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Sophie visits the Curious School of the Wild [and how nature inspires art and creativity]

My time in Miss Elvy's Curious School of the Wild as an Art Student

I'm Sophie and I'm a 21-year-old art student from Cornwall, studying in Bath. I had an outdoorsy childhood and I spent a lot of time outside in nature. I think that nature inspired me as a child to be creative and use my imagination. Maybe that's why I ended up going to art school, where a good sense of creativity is crucial!? Now that I'm grown up, I am hoping that I can help children experience the same positive benefits of the outdoors that I had, because I have noticed that exploring outside it isn't as much a part of our mainstream culture now for children. I also think that nature inspires artists and facilitates all kinds of art, from dance and drama to sculpture and painting to installation and land art. This is probably because the outdoors promotes adventure and sparks curiousity, key ingredients for making art. As an artist this is really exciting for me and something I'd love to work on in the future with children to explore kids' creativity and encourage more outside time! I was really lucky to come along to do outdoor learning with Nik, learn more about what goes on and work on some art projects with the children.

In the first week I came to all of the different outdoor learning groups; Buca Gwidden Drama Group, A Nursery, two full days at a Primary school and Adventurers Saturday group – just to gage a feeling for the different groups and decide which projects would work well. I noticed that the dynamic changes dramatically between each individual group and I started thinking about what art projects would suit each one. I felt that some groups were already using a lot of their own initiative and they would need something less structured, and I thought that other groups would need a more structured activity for their art project. I expected to come out with more enthusiasm to work with the independent forest school classes, because there would be more scope with what work we did, but in fact I was more inspired to make art with the classes in the school and nursery... I felt that these were the children that needed outdoor time the most and although it was far more challenging to think of projects that would suit everyone in the class, I felt it would be very rewarding to achieve something.

Throughout my first week I noticed how the kids were naturally inclined to built structures and dens. I saw them using their own creativity and imagination to make these and found it so inspiring! The dens themselves are often like land art or installation pieces – I was so impressed with their skills and natural instinct to make things out of what they find outside. I also observed how the children love making things and getting messy. In year 2 we did a project painting clouds to match up with learning the names of the clouds in the sky. I saw how enthusiastic everyone was to use paint and how proud they were of what they made. I saw that being creative and making things was naturally rewarding for the children and being outside seemed to really facilitate that instinct to use imagination. I finished my first week feeling so excited and inspired and positive!

After half term I came back and I decided to do some art projects with Nursery (age 3 and 4) and Primary School (year 2 and year 6). I knew that the nursery children had a short attention span but I had also seen their excitement and curiosity about the small things outside, such as little bugs and beetles, plants and things that can be explored. I brought to nursery some cards but no art supplies... I showed everyone how they can use what they find outside to make nature drawings. Their enthusiasm and excitement about making nature art was so rewarding! As I'm not really a natural leader it was a bit of a confidence boost for me to lead an activity and made me feel a much more confident about leading an activity for a bigger group of older children later in the week.

A few days later I spent a morning with year 2 doing a drawing project inside as unfortunately we had a very rare circumstance where we couldn't go out! We made the most of the time anyhow, and I gave them 6 sheets of very large paper and sectioned them into groups. I asked them to spend a few minutes drawing with colourful pastels what they "love about the outdoors" before I move their group to the next sheets, so everyone contributes to each piece. I was slightly daunted by the numbers and the loudness and excitement of the class, expecting them to mostly mess around, but they did me proud and made some awesome drawings! Some of the children were especially imaginative and some were particularly talented at drawing and mark making - I was impressed. Some had a shorter attention span than others and we ended sooner than I expected to play a game. I think that making art about outside was positive as it got the children thinking creatively about themselves and what's around them rather than just copying their favourite character or tv show.

The last art activity I led was the most fun for me! With year 6 we made some land art installations. The children were especially tired this afternoon as they'd had an active morning and I was expecting they'd all be a bit dozy and not so up for it. But they were full of beans and I was SO impressed with the outcomes! I explained that they didn't need to make something recognisable It was interesting – some wanted to be in larger groups, others in pairs and some totally alone. I was up for them working however they felt was best just to see what different outcomes happened. Some children wanted to get mucky in the mud and make balls of earth which I thought were great. Others stripped the bark off of sticks to reveal the white wood underneath and built structures (again!) out of branches and leaves. Some children were paying attention to little details and making tiny decorative pieces. The wide variety of outcomes was so interesting. I wish I had more time to work with them – the time passed so quickly. With the older children a longer session would have worked well as they have so much more of an attention span and still seemed really into what they were doing when it was time to finish! I feel inspired to go back again and make more

Since I finished my time in forest school I have been thinking about outside learning and making art outside. I think that the curiosity of the outdoors sparks creativity and the wide variety of natural materials is naturally inspiring! Building land art has endless potential from massive structural sculpture and tiny delicate creations. At different times of the year new materials arise and new colours become available. I think that children love making land art because there is a lot of freedom but also making natural materials work for the maker without extra tools can be challenging, and getting it right is satisfying! Making land art is also a chance for children to engage in the natural world from a new perspective and making something always promotes a natural sense of achievement which feels great! As a young adult who makes a lot of art, I love how making art gets me feeling the creative juices flowing. I really want to share that feeling with the next generation who are becoming more and more pressured to be academic. Now that I have had some experience working in outdoor school I feel so inspired to come back again and do more! Thanks so much for having me in the Curious School of the Wild, see you again! :)

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