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Early Years Practitioners: Environment Workshop

This workshop was the start of city-wide Creative Partnerships Early Years projects in Leicester Children’s Centres.

I was invited along with visual artist and Early Years specialist Barbara Jones to lead this workshop as part of the opening training day. We were asked to share examples of our practice and show what the impact was on children’s and practitioner’s learning.

Creative artists, including both of us, would collaborate with Early years specialist teachers and practitioners to lead arts projects with children and parents in a particular children’s centre.

We thought it would be helpful to ask people to think about three questions:

1. How can we build adult understanding of child-initiated learning?
2. How can we best ‘listen’ to children?
3. How do we know what’s going on and how can we share this with others?

Barbara and I decided that based on our previous work together, we would make a sensory environment in the building full of different ideas which the participants could explore and play with. It was a small space so the area was rather full of stuff!

We would not usually make such a rich and cramped environment for children but this was built as a training space so we wanted to share ideas…

What we used:

Overhead projectors
Old style TV with black and white camera and mic connected
Musical instruments with speaking tube and other sounds
Washing line with images showing sequences of exploration by children
Slide projector with old slides projected onto a sheet
Many brown paper bags
Big paper miller’s sacks
Metal objects
Black objects
White objects
Old maps
Old suitcases
Things to find and undo
Reflective materials
Cellophane with lights
A dark den
Wooden pegs
Lights of other kinds

I went on to lead two projects at West End Children’s Centre with Liz Hirst, two projects at Northfields Children’s Centre with Joy Lambell, three projects with Sue Hastings at Thurnby Lodge Children’s Centre and two projects with Sue Boud at Eyres Monsell Children’s Centre. They involved parents, children and practitioners. We then developed the idea of parent advocates who would support and encourage less confident parents not only at their own setting but crossing to other settings as well.

Unfortunately as is the nature of funding for creative arts, this work has not been able to be continued as it should. However many people took part and benefited from these projects and there is evidence to show that people took on this child-led approach together with the use of open-ended and flexible resources – in particular parents who mostly can’t afford expensive learning resources and were very happy to use recycled and free materials…