Through the student ambassador role, I applied to work alongside a creative writing lecturer to deliver a two-day workshop based around the Imbolc festival to the year 5 children of Marsden Junior School. It was a fantastic experience which gave me an insight not only to working with this age group but also how to put a picture book together as a collaboration. It was interesting to hear about how the story would be planned and broken down across the twelve spreads. Obviously, this was simplified for the target audience and the children were asked to create a book which consisted of six pages, a front cover and a back cover.

Some participants of the biennial Imbolc festival arrived in full costume and performed a dance between the green man and jack frost. The children were asked about the story and from this they were asked to come up with their own. It did not have to directly relate to the story of Imbolc. We covered creating the protagonist, considering an antagonist, the problem, the drama, the twist, and the solution. I helped with the character building and talked through and problems the children were facing with their story. At the end of the first session they had a six page plan, their character card for their protagonist and were equipped with the knowledge of what they had to consider so they could go away and write their stories ready for the next session.

For the second session, I was asked to deliver a ten minute demonstration of what to consider when designing a book cover and Sara was asked to do the same regarding the blurb on the back. I broke my delivery down to some key elements; simple design, don’t overcrowd and don’t give too much away; use of colour, what it says and what it does; type, leave room for it within the design. I used other picture books to reinforce what I was saying and asked questions to keep the children engaged.

The children were very keen to be hands on in this session and their hard work and enthusiasm was notable. There were a couple of children that were dragging their heels and distracting others but once they had created something of their own they were proud. I noticed how one of the boys was extremely anxious about his drawings, I spent some time with him to help him and to try to break down the idea that things have to look exactly like whatever it is you are drawing. I went through the picture books available to show him how the characters did not look realistic and his drawings were fine as they were.

I came away from the sessions wanting to engage more with this age range and I will make contact with schools once I leave the MA. I do realise that schools are struggling with their budgets at the moment, but after various conversations with people about their children wanting to be involved in more art in their schools or hearing that some teachers don’t deliver art classes, I do think it’s important to make contacts to try to help with this.

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Manchester Science Festival 2016.

On Saturday I helped with a monoprinting workshop as part of Manchester Science Festival 2016. We used monoprinting to engage with young people and tell them about the Peppered Moth. It was a lovely experienced and helped me reflect on my own rigid approach to monoprinting and image making. It has been a long time since I practiced monoprinting and at first I was so uptight thinking of the outcome. I felt my images were stiff and lifeless. The children delivered loose and carefree images that automatically give them character and charm. This particular kind of image making was effective because it is so simple and quick it enabled the children to be prolific and kept them fully engaged. Some sat with us for at least half an hour without getting bored.

Around the pitch there were other science based activities including robot poetry, where a computer programme read back the children’s writing to them in a robot voice; a mini exhibition of images depicting what the children thought a scientist looked like; a circuit building workshop; and a range of interactive cards that became 3d when scanned through an image app. The day was a success with 134 children engaging with us about science through art. I will sign off with the poem written by scientist Sam Illingworth:

Arising from our ashen pit of toil,

As forge and mill did shape this unkempt land;

The blackness of the trees from coal and oil,

Contrasted with the skin nature had planned.

A single, fragile pearl encased in jet,

Your pallor marked you out for all to see;

In contrast to our progress, blood and sweat,

Your population had no industry.

And then from deep within you came a switch,

We came across your shadow in the sky;

Your alabaster pelt had turned to pitch,

Forced to adapt so that you would not die.

I wonder if we ever get it right,

Will you turn back from darkness into light?

Sam is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at MMU and a Poet.