Guest post from Lea Johnson, Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI); ‘ The Place of What is Possible’

17 Nov

The request to write this Guest blog has allowed me to reflect on the 2 year journey that has lead to the creation of our atelier for young children here at The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).

Those of you who draw inspiration from the Reggio Emilia approach will be familiar with the term ‘atelier’ in the context of the famous Italian preschools.  The atelier is a ‘studio’ or ‘workshop’ where young children can explore, interact and think creatively. Significant features of all Reggio preschools in Italy are a main atelier and mini- atelier attached to each classroom.

We decided to develop our very own atelier at MOSI following outputs a Renaissance North West funded Textiles project for early years.  The latter had involved the MOSI Learning Team, artists from Creative Collaborators, and North Gorton Children’s Centre.  During the evaluation there was a request by a Children’s Centre practitioner for an atelier in our Textiles Gallery.

Myself (a Museum Education Officer), and a group of enthusiastic early years practitioners from across the city, set about researching the possibilities of creating such a space within a museum.  This initially involved visits to Children’s Centres across Manchester, Early Excellence in Huddersfield and the Acorn Centre in Chorley. We were fortunate in that members of the group had been on study tours to Reggio to see the preschools at first hand and were able to steer us in the right direction!

Our research helped us to consider the aims of the space, the philosophy, the design and the resources required.  The space had to be designed specifically for babies, toddlers, young children and those with special rights.  The materials and technical equipment should be mostly recycled or low tech in order to encourage easy replication of the learning environment at home or in school.  The space and the resources also had to show a direct link to the theme of textiles to ensure that the space was an integral part of the much bigger Textiles Gallery.

As part of our research into resources suitable for 0-2 year olds, we decided that Treasure Baskets and Heuristic Play materials would offer lots of opportunities for open- ended exploration in our atelier.  A partnership project with parents and staff from Whalley Range Children’s Centre resulted in a collection of thought provoking materials and themed treasure baskets that would be used in the atelier.  Many of the resources were obtained from GRUMPY Play Resource Centre in Manchester.  Through the project, parents and children were given opportunities to engage in sensory play and to explore and discover both in the Children’s Centre and in the Museum galleries.

Funding from Manchester City Council (through the Aiming High for Disabled Children project), and from Renaissance North West has resulted in the creation of a calm, comfortable and creative atelier in our Textiles Gallery.  When not in use, it is filled with gently undulating shadows created by a suspended giant dandelion clock that has parallels in a piece of artwork in the gallery.  When busy, there is the quiet hush of concentrated engagement with fabrics, bobbins, ribbons, pipe cleaners,light and shadows. Babies gaze into mirrors whilst experiencing the sensations of lying on various soft fabrics  and toddlers explore coloured buttons, sand, glitter, cellophane, lace and gauze on the light box and the overhead projector.   These sorts of ‘intelligent materials’, not normally associated with young children, offer tremendous creative possibilities. They grab children’s attention and prompt further exploration and investigation.

In creating our atelier we have relied heavily on the experience and expertise of PLACES.  This is a small Community Interest Company that promotes creative learning in young children in the context of the city. PLACES has helped us to develop CPD training sessions for practitioners on how to use the atelier with young children.

We have 2 more FREE sessions available to find out about the atelier, to engage with the resources and to explore ways in which the space can be used. Attendance at a CPD allows the atelier to be booked for FREE use with small groups of accompanied children.

Tuesday 17th January 2012: Textures and Surfaces                       Tuesday 24th April 2012: Inside and Outside

Both sessions commence at 4.15pm.  Please contact the Learning Centre on 0161 833 0027 to check availability and to book.

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