barlow and Barbara Thomas at the Totem Pole where they have explored a toolkit to embed the High/Scope approach into their practice.

Charlotte Krzanicki, the most energetic, motivated and inspirational Creative Co-ordinator I have ever worked with runs a tight ship. When I arrived at the school after an unscheduled tour of Peterborough, I stepped into a space filled with awe and wonder. Charlotte, Ian and Gizella had created a large scale reception class in the hall. The home corner was filled with the smell of fresh fruit and vegetables, there was a metallic story cave to explore with kaleidoscope torches and a construction area well stocked with wooden off-cuts and real tools.

I was happily banished to the outdoor area where I spent the day den building. Charlotte had allocated each class in the school a time slot to enjoy an interactive ‘show and tell’ with help from rotating groups of Reception children. Fulbridge hosts 700 pupils and 130 members of staff so this was a logistical triumph in itself! Throughout the day pupils visited the hall and outdoor area to find out about the project, meet the practitioners and most importantly play!

I worked with small groups of children to construct a den which linked into the introduction of story caves in the Reception classrooms. I was very conscious that the children would only have a taste of the activity so this is where I introduced some new technology. I was thrilled to be able to use my I-Pad to show the children my previous blog post which includes den building instructions. We looked at the photographs of each stage and discussed what had come before and what would need to be done to complete the process. Seeing the instructions, the children were all very keen to have a go with their teachers.

I loved the experience of seeing the children’s reactions as the construction grew. They made repeat visits enroute to P.E, at break times and at the end of the day to see how things were progressing. They solved problems, worked collaboratively, were sociable and made unexpected discoveries. Staff chatted excitably about how they could recreate the den as an Anderson shelter and parents used it as a chill-out zone with their toddlers.

A high point of the day for me was to meet Shakespeare Class who are prolific bloggers and regularly Tweet. They share my passion for social media and told me how blogging has had a positive effect on the quantity and quality of their written work. We crammed ourselves into the den and I introduced them to the We Found Art blog. It was a surreal moment. If anything in the world is possible, it’s possible at Fulbridge and I feel very fortunate to be part of their amazing creative learning journey.


Life Beyond Plastic


Today I have been at the National Early Years’ Conference, ‘A Life Beyond Plastic’ , an event organised by the Totem Pole , a unique Early Years training centre in Grantham, Lincolnshire. The whole day explored the benefits of giving young children real experiences.

Early Years consultant and trainer Mary Barlow explains: “In our manufactured world adults and children use plastic objects every day. These are very similar in many ways – they are often smooth and have no smell or taste.”

“By offering a wide range of objects that are not plastic – even something as simple as a bottle top or a fir cone – we enrich children’s learning by giving them open-ended experiences.”

Mary Barlow is the owner of the Totem Pole and an inspirational trainer. I had the fortune of being trained by her myself 7 years ago and her skilful facilitation of the High/Scope approach has had a huge and lasting impact on my practice. We have worked together many times over the years, co-developing and delivering training. More recently, I invited Mary to be an external partner of Fulbridge National School of Creativity and St Mary’s Change School where she has supported Reception Teachers and Creative Practitioners to develop a child centred creative approach in each setting.

My background as a creative practitioner is rooted in the early years. Highlights have included working as an Artist in Residence at Staniland Nursery in Boston, delivering training for Lincolnshire County Council’s Birth to Five Service and working with parents and children at SureStart centres across Lincolnshire. As well as the High/Scope approach, I have been inspired by the pre-schools of Reggio Emilia.

Today I have led a couple of breakout sessions creating tempoary environments; we have been den building! This is the reason for this post. The structure of our den was created in a very prescriptive way and introduced as an adult group activity. The idea was to create a frame, which if used in an early years setting, could be presented to the children as a space for them to develop through active learning experiences.

In the past this has been an effective activity to introduce the idea of developing spaces within a setting that respond to children’s interests but there has always been a downside! I tend to avoid instruction sheets as everyone has a different learning style and what makes sense to me doesn’t necessarily seem like logic to others! So here lies the challenge that I set myself today. I wanted to see if I could collaborate with the workshop participants to develop a set of mutually agreed instructions that could be posted here for all to access. The results are below and I am very grateful to Janet who volunteered to be our scribe.

To create a den you will need:

25 x 4 foot sturdy garden canes

50 plastic coated paperclips

Masking tape

Strong string


Lengths of lightweight fabric, curtains etc.


Unfold the paperclips into an ‘S’shape then attach one to each end of the canes with masking tape.  The paperclip should make a small loop, not a hook.

Lay 3 canes on the floor and arrange them into a triangle, tie each of the three corners together with string, leaving the string long.  Then attach the other two canes to one corner of the triangle (this will now be known as the top). You need to make five of these shapes.

By sliding the shapes on the floor, move and assemble them to make a pentagon (five sided shape) by pushing the bottom side of each triangle together. Then tie each of the corners of the pentagon together securely with the string.

Lift the point of the triangle off the floor and move one of the moveable canes to the left and attach it to the top of the adjacent triangle, with string.

Then lift the last of the moveable canes towards the centre, making a roof for the structure and tie them securely together with the string.

You can now add the magic and decorate your structure. Enjoy and have fun!!!! 

 If you attended today’s sessions you might be interested in the following blogs written by artists working with Reception aged children using a range of artforms:

Sarah Wakeford, Ian Etheridge, Rosie Ward, Gizella Kate Warburton.

If you are intending to do some den building in your setting, please report back by leaving a comment. I would love to hear how you and your children have developed your ideas, (Click on the speech bubble under the title of this post to open a comments box).

If you came to one of my sessions and didn’t experience Mark Whelan’s Forest School’s session, you might like to check out his website and his latest adventure St Georges Preparatory School.

A Year’s Worth of Learning


A year ago today I had an inkling that I had struck lucky. I had overcome the first challenge of the day by successfully finding where I was supposed to be going with all the confidence of a sniffer dog! A quick sweep of the training venue, the fabulous Wallace Space, revealed a kitsch 50’s style toilet with complementary smellies, a posh cafe providing a lavish breakfast (my second of the day) and the promise of a thai curry for lunch. All boxes ticked!

It was not what I was expecting however, and neither was the rest of the day. On 10th May 2010 with a keen mind and wearing a knitted tank top, I embraced new technology. I didn’t think that we’d make a good match but a year on, we are still going strong! We have connected through social media, slightly more competent IT skills and a love of digital innovation. On our first anniversary, it seems fitting to reflect on how what was initially a 100hr challenge has paid dividends and proved to be the most influential CPD opportunity in my career.

Why so? Well, I have recently been reading Charles Handy’s ‘Gods of Management’ and have discovered that I fit best into a Dionysian culture. Dionysian’s learn from life, by immersion and by new experiences. They can be difficult creatures to manage and Handy describes in a nutshell, their feelings towards self development: ‘Dionysians will resent any attempt by others, particularly an organisation, to plan their futures or to develop their abilities. They want opportunities, but demand the right to choose between them.’ Hmmm, approach with caution.

The training that I attended (led by Ewan McIntosh and funded by CCE) was elective, I wasn’t sent or made to go; I wanted to be there and I wanted to learn. Touch paper lit, I launched myself  like a rocket on a voyage of techno-discovery. Over the last year, through 365 hours+ of digital exploration rooted in social media my world has become more vibrant, challenging and fulfilling:

  • Twitter has given me access to an army of brilliant minds; I have posed questions, offered opinions, read research and been inspired by innovation on a daily basis (in 140 characters or less!)
  • WordPress  has encouraged me to reflect and document on what I do and why I do it, improved my IT skills and helped me to connect to the wider world
  • Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr hold the processes and products of my first online project and encourage collaborations and random encounters

Like a viral marketing campaign, my enthusiasm for social media has spread through my work. I have encouraged and supported teachers and creative practitioners through Creative Partnerships at Fulbridge School of Creativity and St Mary’s Change School to use blogs to reflect on and document their creative journeys. The quality and volume of blogged material has been overwhelming and creates a persuasive argument for the use of social media in the classroom.

My family have not escaped unscathed from the social media onslaught either! My 10 year old son Jude has become a competent blogger. Previously a reluctant writer, he will now happily write about places he’s visited and ‘stuff’ he’s done peppering his compositions  with slideshows of photographs he’s uploaded.

Embracing web 2.0 technology has enriched my life. What I am most surprised about is what I have learnt about the social meaning of creativity. I realize that I have only dipped my toe in the water but with a background in community based participatory arts I am hungry to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between making and sharing creative material online and doing it in the real world. This will keep me going for the next 365 hours at least and will be formally captured through my MA dissertation. I have just bought David Gauntlett’s ‘Making is Connecting’ and after I have cast Handy aside I think his discourse of how creativity, craft and community intersect I’ll be off on my next adventure!

If you haven’t taken a peek already, please do check out my online project ‘We Found Art’ and get involved. If you are reading this and we’re friends on facebook or you follow me on twitter, thank you for the companionship (and more) that you have contributed to my amazing learning journey! I will stop now before I descend into an Oscar style speech… If I cry, I may fuse my keyboard and will be restricted once more to old skool learning!