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#393 Big Feelings – Springfield Infant School with Cohere Arts

Gail Phillips

What did we do?

We created a bid for our year 2 children to work on a project where they collaborated together and openly discussed their feelings. We had asked specifically for this type of project as post COVID we had noticed that the children found working together far more difficult due to their inability to work in learning partners due to school restrictions. We were paired through the IOA with a company called Cohere Arts; who discussed the needs of the children and then planned a sequence of sessions that were flexible enough to allow the children to lead the sessions through their own wants and needs. This was a great partnership which has been really successful, as an infant school we have found it increasingly difficult to get outside providers to come and do workshops with the age range of children in school. This has been due to the age of the children, their inability to follow any type of COVID restrictions and the inability to have external visitors into school, so this has been a difficult time for children in schools who have not been able to function normally and engage with creative enrichment activities provided externally to the school as they would have pre-pandemic.

Cohere Arts provided two staff for each session and they worked with the children over the afternoon in two groups of 15, the class teacher worked alongside them through the sessions. The classes were made up of a mix of 30 children, 18 girls and 12 boys, 20% of the class are children for whom English is an additional language and 27% who are entitled to free school meals. This type of activity has not featured throughout the children’s first years in education and the opportunity for them to work collegiately as a team has definitely boosted their confidence to work together and perform as a group. This has also allowed them to start thinking about their feelings and provided them with a way to express those emotions and begin to develop strategies to deal with some of those negative feelings. The timing of the workshop also coincided with the children beginning transitioning into Year 3, where they will be leaving our setting to go to Springfield Junior school. Sadly, due to restrictions when the workshops were completed we were unable have parents into school as an audience, but Cohere Arts organised a videographer who came and filmed the children and edited a film together. The film is on Cohere Arts website and on the school website, permissions have also been sought for it to be shown as part of the IOA Hullaballoo. Cohere Arts also provided additional training to other KS1 classes thereby enriching the cultural and creative curriculum in our setting.

We were lucky enough to secure further funding for our other year 2 children to also have the opportunity to work with Cohere Arts and they will be doing a year group performance at the end of the year. In total 90 children will have taken part along with 3 teachers, and CPD mini sessions will be done with 90 children and teaching staff from year 1.

Summary of impact

The children thoroughly enjoyed the project and seeing them dancing and hearing their singing develop in confidence throughout the six weeks has been fantastic. Some children who were very reluctant to initially participate in the project and were very self-conscious have now auditioned in school to be part of a film being made by a local artist. I definitely think if they had not had the opportunity to be part of the ‘Big Feelings’ project they would not have had the confidence to even want to take part. Some children who were reluctant to participate in whole group activities and had generally hidden so they were not heard in the group have flourished.

The project has allowed them to be creative and make decisions about how they are involved and which parts they put themselves forward for and I think this personal creative capital is what has helped them want to be involved.

The project has also allowed all of the year group time to talk and express their feelings through dance and drama activities about transition, this is helping them come to terms with the major changes they will be experiencing in the near future. For children this can be a traumatic time, transition is an area where for children of  6 and 7 putting all their worries and angst into talk is extremely difficult, so addressing this throughout the sessions has helped them. I spoke to some of the children to discuss their emotions and how they deal with them.  We have shared the film made with our governing body who were amazed by the film because the children participating are so endearing, it is a really feel uplifting film which left the governing body asking if this is something we continue to do year on year.

The format for the sessions was structured in that the children had a starting theme but the follow up work (singing, dancing and drama) was based around their responses.

Steps taken

The project enabled us to meet all the Hullabaloo22 outcomes:

Outcome 1: Education providers enrich the cultural and creative curriculum in their settings

Children have been able to actively help guide the workshops as subsequent sessions are built around their choice of vocabulary. Staff have participated and worked closely alongside Cohere Arts staff skills and confidence to embark in the activities has increased through CPD workshops delivered. The governing body could see first-hand the value we place on creative arts and how much enjoyment the children have had participating in the project.

Outcome 2: Providers inspire & support young people to develop careers in the creative sector

Children’s confidence has grown, children want to take part and perform, and some children have auditioned to attain a part in a film being made by local photographer and film maker Jamie Hawkesworth.

Outcome 3: Arts and cultural providers attract more children and young people from under-represented communities to take part the cultural offer in Ipswich

Children who took part come from a range of different families with a range of personal needs.

Outcome 4: Providers support young people to develop creative skills for life, especially supporting mental health and resilience

The project allowed children to sing and act out their frustrations discuss their causes and help work through solution to build mental resilience in the learners. In discussion children confidently spoke about their worries and how they would deal with them, they were able to use other synonyms to describe happy or sad and draw their bodies to explain how they feel when they are nervous.

Outcome 5: Providers support young people’s attainment in creative subjects

The children generally have developed excellent collaboration skills, which was something COVID had had a direct impact upon. Before the project the children had not ever learnt the art of negotiation, turn taking and compromise. Many of the children would only work with one other close friend and had almost developed an awkwardness when they had to work with someone outside of their comfort zone, so having to work as part of a group really has helped their team work skills and a respect for one another.

Outcome 6: Education settings develop as hubs for high quality arts and cultural experiences

Staff CPD means that the children will now have a wider experience within school as staff are now equipped to expand their repertoire.

Outcome 7: Providers support whole family engagement in culture

Due to COVID restrictions the first group of learners had to be filmed for their final performance. We were able however, to secure further funding for additional groups to take part in the project, we are planning a final end of year performance including all the year 2 children together and they will perform for the parents together.

Outcome 8: New partnerships develop between community organisations/groups and arts providers

It has been fantastic working with Cohere Arts, Amy Mallett and Sarah Lewis have really understood the needs of our young learners. Every session has had the children fully engaged and eager to participate, the pace of the sessions they have delivered has been excellent and they have had high expectations for all the children.

What would we do differently

The challenges were based around the timings and space needed during the earlier part of the term, staff and child absence was high due to COVID through the Spring term too. We would do all the workshops through the Summer term as transition visits are being done so that it is more relevant to what is actually happening to the children at the time as they are visiting their new school by that point in the school year.

Are there parts of the project you will continue to develop and deliver?

Working with Cohere Arts has allowed staff to gain new skills to transfer and weave into our transition activities and Cohere Arts have produced sets of resources for us to use in the future.

What examples do you have of what children learnt?

FS was able to use lots of synonyms to describe emotions: exhausted, tired, nervous, worried, scared, frightened, happy, and joyful. He discussed how he sometimes has butterflies when he is worried but sometimes it is because he is excited, he describe his legs feeling like jelly and says that he runs away fast from a situation when something scares him.

They also have some ideas for how to cope with uncomfortable situations and were able to talk about what how they react when they are nervous or worried. LK said, “I like to be alone and have time to think, then I share my worries in the morning.” The children talked about being scared of the dark, stranger danger, and seeing scary adverts popping up when they watch thing at home online and meeting new people. LM described how if she is worried in bed she wakes her sister for a chat and a cuddle.LK talked about the five finger breathing, and FS talked about having his night light on when he is in bed and it is dark. I then asked the children how they felt about going to the junior school and they generally felt excited to see sibling, friends and cousins although one said, “Just a little nervous.”

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Gail Phillips, Springfield Infant and Nursery School