The creative potential of 'getting in the way'

Creative Practitioner Maria Amidu tells us how the power of disruption was used to create a buzz around her My Creative School project

23 February 2018

On Tuesday 23 January I arrived at Holy Innocents’ Primary School in Orpington with a bag full of word-making paraphernalia gathered from my studio, and a large box containing a cylinder of helium gas.

Facilitated by the teachers and myself (the Creative Practitioner), we had two plans for this first My Creative School session: to experiment with different ways of illustrating the word ‘germination’ (because the school's project is about growing words and wellbeing) and to use what we made to ‘get in the way’ somewhere in the school.

No one else in the school knew what we were up to, and, truth be told, at first neither did we! So, I unpacked the bag and we just got started playing with any of the paraphernalia that drew our attention. This included letter printing blocks, stencils, ink rollers, ink pads, paperlet letters, cyanotype paper, carbon paper, dymo, rubber stamps from previous projects, printed tape, stickers from a previous Creative Partnerships project, and loose words also from a previous school project. Charlotte used a range of materials, Kath used the letter stamps, and I used the ink roller. We also spent a very amusing 20 minutes trying to work out how to get the helium out of the cylinder and into the two silver balloons I had brought with me to act as props. For people who work with children all the time, our helium balloon-filling skills were somewhat lacking!

Armed with the two letter balloons ‘U’ and ‘S’, a nylon washing line, wooden pegs, post-it notes, marker pens and a portable whiteboard we ‘got in the way’ in the school entrance, between the front door, the main hall, the door to the playground and the corridor down to the office. Everyone passes through this spot. In the last minutes of assembly we assembled our ‘getting in the way’ washing line strung with the jumbled letters of G-E-R-M-I-N-A-T-I-O-N along with a scaled up, colour photocopied, cross word, word play on ‘germinate’ ink rolled (in green!) onto 11 sheets of A4 sugar paper, and a mixed media, mixed scale ‘germination’ with the word ‘trees’ instead of the letter ‘t’. We left a gap in the jumbled letters on the washing line so visitors could get in and out without too much obstruction.

We attached the ‘U’ and ‘S’ to the whiteboard and wrote these instructions: what words can you make from the big letters? Do the letters make one word? What is it? Clues around. Just as the children streamed out of the hall, and quite suddenly we were surrounded. “Who’s birthday is it?" "What are you doing?" "Why are you here?" "What does that word say?" "Who is it for?” The response was delightful!

Taking the school by surprise created so much enthusiasm, which continued throughout the day as they (and staff) studied the washing line and stuck their yellow post-its to the whiteboard - students' names and year proudly written next to the words they had discovered.

I would highly recommend this ‘getting in the way’ approach and keeping activity a secret. It was a great way to start the project - you can’t beat good surprises. It has given us the confidence to be a bit more ‘seat of your pants’ in our approach to subsequent sessions, the children’s curiosity about the project and words has been ignited, and even though we are working closely with Year 2 and Year 5, everyone had the opportunity to be involved at the outset.

Because we enjoyed this whole school participation so much we've also incorporated this approach into the following session. Invitations were handwritten and sealed in handmade envelopes and delivered to each class from Year 2 and 5 inviting everyone to post their favourite words in the school post box, which is usually only used a Christmas. After half term we’re using the ‘U’ and the ‘S’ to send everyone’s words from the post box up and out on a journey into the world, before charting an imagined route and writing about the adventures all the words will go on.

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Image credit: Maria Amidu and Holy Innocents' Primary School