We're aware there's currently a lot of pressure on parents in particular around home education. So, first and foremost, all of the activities in this series are designed to be fun, creative experiences for your children (and hopefully for you too!), but there is also potential for learning in all of them.
Through art you can learn about place, time, science and maths and so many other subjects. This blog will support you to develop immersive learning ideas; creating the conditions for your child to learn through experience, through their senses and explorations, to make learning real. We have selected work by four artists and outlined the ways these artworks can be the focus for exciting topical learning.
Artist and art researcher Sarah B. Davies has taught her own primary-age children at home while schools have been closed, and she brings both her professional practice and personal experience to this blog. While the blog is mainly aimed at primary children, a number of selected artworks are highly sensory and will suit children with special educational needs and those in early years.
Create your own immersive learning adventure
One thing I have learned during school closures is the difference between schooling and educating. Schooling my children is often task-led and nearly always met with resistance, whilst educating is more about learning about something in context and not knowing the answer myself, but instead collaborating, exploring and experimenting together. For me, employing the arts is vital – researching artworks that speak to a school topic or subject and using this as inspiration or a jumping off point.
Here are some easy steps for setting up your own immersive home learning adventure:
Choose an artist’s work that you can access online, ideally one that can be explored live/virtually or one with lots of information available. I’ve selected some examples below
Immerse yourself. Get ready to think of how you might present the artwork to your child in an immersive way – choose relevant objects and books from around the home that feel like they can add to the experience of the artwork and its themes. Include relevant films, websites and photos as materials to kick off your learning adventure
Explore the themes and meanings within the artwork as well as the back story to the artwork itself. Look for clues which you can develop into learning activities. Using questions as starting points is a great way to keep the activities open-ended to encourage exploration. E.g.:
Geography – where is the artist from? Where is the artwork situated? Where is the location in the artwork?
History – is there something significant about the era when was the artwork was created? What was happening at the same time? Is the artwork about an historical event?
Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) – does the artist use construction, pattern, geometry, repetition, time etc.?
Personal, Social, Health and Emotional development (PSHE) – is the artist aiming to evoke an emotion, display a moral, or present a dilemma? How can you develop activities that explore personal, social, emotional responses?
Social justice and equality – E.g. all of the artworks in this blog are by artists from a Black or minority ethnic background which may inspire work based on the topical Black Lives Matter movement
Try not to use traditional schooling materials – use different paper to write on, change the workspace, use different stationery for writing and drawing. The idea is to explore and experience a new time/place/era. Immerse yourself by changing your usual everyday schooling instruments and processes
Examples to get you started
We have focused on a small selection of artists from around the world. The activities suggested cover STEM, history, geography, and early years curriculum areas, as well as ideas for creative exploration through making and writing.
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who makes sculptures and installations – unique spaces that people can explore. Her most well-known works are her kaleidoscopic Infinity Mirror Rooms, where she creates endless reflections using mirrors and lights.
Immerse yourselves: Create a dark space – you could build a den or curtain off a small space in one room. Fill it with fairy lights and mirrors. Allow lots of time for children to immerse themselves.
Explore the artist’s themes:
Reflections and light sources – explain the meaning of reflections and play with altering light sources on different surfaces and materials around the house
Symmetry – set a challenge by creating half a drawing (a pattern, a face, an object etc) and asking your child to draw the other half using a mirror at the line of symmetry for reference
Counting and multiplication – look at how many times an object can be seen in multiple mirrors
Turner-Prize winning artist Anish Kapoor was born in Mumbai in 1954 and now lives in London. He creates enormous sculptures that play with how we experience scale, colour and movement. The ArcelorMittal Orbit in Queen Elizabeth Park, East London, is the UK’s largest sculpture and a slide now wraps round the entire structure - making it the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide.
Immerse yourselves: create an indoor playground using soft furnishings and objects to safely climb up. Create rules such as hopping from cushion to cushion and finding inventive ways to safely slide from one end of the sofa to another. How does this change how you see and use a familiar space?
Explore the artist’s themes:
Area and perimeter – research the area or perimeter of ArcelorMittal Orbit. How many times does the area or perimeter of your own home fit into Kapoor’s sculpture?
Materials – design your own slide for your home, considering the properties of different materials. Use straws, tubes, card, string, tape and any other household materials
What different ways can we describe the sculpture? Think about how you could use dance to describe the movement in and around Kapoor’s sculpture or write a short poem about something or someone who lives in the sculpture – what do they see, how do they travel, what is their story?
Steve McQueen is an award-winning artist and filmmaker from west London. In 2018 he conceived an idea for an epic portrait of London’s year 3 pupils. Year 3 classes were specially photographed for the project, with the resulting artwork at Tate Britain presenting tens of thousands of pupils. These class photos explore a sense of place and a moment in time; a snapshot, so to speak, of these children during a milestone year in their personal development.
You can now see this artwork at Tate Britain until January 2021.
Immerse yourselves: Create an exciting set of clues for a mystery. Send a letter or a create a scrap of a diary entry from an imaginary pupil from the artwork. Alternatively, gather a lot of family photos and postcards and leave a message from the past to be discovered with a trail of clues. What mystery will they ask you to solve?
Explore the artist’s themes:
Old photographs – pull together old family pictures. What can they tell us about that person, where they live, what they like and dislike?
Maps and mapping – use a map to mark where family members were born and where they live. Look at the journeys in between the locations. Mark other special places to you
Choose an area from your family’s past to explore: its history and any geographical areas of interest
What does history and geography say about me? As an additional creative activity, create a time bank or photo journal of this particular time in history. What will be important to capture for children in the future to understand how life is today?
4. Early years – Tomoko Takahashi’s My Play-Station
Tomoko Takehashi is a Japanese installation artist who is fascinated with games and their rules. In the 2002 installation My Play-Station, she brought a vast range of toys and household objects into the Serpentine Gallery, arranged by type, colour and purpose, and devised maps and games for people to navigate their way through the space.
Immerse yourselves: allocate a large container or cordon off an area/space and fill it with a range of different types of toys and household objects, e.g. in a large box, toy basket, an empty paddling pool, a sandpit or even a bed! Allow your children to get stuck into exploring the container of stuff!
Explore the artist’s themes: some examples for early years learning activities include
Sorting – arranging objects by colours, textures, size, types
Counting – identify and gather a set number of objects. Arrange objects in consecutive numbers up to 10 or 20.
Phonics – arranging items by their first sound/letter. Finding objects that rhyme
Treasure hunt – let your child set the rules for a treasure hunt game and hide items around the home for you to find!
As an additional creative activity, your child can take photos of the objects and create a display out of the prints using the sorting activities above – cutting out and displaying objects together to create a collage of objects of the same colour, or a collage of objects beginning with the same sound.