These two new fantastical maps have been co-created with children as part of the Eco-capabilities project, a research programme exploring how learning creatively in nature can help the well-being of young children. It is led by Professor Nicola Walshe, University College London Institute of Education, who was awarded funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in 2019. The research team came alongside two ArtScaping projects that took place in spring and summer 2021 with Shirley Community Primary School and Howard Community Academy. The project diary documents and shares the ongoing adventures for these communities and can be viewed below. More details about the research programme is here.
I have learnt so much about exploring the world around us from the children - they have reminded me of the value of slowing down and taking time to just ‘be’ in the outdoors. Importantly I have seen how making art in nature is precious for everyone, both as individuals and as communities, helping us think together about how we care for each other and the environment.
Professor Nicola Walshe
Here also are two films made with small groups of children from each school by artist Susanne Jasilek. Each film captures a sense of the spaces the children explored and their experiences through conversations with them and the artists and educators they worked with.
Artists Sally Todd and Hilary Cox Condron worked with the two year 4 classes at Shirley Primary School alongside teachers Emily Irvine and Anna Ullmann and their colleagues. Also supporting these projects were artists Tonka Uzu and Libby Walmsley. Artists Caroline Wendling and Filipa Pereira-Stubbs lead the work at Howard Community Academy, working with teachers Emma Walker and Sally Attwood and their classes of year 4 and years 5 and 6. Supporting these projects were artist Alfie Carpenter and recently retired headteacher Amanda Morris-Drake.
Initial evidence for this research proposal was gathered by Anglia Ruskin’s Dr Nicola Walshe and Dr Elsa Lee from the University of Cambridge when they worked with CCI in 2018. This was set out in a recent chapter in the Research Handbook on Childhoodnature published by Springer and written with Ruth Sapsed and Jo Holland from CCI. It detailed how CCI artists observed how the creative activities they took part in with the children had a significant effect on the children’s wellbeing – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The study found artists could illustrate how their work encouraged children’s confidence and independence, as well as stimulating new evidence of creativity.
Dr Walshe said in the announcement of the award:
There is significant national and global interest in children’s wellbeing and mental health, with figures suggesting that 10% of children in England suffer a severe mental health illness, and that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people. This figure is higher among those from deprived areas.
We believe that an innovative way to reconnect children to their local environment is using art in familiar outdoor places. Our research so far has found that artists undertaking this practice have observed how it encourages the children’s independence and sense of agency, develops their confidence, and cultivates a healthy sense of adventure! However, we need further evidence to determine why this is the case.
This AHRC grant will enable us to explore this further, working alongside the artists in two primary schools over the course of a school term to explore exactly how children benefit from this unique way of learning.
The outcomes will be of particular significance for teachers, schools and their communities but also for policy makers through access to evidence-based knowledge about arts-based learning in nature and how this supports children’s wellbeing.
A new webinar series is planned to share learning from the research and the first in this series was recorded during lockdown. It reflects on a CCI project with Mayfield Primary School and Under Fives Roundabout Preschool in 2018 - Lost Words and Found Connections - and has contributions from Nicola Walshe (ARU), Pippa Joyce and Jake Holt (Mayfield Primary School), Dana Harrison (Under Fives Roundabout Nursery), Filipa Pereira-Stubbs (CCI Artist), and Ruth Sapsed (CCI Director) .
The project is supported by an advisory panel and we are grateful to Hilary Bungay, Joel Chalfen, Kevin Jones and David Whitley for their support in this.