This post originally appeared on The PreRaphaelite Experiment Blog on September 30th 2011, you can see the original post here
As part of [Manchester Art Gallery's] summer family programme Far Far Away, we created a space where children could explore story-making, inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites. However, we were very aware that younger children, especially 0-2s would struggle to participate in the story-making, so set about creating areas for children to explore and respond to nature. Artist Michiko Fujii created a tent based on The Hireling Shepherd by Holman Hunt developing a number of ways for children to interact with nature. Initially we decided to do this through paper cutting and manipulation, recorded nature sounds and flower scents, but as the project developed we grew braver and introduced natural materials such as apples, flowers, leaves and twigs. We provided mirrors, a light box and magnifiers to help children to explore pattern, shape, similarity and difference in the materials.
“We could see the pollen in the flower, the light box is cool”
“Look at all the detail and thought she’s put into it”
This proved so popular that we developed a nature trail complete with secret flaps, nooks and crannies which snaked round the gallery, creating another way for children to engage with nature.
‘Let’s follow the trial to the woods, we’ll need our torches as it’s dark. I’m going to do some gardening too. Let’s shine our torches into the forest and see what we can find”
Determined to find new ways for children to investigate nature and feeling braver still we introduced clay and children began take prints and casts of the leaves and twigs. Some children chose to experiment with 3D compositions making mini worlds.
Finally we used The Hireling Shepherd and Autumn Leaves paintings to explore mark making and printing. Initially we encouraged children to run around the meadow making marks. Later we changed the season to autumn and cut up leaves and provided brushes for children to sweep with. Projecting an image of the painting on the wall really helped families to make the connection.
We saw lots of evidence of language development through these activities and the use of multi-sensory tools really seemed to support this. Parents encouraged their children to talk about what they could smell or feel and some children began to describe things using onomatopoeic words.
“ I can hear the sheep from the field”
We were surprised that children made the connection between nature and stories without being prompted. One boy made an enclosure to contain the poisonous flower which had killed the princess.
“I’ve made a leaf castle!”
The spaces we had created; the tent, the nature trail, the meadow and the clay area along with their own mini worlds became spaces for story-making and adventure even amongst the very youngest children. Over 3000 children and parents participated in the project.
“This is just brilliant. You don’t expect to find this sort of thing in galleries”