Making Space, a Hampshire based craft charity, is passionate about keeping skills alive and making high quality craft experiences accessible to children. With funding support from Arts Council England, they recently piloted a project, Learning Through Craft, across four primary schools that involves 125 pupils from years one to four. Learning Through Craft used Arts Award as a framework for embedding crafts across the curriculum to provide opportunities for schools to become advocates for craft in education at a time when teaching time allocated to art and design is on the decline. Making Space’s director, Lynne Dick, tells us how their pilot supported a creative curriculum by encouraging collaboration between artists and teachers.
Planning and recruitment
The challenges around attracting new schools to this project cannot be underestimated. While we have worked in schools before, the uniqueness of this project and the level of commitment needed from each school meant a we needed to adopt a totally fresh approach. Schools were asked about their priorities so that we could tailor each craft offer to meet their needs, whilst retaining our ambitions to deliver an excellent artistic project. We were very clear about what was expected from schools, including teacher engagement and senior lead support.
Schools suggested a variety of topics to focus on, such as using children’s co-operative skills and language, to testing out new art skills. The pilot embraced a cross-curricular approach, being utilised in STEM subjects, geography, written and spoken language; while also covering areas such as personal and social development.
An important component was teachers and artists making time to invest in their own professional development ahead of the pilot projects. Training explored the different tools and approaches teachers and artists need to make craft valuable and relevant to the everyday lives of their pupils, including how they learn. Teachers were supported to make connections between designing and their school improvement plans. Artist training expanded their knowledge of the primary school curriculum and pedagogies, enabling them to adjust and plan how they meaningfully and engagingly share craft skills. All were trained as Arts Award advisers which made a huge difference to the quality of each project, and how each team approached embedding Arts Award into the project.
Teachers found the Arts Award framework helpful, with one saying:
“It was great to have the structure from the booklets and folder to guide me through the process, and to consider your own views on art and craft. I am now linking it to our own curriculum.”
While one of the artists reported that:
“It really helped me to focus on what was needed and what was expected and allowed me to develop a rapport with the teacher. During the sessions students were encouraged to talk about the processes explored and increase their own understanding of technical terms.”
Pupils were immersed in their three-day projects, exploring how craft crosses over with other curriculum areas through activities such as:
- Creating cyanotypes and handmade books based on mapping their route to school.
- Constructing mythical 3d creatures shaping polypropylene & using fastenings.
- Using gilding & decorative surface techniques to produce 9 large scale frames.
- Making masks inspired by woodland animals referencing African masks, created from recycled milk bottles & Modrock.
Each pupil documented their meeting with a professional artist, what they had made and how they had made it. Their creative outcomes were shared with parents and the rest of their school communities through exhibitions, assemblies and displays.
Feedback from teachers was positive:
“Over the three days, children became so much more confident & really found their voices. They are incredibly proud of the project & what they achieved. Pupils’ confidence and self-esteem improved, art skills were impressive, particularly with the gilding. Their patience & resilience were very rewarding to observe…I’ve learned how a project like this can help children find the voice they often keep hidden in the classroom.”
We used our experience to offer guidance on how to embed Arts Award within the creative process. For instance, pupils recorded descriptive words, terms, names of tools and techniques as these were introduced by artists and later recalled these in conversation and their log books. All teachers felt that taking this approach enhanced pupils’ confidence around language and writing. Schools were quick to visually document their activities and young people were encouraged to share and comment on each other’s work.
An Arts Lead said:
“I have been able to do a half day inset day to staff on art & design, allowing choice and creative decision making.” This same teacher has been finding new ways to feed into the school improvement plan because of this project, to “influence our Artsmark case study, so funding can now be put in place raise its’ profile in school.”
Enabling teachers and artists to be trained together, to collectively and enthusiastically test how they would deliver the qualification was a very rewarding aspect of this project. One highlight was observing children freely experimenting and using their imaginations by exploring new resistant materials to acquire new techniques. This could only happen because they worked with professional artists. Seeing how problem-solving and shape knowledge practically linked with STEM subjects was also valued by each school.
Finally, remaining creative and open to thinking of ways of using Arts Award to encourage independent work during class, became an important part of the experience. Not only did this framework help pupils to recall, reflect and share their work but teachers found it much easier to measure pupils’ achievements and advocate for the value of craft in their schools. As for Making Space? We’re continuing our journey with plans to share our findings with others later this year and to expand on Learning Through Craft.
For more on delivering STEAM check out our some of our other blogs.