From little seeds grow mighty trees

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Introducing children to outdoor art making, using nature and its elements to build forms, and drawing on natural surfaces.

It has been a year of conducting workshops about the outdoors, rekindling observation and using found objects and material of we have around us. I was invited to Goa earlier this year to conduct a workshop in Anjuna, and was fortunate to have a venue so apt for this kind of work. The workshop was held at this outdoor location, by the sea, amidst farm animals, lots of space to wander around and observe nature.

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This was an exciting beginning to designing this workshop that spanned over a month.  All I could think of was natural light, walking around barefoot looking for tools to work with, the sound of animals and the joys of not having to imagine what the outdoors has to offer, but actually having it all around us, to witness, as we worked.

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I’ve found this to be especially important when working with children, as it adds an extra touch and memorability to the learning experience.

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For children, the outdoors are the greatest playground of all, with all its diverse structures, smells, textures, its creatures of all shapes and sizes.

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The workshop was divided into three parts beginning with looking at the earth as a canvas, moving into water life and changing landscapes and the air that surrounds us. Using the outdoors as a fertile space for ideas, inspiration and building an outdoor studio draws on a model based on a playful, child-centered, nature-based art education.

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Book making

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Begin with telling yourself a story.

Close your eyes and visualise that story, one scene at a time, pay attention closely to all the details, colour, texture, shape, forms.

Where is this story situated? Imagine yourself walking through this story.

We set off with bookmaking several weeks ago – the group of boys who come home for private lessons, and I. This activity was definitely one of my favorite projects that came up spontaneously during these sessions. But T and A have a way of making the most mundane activities and scenes seem adventures, humorous, magical and dramatic.

The idea was to work on a visual story narrative, frame by frame, developing scenes and building on a sequence of events. This seemed to be the most natural process for us to explore together.

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Some sessions are super special for how much they push and challenge me as a facilitator. In getting T to visualise, I had to return to some of my favourite books from a time when I didn’t read words, but engaged with images instead.

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A Dark, Dark Tale is a book that’s probably as old as I am. It was handed down to me by my sister. An almost wordless book, it’s a dark and broody tale with a surprise scary story about a mouse. I shared this with T because I remember how arresting I used to find the illustrations. In the absence of words the pictures did all the story telling with their broad, stark lines and tones that capture emotions, set the mood and show movement.

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Inspired by this, and surprisingly picking up the edgy style, T’s book takes you through images of a forest, an isolated landscape and an abandoned house where there lived a cat and mouse, several bats and owls.

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A’s book is about motley crew of sea creatures that are making it through the Bermuda Triangle. It’s still in progress and we’re waiting to see where the story goes.

Reading nature

December presented some fun projects for Drawing Room. One of them was a birthday party at Cubbon Park, in Bangalore. A party in the park was just what I needed at a time when working with nature was beginning to get more and more exciting for me. So I grabbed the opportunity to organise an art activity for the party, in keeping with my interest to look at all sources of the outdoors and what they can bring, and in turn using these as materials or elements for art making and storytelling.

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I organised for the children to explore a part of the park in a scavenger hunt, through an imaginary “lost land” that I called Sarandiel and the activity was to honour the land and bring back the magic that once was a part of this wooded landscape, by gathering elements that I’d hidden around the place. These elements — rocks, leaves, textures and the like — were then used to make art.

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Watching the kids work, and engaging with them in an outdoor space, made me realise how we as human beings seek being outdoors and what a difference it makes to the energy of learning from surroundings.

We weren’t just walking through the green areas of cubbon park but actually paying attention to all the life inside of it, the colours, textures and changes in trees and plants, insects and birds. Someone even spotted a shed snakeskin under a rock, and it caused a lot of excitement. The birthday girl brought her dog along, and he frolicked all over, joining in as the kids wandered about on their hunt. And suddenly I realised this madding, ever-growing city that envelopes us in cement and glass, still has this big pocket of green, where we can dip in and co-exist with nature.

As a further exercise to this, I organised one of my weekly sessions with the group of kids I teach at home, to be conducted at Cubbon Park. We set off on a typical sunny, wintery Bangalore Saturday morning, armed with art material, a mat, food and drink.

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The boys were mighty excited to be getting out and were very curious to know what we would work with. I allowed them to pick a spot for the session, and that lead to us setting up the workstation under sunny spot. They went on to looking for uncommon shaped rock and tree bark, following which I asked them to look at the object carefully to notice if they could spot familiar looking face’s, maybe a fish?, a hand?, a foot? This activity had them exploring the many features, textures, shapes, sizes of the objects they had chosen to draw.

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This intimate contact to nature has helped bring in a challenging yet meaningful understanding to the importance to a child’s development and the earth’s future.

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There are two fundamental reasons why outdoor play is critical for young children in early childhood programs and schools. First, many of the developmental tasks that children must achieve—exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge—can be most effectively learned through outdoor play. Enabling young children to learn lots and lots of things about the outdoor world. Can sticks stand up in sand? How do plants grow? How does mud feel?

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Thoughts and questions like these have set me off on an interesting turn to my teaching methodology. It’s what sparked the idea for my next month-long workshop in Goa.

It’s titled From Little Seeds Grow Mighty Trees and will feature image making with light and shadow ~ Recording natural change through a nature journal ~ Nature walks ~ Mapping landscapes ~ Scavenger hunts ~ Printing ~ Collecting found objects ~ Installation and sculptures.

Stay tuned for a poster and more details in my next post.

Changing seasons

Goa welcomed me with its light, warm air and the various shades of green that carpeted over walls, streets and rooftops, as it happens every year once the rain has fallen. Everything comes alive; the smell of wet earth and new leaves, insects and animal life all set off to this new beginning. During my time in Goa, the seasons were a blur. The post-monsoon heat swung back into what felt like a never-ending monsoon.

Within the studio itself, a nature table became an unlikely centerpiece almost as an extension of all the action that we were experiencing outside. I adopted the idea of having a nature table in the studio from the Waldorf System. I constantly reintegrated the need and made it a priority for kids to notice the beauty in all aspects  nature. The idea was to begin to be aware of things around us, notice patterns, find a rhythm and bring parts of it into our space.

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Children would pick things on their walk to class, I’d add a thing or two and pretty soon we had a motley collection of beautiful things in various stages of life and decay. This collection of treasures from the outdoors set the tone. This space became a lab for some of the children who wanted to watch how various objects in nature transformed over time. They were keen to notice changes in colour, form, texture, smell etc., over the weeks. For some it was an excuse to go on walks outside of the class.

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Being in the lush settings of Goa, so close to nature, and being able to experience change as it was happening, I felt that celebrating that uniqueness in, and the process of transformation would be a good focal point.

I decided this would be the basis for my interaction with the children, and a starting point of sorts, for the month-long workshop session in Goa. It’s important to honor all that is growing and dying around and within you, I felt. And in surprising ways within and without the workshop setting, my time in Goa has really driven that truth home.

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