What is the Story Makers project?
Story Makers is a successful creative arts project that has been running since 2011. The project has been developed by Integrative Arts Psychotherapist Helen Edwards and Fusion Arts with funding from BBC Children in Need. Each year, a partnership is forged with an Oxford museum, this year it was the Pitt Rivers Museum. Always a positive experience for those involved, Story Makers is geared towards children aged 7-11, helping them to explore their creativity, boost their confidence and build their self-belief – all whilst supporting their learning and providing tonnes of fun!
How was Story Makers different this year?
Normally, Story Makers run sessions with groups of 10 pupils in three Oxford-based primary schools (Wood Farm, Bayards Hill and Rose Hill). However this year, in light of COVID-19 government guidance, Story Makers worked with the 30 children who make up the Year 4 class at Rose Hill Primary School. The Story Makers sessions ran for 10 weeks during the Autumn 2020 term and were led by Helen Edwards with support from the class teacher, three teaching assistants, sessional art worker Clare Davis and Rebecca McVean from the Pitt Rivers Museum. Each session offered the young artists and their teachers the opportunity to explore being creative together and to study the ecology of trees, using a range of different art materials and their imagination to bring their experiences and discoveries to life! The Story Makers team felt that trees and the environment were an ideal focus for this year’s sessions, given that the lockdown had caused many of the children to be out of school and less able to interact with nature.
What did the Story Makers get up to?
During those 10 weeks, the artists participating in Story Makers were very engaged and focused! Over the course of the sessions, the Story Makers learned and created across many different mediums, including verbal sharing, storytelling and making, movement and imagination, drawing, sound exercises, film, painting, clay, paper folding, mosaic, pastels and fabric painting.
Sessions were based in the classroom and in the school’s outdoor learning spaces amongst the trees. In the outdoor areas, the children and teachers explored what it might be like to be a tree by imagining themselves growing from a tiny seed to being inside of a big tree trunk, open to the sky. They investigated the shape of tree branches and the sensation of leaves on their fingertips as they listened to the sounds outside, taking in the atmosphere of the trees. Together, the Story Makers learnt about the needs that a seed has to grow and how a tree might respond to changes in light, water, temperature, rainfall, ground qualities, weather, climate, oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Inspired by this experience, the young creatives produced a range of artwork. They started out by creating bold, colourful and unique pictures of trees and animals. These pictures were then used as the design for cloth bags which the participants were delighted with! The artists used the bags to collect autumn leaves which provided colour and shape inspiration for their subsequent artwork. The participants’ artistic practice then evolved into the creation of beautiful glass mosaics inspired by what they had learnt about seeds; multicoloured designs marked onto cross sections of an ash tree to represent the passing of time; a large scale group fabric painting of a forest and movement and dance improvisation activities in which participants embodied the trees that they had experienced outdoors.
These creative activities were interwoven with two sessions with the Pitt Rivers Museum. For the first session, museum education workers came to visit the Story Makers at school and for the second, the Story Makers linked up live with education workers at the Pitt Rivers. During these sessions, the artists found out all about cultural uses of wood in boat making and its connection to the ecology of trees, as well as the human activities undertaken in the different types of boats that were presented to the participants during the Pitt Rivers live link. Alongside this, the Story Makers handled a range of wooden objects from different cultures, researched wooden objects from their own homes, learnt origami techniques for creating hooded fishing boats and had great fun enacting different animals in their playground during the Pitt Rivers school visit.
On top of all this amazing creativity, the Story Makers even found time to write inspiring stories about themselves from the perspective of a tree, informed by what they had learnt and experienced over the course of their project. This was a great opportunity as it allowed each of the participating children and adults’ imaginations to shine! The stories are all unique and include descriptions of the tree characters’ origins and their relationship to landscapes, boats, people and ecology. The Story Makers team have used the stories and artwork generated during the sessions to produce books for all the participants and their families as a memento of this joyful project!
This project has been such a rewarding and enjoyable experience for all involved, with each participant bringing their own unique qualities to the diversity of the group. They have learnt so much about cooperation and sharing, listening skills and speaking, asking questions and trying out new ideas, and about there being no judgement and to keep going!
Find out more about the Story Makers Project here: