Making Senses by Barbara O’Meara

While studying for my Higher Diploma in Community Art Education I designed a series of 6 Creative Workshops based on the senses. This year I submitted a proposal to teach this programme ‘Making Senses’ to a local Arts Office in Co Tyrone. It was approved for funding for a Parent and Toddler group based in a local Community Centre.

I have a particular interest in working with parents to educate young children through creativity. My own children attended a Steiner pre-school and much of my own artistic research is related to a holistic approach to nurturing children. We all know there is now recognition of the positive influence of art and creativity on the education and development of children. For me this can begin before formal education by developing the creative skills of the parents and giving them the tools to encourage creativity in the home. The aim of each workshop was to stimulate and encourage the adults to make art with the children long after completion of the programme.

This was a huge challenge as I had to commute each week (a 3hour drive) to facilitate the workshops. The preparation was all done at home and I had to be highly organized as everything I needed was brought with me by car. I chose to teach the workshops on Mondays so I could travel on Sundays and stay overnight. I worked on the basis that I was always one week ahead in planning and preparation which allowed for a stress free system. I also made sample pieces of the artwork for each workshop to show the children and adults what we would make. I had a dilemma about this as I did not want to pressurize them to produce exact copies of my sample work. Also I did not want to influence their creative freedom and to direct them too much. In the end I decided it was better that they had some level of visual guidance as the children were only 18months up to 3 years and the adults had no previous art experience.

Each child was accompanied by either a parent or grandparent. The workshops themselves were adapted to suit the abilities of such young children but wherever possible I used real artist materials. On a practical level each class was structured to complete 1 hour of art, a tea break and playtime accompanied by an adult. The community centre has an outdoor playground. If the children wanted to continue with art rather than play they could. I had a voluntary assistant so I did not have any issues with supervision. Each workshop was based on one of the five different senses and the last one based on the sixth sense –inner self -a sense of identity. We started with flowers and the Sense of Smell using watercolors with wet paper. For inspiration I brought lots of relevant books, musical instrument, pictures, objects and extra drawing materials. Over the weeks the children used clay, made mono prints, built and planted miniature gardens, made 3d birds and snakes and ladybirds,. It was so interesting to watch them concentrate on each activity and observe different personality traits and skills. I had one set of twins and one child who is blind. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the adults who joined in each class without hesitation or embarrassment. Every week I gave out extra art materials to bring home and small relevant gifts. On the day we made the 3D birds the children received a bird feeder to hang up at home. I had budgeted for this.

Speaking of budget it was necessary to take out public liability insurance (1 year cover for Ireland & U.K with Fingal Insurance Brokers). This used up much my Budget but I was aware of this before I started. I really decided to go ahead for the invaluable opportunity of putting into practice teaching a programme I had designed. For me a true measure of its success was the day one young father together with his twin 2 year old sons went out after class to buy lots of art material to continue making prints at home. The experience of facilitating ‘Making Senses’ was extremely rewarding and confirms my passionate belief that art and creativity are fundamental to the human soul!