Exploring ideas and materials

Playful Minds projects allow space for exploring their own ideas and discovering new materials; the result is more confident children and often an improvement in language as they use words to describe their new experiences.

I am still working on this post and will have some sample projects and pictures here soon, in the meantime see the project pictures page

Sample projects are
making ‘bendy beasts’
creating with willow
using recycled or throw away materials

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Building with bamboo – good for the brain!

I love turning up with a flat bundle of bamboo sticks or willow and seeing it transformed in a day into a room full of large creations! This is simple to do and has an amazing effect on group work, concentration and of course is simply FUN as well.

Empty spaces in halls or entrances can be filled with wonderful sculptures that are might weight and low cost.

The finished shape can be left open, woven with ribbon or covered in fabric or tissue paper and glue.


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Makedo Kits

A recent discovery is the wonderful world if Makedo, based in Australia

Makedo is a connector system that enables materials including cardboard, plastic and fabric to easily join together to form new objects or structures.

When you’re done playing, simply pull it apart to reuse over and over again.

See their web site for inspiration. Fabulous ‘makes’ from the most basic materials – mostly cardboard boxes

Definitely right at the top of my ‘Oh my I wish I had thought of that’ list. I will be sending off for some of their connecting kits soon so I can incorporate this into my work.



Weekend Project - Giant Windball  By Master Maker Tanaka Satoshi.  Download instructions here http://bit.ly/zhTxT9

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Creative doesn’t always mean new and unique

For anyone who thinks creativity is synonymous with originality I highly recommend you watch all 3 videos in this series. In them Kirby Ferguson shows how many aspects of our popular culture from music to films and books are often taken directly from earlier work.

Definitions of creativity often emphasize the word ‘original’ and I think this can hold people back from trying as the feeling that ‘it’s all been done before’ or ‘someone is already doing it better’ can be very strong (this happens to me all the time!)

So watch these, have the scales fall from you eyes and GO FOR IT!

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 3 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

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Playing by the rules makes prisoners of children

This is not my article but it’s so good I had to post it here.

In it, it states that

in 2007 when a UNICEF survey rated it among the worst places in the world to grow up. At that time Play England, part of the British National Children’s Bureau, found that about half of all children were being prevented from climbing trees and 17 per cent were not allowed to play running or chasing games.



Image by duncan via Flickr

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Is there a place for arts workers in schools after the cut backs?

Sweeping changes in education and arts funding are having a big effect on freelance arts practitioners. I don’t want to get all negative, but having been to a few meetings recently, it seems the changes run deeper than I had imagined.

People are telling me that the days are gone when I can just pop a colourful postcard to some schools and they will call up with requests for project ideas. Hmmm…..is this really the case?

I worked in schools long before Creative Partnerships was formed, so now that it has ended (rather abruptly) it will have some effect, but it’s not the whole picture; CP only reached a relatively small number of schools across the country. So, it must still be possible for freelancers to play a role in education; the main issue for me, is how do we get through to the schools to let them know about our work?

I know marketing has changed a lot in recent years but the way marketing works in the real world does not apply to schools.

1. Schools are physical and virtual fortresses, they have limited access to the internet

2. Anything you post to them rarely makes it past the secretary to the relevant person

3. Same with emails!

I think ‘outsiders’ are needed in schools; there are many children who do not find the school system easy that shine when artists come to work with them. Artists and creative practitioners can develop a different relationship with the children and connect to aspects of their personality, skills and understanding that often cannot be reached through the normal timetable.

The most wonderful thing any teacher has ever said to me was ‘I did not really know these children until you came to work with us and now I can see them all as individuals with unique interests; I don’t normally get the time to stand back and observe, or let them make the decisions’. Wow. I thank her for her honesty.

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts

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Play and creativity – separate things?

There is an argument that creativity and play are not the same things.

I don’t like to separate them and for the purposes of this website I want to include articles on both as I find them closely related and both equally important.

Creativity involves an element of play. Play involves an element of creativity. I find it quite hard to find the line between the two.

I have written a bit about the definition of creativity here . I guess the main difference is that people see creativity as ‘productive’ whereas play is ‘unproductive’, it needs no outcome.


Playing freely and being able to express our inner ideas and connections without judgement produces a more creative and confident person. Children who are able to play have a much greater chance of being good problem solvers, navigating life’s challenges with trust in their ability to roll with the inevitable changes.

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Can we go out and play? Probably not….

This article came to my attention today

The two-year Good Childhood Inquiry is published on Monday. The independent inquiry into the state of childhood today – commissioned by The Children’s Society and carried out by Lord Layard, the Labour peer, and Professor Judy Dunn, a child psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry – has collected so much evidence that it is publishing it in a 240-page paperback book on Monday

The report is expected to warn that children have lost their freedom to play outside because of paranoia about the dangers they face and hostility from the general public.

Instead they are left to spend hours every day in front of television screens and computers, where they fall prey to aggressive marketing and turned into consumers

It will propose a complete ban on advertising for under-12s, which has been suggested both by Lord Layard and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is patron of the inquiry.

The commercialisation of childhood is feared to be behind rising levels of depression and anxiety among teenagers, as they try to get the latest gadgets, wear make-up at increasingly early ages and try to lose weight or work out in order to look like models or pop stars.

The inquiry will also warn against the “cotton wool culture” and encourage parents to let their children play outdoors and make new friends rather than keeping them cooped up indoors.


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Defining creativity

Creativity is a very popular word these days. It’s everywhere, so you imagine that we all know what we mean by it. When you try to pin the word down to a particular definition though, this is when things get tricky.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition is

the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness”

That seem straightforward enough doesn’t it?

Here’s another one

“the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing. Innovation is the production or implementation of an idea. If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative”. Linda Naiman

NACCCE (National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education) define creativity as

Imaginative activity fashioned to produce outcomes that are both original and of value. Creative processes have four characteristics. First, they always involve thinking or behaving imaginatively. Second, this imaginative activity is purposeful : that is, it is directed to achieve an objective. Third, these processes must generate something original . Fourth, the outcome must be of value in relation to the objective.

Hmm, so now we have innovation and creativity as two different elements of the process, creativity being the part when we produce something. I told you it wasn’t that simple!

I take issue with the ‘of value’ part, especially when it comes to work with children. Who is defining the value? And is every creative thought or act truly original? Does this put pressure on us to feel we can only be creative if we produce something never seen before?

Another aspect of defining creativity is that what people KNOW intellectually is the definition is often  different to their feelings about it. In training sessions I ask groups to define creativity and we get flip charts  full of wonderful words, processes, outcomes and emotions; I ask the same people if they think they are creative and a large proportion say ‘no’ then giggle and say ‘I’m rubbish at drawing’.  So people are mixing up ‘creative’ and ‘artistic’ even though we have just defined the word as encompassing  many aspects of life.

I prefer to think of creativity as something that permeates all parts of our lives and makes us who we are.

I think creativity is asking the questions, not just looking for the answers.

It’s thinking, analysing, connecting, expressing, coming up with a joke, a funny thought, looking at things from different angles, being able to see possibilities, being brave enough to go against the crowd, wearing clothes you like, exploring new places, making fab food, choosing colours for your living room and finding alternative ways to approach life’s challenges.

Obviously great innovation, scientific breakthroughs and ‘high’ arts all involve creativity, but if we see creativity as being only about new  ideas this prevents many people from embracing their own creativity and makes us think that every creative person is some kind of  genius.

When working with children we need to allow for all kinds of self-expression. At a young age it is more about encouraging them to have confidence in themselves, their fascinations, their own connections. Be careful not to mix up creative with ‘artistic’. 


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Play IS learning

A video from Joseph Chilton Pearce where he explains his belief that children can only truly learn through playing and that ‘play can be the most serious undertaking in a child’s life’. He argues that schools often interrupt a child’s true way of learning in order to impose what they believe learning should be.

Joseph states that in education there is something like 3-5% retention of information learnt in the first few years of a child’s life, however if something is truly experienced with all parts of the child’s being (as in imagination and play) then there is 95% retention.

“That which is learnt in a state of play is literally built in as a permanent neural pathway in the brain”

So play is ‘becoming’ rather than about learning facts. Play or lack of it can define who we are as people. Children who have good play experiences have greater choices in life as “play lays the foundations for all later forms of intelligence”. As we open we explore the outer world and are able to build and imagine a world within, a safe place in which to try out thoughts and ideas, the world is open to us. Children who have their play experiences thwarted are more likely to struggle with their confidence and be less secure in the world, perhaps left reacting to any circumstances they find themselves in yet feeling powerless to do anything but lash out at the things that seem to be causing it.

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