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Residency with Dunkirk Primary and Nursery School
I worked on a very long term residency as resident artist / forest school leader at Dunkirk Primary and Nursery School, in Nottingham, between February 2007 and July 2016. This was a hugely significant project with so many different strands and partnerships involved.
The residency began with a Creative Partnerships project and developed as the school became a national School of Creativity, researching the ways adults and children together can creatively ask big questions. It was an incredibly exciting residency, some very innovative work took place across the whole school as a team of adults worked with the children on many different initiatives.
The school was interested in exploring ways of documenting the children’s learning and we conducted research into this, some of which is detailed in “Creative Approaches to Participation” edited by Helen Manchester (published by Routledge, 2011), a chapter I wrote exploring the Small Actions, Big Change project.
One of the big projects we worked on was the development of the school Discovery Garden as a wildlife-friendly creative space for the children to learn outside. This space linked deeply with the school’s nature garden, the work of the Eco Club and the school ethos that recognised nature and the outdoors as a powerful tool in nurturing and educating children. Whilst I worked at Dunkirk, I was part of a team of adults at the school who were extremely committed to enabling children to have connections with nature and for this to feed into the whole curriculum.
We worked with the children to create things with natural materials, to explore and discover wildlife, to use nature as inspiration for poems, stories and descriptions and to finds links with all areas of the curriculum. We measured as we made dens, we played counting games with potatoes we dug up, we made puppets, we were allotment pirates, we had teddy bears picnics and so much more…
The school Discovery Garden is quite a big space; it’s a fenced off area of the school field which the children have to walk to along a footpath and underneath the ring-road subway – which contains a stunning mural we all painted in 2012. The Discovery Garden has raised beds for growing fruit and vegetables, but it also contains living willow domes (which I planted with the children several years ago), a wildlife-friendly pond, a mini-beast hotel, hills (mountains if you are aged 5), a fire-circle, a small orchard area, lots of wildlife-friendly planting, space for den-building and lots of space for sitting, reflecting and watching. We developed planting to create lots of different areas and spaces for stories and ideas to thrive. In addition to using the Discovery Garden we often worked outside in other spaces with the children, for example at Beeston Sidings, a local nature reserve.
Whilst resident at the school, I worked specifically with the foundation stage children and key stage 1 on many different initiatives that explored areas of their topics and different lines of enquiry. A key part of this work was the partnerships that developed over the years and the depth of enquiry we were able to explore with the children because of this. The school worked closely with families and the local community and there was a holistic approach to nurturing children’s well-being and thereby their learning.
Projects at the school sought to ask deep and searching questions and to support the children in exploring the world around them both locally and globally. We explored issues such as water as a precious resource, problems associated with plastic bags, ways to change the physical spaces around us, the things small creatures need to be safe, ecosystems and connections with trees. We created stories and
tales through many puppets, animations, hand-made books, dens, costumes and more. We used natural materials to make images, characters, homes and story settings.
I worked extensively with other staff to document the children’s learning through photography, film and annotations. We used this documentation to plan and share it with the children, their families and other educational bodies. I frequnetly led sessions as part of inset training and made presentations at conferences about the work at the school.
It was an amazing residency to work on and very sad when this came to an end.
Some details about the projects that took place at Dunkirk can be found on the Small Actions Big Change website here.
The main school website has recently been changed, so previous links (in my blog etc) will no longer link to the relevant school pages.