To ArtScape – verb / ArtScaper – noun
To create a response from materials and feelings in order to express new ideas
To enhance the environment in ways that delight
Mayfield Primary School’s involvement with arts and wellbeing charity Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination started six years ago with the project called ArtScapers: an arts education programme that brings artists together with local communities to foster creative health for people of all ages. Together we explored the area now known as Eddington, on our doorstep, as it grew and changed.
During the first year of this project Jared, aged 8, said: “Being an ArtScaper means to look at something and make your own ideas…then…mix it up so you can make something even bigger and newer…then just design it.. then just find stuff that might be used in the future and use that…”
This early observation hinted at the traits so sought after today in our schools – we long for children to be creative, reflective, adaptive, innovative. Jared told us clearly that ArtScapers could do just that.
Three years later, another 8 year old said: “We always have to copy someone else’s idea and get our work to look like theirs. When you’re an ArtScaper you use your own idea and then show it to others. Actually you show it to yourself too because it helps you to sort out what your own brain is telling you.”
As teachers, we are constantly modelling the ‘right’ way to write, draw, calculate and think. These children told us of the power of ArtScapers – that it provided a space for ideas to develop and a theatre and audience to show these ideas to others. Staff who accompanied the children commented on how being an ArtScaper impacted them as educators: “Redesigning a site is comparable to redesigning yourself”.
ArtScapers reminded teachers of the qualities and essence of teaching that drew them into the profession: the time and space it gives, the working alongside children rather than talking at or to them, the sense of ‘we’re learning this together, but I’m here to guide and support you’. These benefits were too great to lose. We are fortunate to have large grounds and for years we have been saying we must use them more. We have long had a policy that families can play in the school grounds at the end of the day and in holiday time but now we wanted to think how to make much greater use of them throughout the school day too.
Here was the opportunity and we needed to use what we had learnt quickly before the impetus was forgotten. We timetabled half a day out of the classroom for every child every week, whatever the weather. We called it ‘Out and About’ and it is non-negotiable. Teachers are encouraged to not just take a lesson outside that could be taught inside, but to do something different, let the children take much more of a lead and ask themselves: ‘what am I learning about these children from being outside that I didn’t know before?’
However, when children are outside there are no walls, children move further away and curiosity takes over. Staff could see that the children took ‘the lesson’ in different ways and in different directions. Teachers slowly began to relax and reduce their planning. They saw that some children who find ‘traditional lessons’ difficult started to flourish; others found being outside too different from the norm, too unpredictable, too chaotic. Some children, whose first language is not English, discovered that they could participate much more fully.
As the term progressed, the weather turned increasingly cold and wet. It is easy to go ‘Out and About’ when the weather is warm and dry, but we could sense an impending dread of afternoons when this was not the case. We asked CCI to run ‘A Day in the Woods’ for us, an INSET event for all the staff. We needed teachers to see that, with the right clothing and the right stimulus, a day spent outside, even when it is cold and wet, is potentially far more productive and long lasting than another lesson inside. And so, on January 4th 2019 we went to Ashlyn Woods where artists Caroline Wendling and Filipa Pereira-Stubbs lead a whole day of experiencing and thinking about what the outdoors can offer us and our children back at school.
A year later we have teachers who are starting to let go, plan much less and relax alongside the children. Expectations of how these sessions go are no longer fixed but expanded. The school grounds seem so much bigger as everyone gets to know them better. The children have commented that they enjoy the space and time to think: “no one is looking over my shoulder to check, the pressure is less”. Teachers are no longer worrying about what to specifically plan for these sessions, but instead are saying ‘this lesson needs to happen outside’.
So what is the impact of this? We can see that the wellbeing of everybody has benefitted and behaviour has improved as the adults start to trust the children more. Opportunities for everyone to express themselves more creatively have helped to improve the quality and quantity of writing; children are finding it easier to get started because their ideas are flowing more easily. This knowledge was vital during lockdown. The outdoors were in use constantly for those in school and featured in the daily offer for our children who remained at home. Included in this offer were the creative care packages designed by CCI artists.
During lockdown we appointed four new teachers and featured ‘Out and About’ in our advertisement. We had 37 applications and managed to appoint people who wanted to join us because we recognize that spending time outdoors is a crucial part of what we offer all of our children.
Paula Ayliffe is co-headteacher of Mayfield, a two-form primary school in the north of Cambridge.
More information: mayfieldcambridge.org
This article was first published in 2021 in Vol 126 of the NAEE journal which is available free to members. This edition was an arts-themed special, written with Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination.