Participating in arts experiences has an impact on everyone for life, especially for early childhood years as we outlined in our 7 benefits of engaging in the arts from an early age post.
Here we talk to Dorset based creative practitioner Jo Burlington who set up Oops Wow; messy process based art groups for small children in Bridport and West Dorset.
How and why did you start Oops Wow?
I started to run the messy art groups because I wanted my son to have the opportunity to have a go at more ambitious and exploratory art making as opposed to the really rather small, tame and heavily prescribed activities that he was being offered at preschool.
Seeing a child playing in paint, feeling the paint, squishing it between their hands and feet, gazing at it as the colours change is fantastic. Sometimes when the room of 12 toddlers and their parents go quiet, I realise that everyone is engrossed in clay.
What’s your background?
I am trained in fine art and make my own work. I also trained and worked as an Occupational Therapist for several years. Both of these disciplines feed into the planning of my sessions.
What happens during Oops Wow sessions?
The activities are always something that the child can do independently or take the lead on, sometimes using parents or carers like a studio hand. A session will involve big movements, running, stretching, swinging, working on all fours and so one, as well as smaller finer movements.
There is sensory exploration of the different materials, decision making and communication about what they are doing or planning, as well as intense focus and concentration while they are making. Without noticing it, the children will be developing all the physical and mental skills for learning, thinking, writing and self expression. I also work with the parents to help them engage with their children as they are doing their artwork, encouraging them to ask open questions as well as reassuring them that it is OK for their child to make a mess, or use loads of paint, let it all turn into brown mush, or simply watch what everyone else is doing.
What do parents and carers say?
I am a bit of an art phobic….a harsh word from teachers many moons ago put me right off that kind of thing, making me feel I was no good. As a result I don’t do arty stuff with my boys. My eldest is as likely to pick up a brush or pen as he is to spontaneously enjoy a carrot! However, during Jo’s art sessions both he and I have not only engaged in the activities but thoroughly enjoyed them! I finally see the point of it..to engage, express and have fun! Isobel
Jo creates a really positive and nurturing environment; there is no other art group like this in the area, it definitely helps to boost the children’s sense of self esteem and opens up a whole range of creative experiences to them. Claudia
For me these sessions remind me to be playful and creative with my son. That mess is OK and that I am helping him explore his world, not showing him what to do but watching and learning with him. There’s nothing like this anywhere else locally – fab resource! Sarah
.. it’s like magic! … Jo guides us, the parents and carers, to support our children in a really nice way. When I leave, I feel like I’ve had a really good time with my son. Clare
How does the business side work for you?
I don’t receive public funding for my sessions. I received a small amount of money through crowdfunding from The Bridport Soup which helped me bulk buy some equipment; parents and schools pay for their children’s participation.
The workshops are £8 per session for 6 weeks which means there are some people who cannot access the sessions. Some children come along where a preschool has paid for them using their pupil premium. I believe the sessions are extremely beneficial to the kids and to the parents. I would like to capture some of the outcomes around the parents feelings of well-being and their relationship with their children.
What are your hopes for the future?
I would like to get messy process based art into schools. It seems that all of the art is about something else… a topic or history or pattern recognition or scissor skills. I don’t see much art for arts sake, where the kids get to decide what they will do and then get the time to get absorbed in doing it. I understand it is difficult to find the time, and the space, and the money to have an artist come in and make a massive mess. I haven’t done anything like this before, but that won’t stop me trying.