'My artwork is going to be in the Scottish National Gallery, Mummy!’ declared one child from Greenhill Nursery in Edinburgh excitedly –after finding out that their artistic explorations would culminate in them holding a grand exhibition celebrating the children’s creativity.
Practitioners at the nursery, part of the Forbes nursery group, value the children’s creative play as a central role in their learning and development. They will often introduce the children to different artists while exploring a topic – such as paper collages of sea creatures by Henri Matisse when they were investigating ‘under the sea’ – and discuss the pictures, how they are created, what the children like or don’t like about them and how they make them feel.
‘Staff encourage the children to use a variety of materials when being creative,’ says nursery manager Bethany Stephen. ‘We carefully select a good range of new and interesting materials when completing our art in order to allow the children to experience a range of media.’ These include oil paints, oil pastels, charcoal and watercolours.
The nursery has a Forest School and children – inspired by the leaves, twigs and berries they have collected – enjoy making natural art. ‘The children have their own ideas about the techniques that they want to use, particularly with natural materials,’ Ms Stephen says. ‘For example, they enjoy using leaves as paintbrushes and using stones to create maps.’
During a project focusing on Scotland, the pre-school children looked at the work of Steven Brown and his paintings of multi-coloured Highland cows, known as the ‘McCoos’. The children talked about the paintings and were attracted to the dark backgrounds and fluid paint strokes in vibrant colours.
‘We focused on these paintings because they are so colourful,’ explains Ms Stephen. ‘After looking at the pictures, staff put them in the art area alongside black paper and colourful oil paints so that the children could look at them for inspiration and use the materials for their own interpretations.
‘Staff then supported and encouraged the children to use the bright colours and make different strokes with the paintbrushes. We were really surprised by the children’s attention to detail and the finished pictures were very striking. We displayed their artwork on the wall and parents were impressed to see how powerful they were in terms of colour and texture.’
Nursery staff noted how proud the children were of their work and how they had enjoyed it being displayed and valued by others. This sparked the idea of holding an exhibition to showcase the children’s creativity and boost their self-esteem. To make it special, they decided that the exhibition should be held at an exciting location. They contacted the Scottish National Gallery and were pleased to find out that they could use its education room.
Practitioners spoke to the children about where artwork is displayed and introduced them to the idea of galleries, which some of the children had visited with their families. They asked how the children would feel to have their personal artwork displayed in a gallery, and most were very excited at the prospect.
It led to lots of questions and discussions about specific artists and what you find in a gallery. They spoke about how it’s not just pictures and paintings but also 3D artwork such as sculptures.
It was decided to have all the nursery children involved in the exhibition and to exhibit a range of art forms from photographs of their natural art to pine cone sculptures, salt-dough models and Lego constructions, along with the more traditional paintings and drawings. The baby room even got involved by introducing the children to ‘body painting’ in their nappies and enjoying the sensory experience of touching paint and smearing colours on large sheets of paper.
‘We wanted to incorporate construction and building into the exhibition to demonstrate to the children that they are still being creative. It’s important to balance out that creativity is not just painting or gluing,’ says Ms Stephen. ‘We also wanted to be inclusive and display all abilities. The children all had their own ideas of what they wanted included in the exhibition, and in the lead-up to it they had the option of taking their artwork home or keeping it to be exhibited at the gallery.’
EXCITED AND PROUD
The exhibition was held on a Saturday morning so that many of the children’s families were able to attend. ‘We were honoured to host this vibrant, inspiring exhibition of artworks created by the youngest artists from Forbes Nursery,’ says the gallery’s schools learning co-ordinator Liz Conacher, who helped the staff to set up the venue and display the children’s artwork. All the work was labelled with the children’s names.
‘It looked spectacular,’ says Ms Stephen. ‘We were quite overwhelmed by how amazing it looked. Welcoming the children to the gallery and seeing their faces when they saw their exhibits was very rewarding. They were excited and proud.’
Visitors to the exhibition could also view a slideshow displaying many of the creative experiences that the children had undertaken at nursery and demonstrating child-led artwork and collaboration.
‘The exhibition gave the children the opportunity to be proud of their own creations and they were able to talk to their parents and families about what their vision was. It gave them a great sense of importance and a feeling that their work was just as important as that of the other artists in the gallery,’ reflects Ms Stephen. ‘The children gained the feeling that each and every one of them was capable of being creative and were encouraged that all works of art are different and unique.’
Parents enjoyed the chance to celebrate their children’s creativity. Some members of the public also visited and were amazed at the age of the children who had contributed.
The nursery hopes to hold another exhibition, especially because of the confidence boost it gave the children, who enjoyed having their photos taken in front of their artwork. One child stopped their parent before going into the gallery, asked for a photo and proudly announced, ‘My art is in there!’
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