Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Angels at the Ashmolean: My under 5s event – Aisling Serrant

One of the best aspects of our Skills for the Future traineeship is that we gain experience working with a wide variety of different audiences. On my placement at the Ashmolean Museum, along with teaching schools sessions and various other projects, I have been working towards leading two of my own events, an under 5s event and a family event. 

Although both events ran successfully I feel the under 5s was the most challenging and the one where I learnt most. The first thing I did in preparation for it was mind map anything that came to mind when I thought of the title ‘Little Angels’ - stars, night-time, ice, snowflakes, clouds, silver and gold. The event was to run in the week before Christmas so I knew it would have a festive theme. Myself and Education Officer Rowan came up with hoards of ideas, the tricky part was narrowing them down to the best few!

The craft activities I chose where angel Christmas tree toppers and simple star shaped tree decorations. The resources for these crafts were easy to create being simple designs, and they were adaptable to a variety of levels. The difference of abilities in this audience is huge, so I designed activities where children could either do some colouring, painting and gluing and have a grown up put it together, or fully cut out and assemble it themselves. The angels were made out of a variety of materials – card, cotton wool, paper doilies, string, pipe cleaners and sequins – which made for a good opportunity to explore different textures and how to attach them to each other. There was also a designated paint table set up for the braver parents which again allowed for the use of materials not so readily available at home. 

Angel Christmas tree toppers

The crafts were enjoyed by both children and parents and there were plenty of angels spotted flying around the Ashmolean. However I wanted the event to be a multisensory experience and so I considered what other elements could help achieve this. One thing which proved to be very popular was my snow and ice foam pool. I made this by filling a paddling pool with baby wash and water mixed with an electric whisk (with a sign making clear the ingredients should any parents be worried) and also some ice cubes. This was an incredibly exciting experience for the children and it also led the way for science conversations about what ice is made from and how it forms. One parent was overheard saying she liked the idea so much she was going to recreate it at home!

Another key part of my event was a tour I planned and ran in the galleries. I based it around a story as a hook for the children’s interest and also a way of helping it make sense to them. Annie the Angel wanted to play in the angel’s Christmas concert but she had lost her silver trumpet. The children had to help her find it, meeting some of Annie’s angel friends along the way. To make the experience as interactive as possible I equipped each child with a party trumpet to toot at points in the story. This seemed like an amazing idea before the event and it wasn’t until the start of the tour that I realised what I had done! Giving 20 under 5s a trumpet and expecting them to have the restraint to only toot it when they were supposed to, was a bit of an oversight on my part. As soon as they were given out I realised it was going to be very difficult to be heard over the din and this really affected my introduction. It was very difficult to quieten down the group at the bits when I needed to talk.  I thought about ways to improve this the second time round and decided to hand the trumpets out a little later when I had already had chance to set up the story and I could more carefully model when to use them. 

Another issue I encountered during the first tour was one of the activities I created where I made a giant cardboard snowman whose hat, scarf, mittens, arms and nose were scattered around the gallery because of the wind. Mr snowman was meant to need the help of the children to put his clothes back on but to my dismay when I arrived in the gallery he had already been fully dressed by a couple of unknowing children looking round with their parents! I quickly grabbed the items and put them in a pile next to him! I avoided this the second time round by hiding the snowman’s body until I arrived and also asking the Visitor Services Assistants to keep a watchful eye on him! Getting to do the tour twice was really good as it helped me figure out how to adapt to problems that arise when running a session.

Assembled snowman
Other parts of the tour included a snowflake nursery rhyme, discussions about what snow and ice are made from and searching the gallery for the silver trumpet, finishing with everyone singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Repetition is of huge importance at that age so I designed parts of the story with repeated refrains where the children could join in. They had to ask each of Annie’s friends ‘Have you seen Annie’s silver trumpet?’ and when the friend replied they weren’t sure what a trumpet sounded like they had to demonstrate with their own trumpets, to the surprise (and sometimes alarm!) of nearby visitors.

Aisling practicing the snowflake nursery rhyme
I think tools like this repeated refrain really helped the children get involved with the story of the tour. I had the most amazing feedback after and it made me so proud that it was my event.  Perhaps the most rewarding bit of feedback I had was a young girl who came to me to show me her star decoration. She pointed to the angels on it saying they were Annie, Gabriel and Raphael, the angels from my tour. The adult with her said “It was a beautiful morning. Very well organised. We had a lovely time.” She then went on to comment that now when they came back to the museum they would be able to go back to the paintings to find Gabriel and Raphael and know what they were about. Wow!

Feedback from the event

I really felt I put my all into this event and there were times when I thought I had pushed myself too far – like stood in the atrium of the museum trying to give an introduction with 20 under 5s tooting party horns and crowds gathered on the upper floors checking out what all the commotion was.  I put myself out there; leading singing out in the middle of the galleries is something I never would have had the confidence to do not so long ago. ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ is fine because you know the adults will join in but ‘I’m a Little Snowman’ and ‘Five Snowflakes’ less so! When I told a friend about this she said she can’t believe how much I’ve changed, she said ‘Imagine yourself doing that a year ago?!’ And it is unimaginable - but that’s what working in such a supportive environment with people who really believe in you, and encourage you to believe in yourself will do!

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