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Art shouldn’t just be confined to art lessons: integrating it across the curriculum can have huge benefits for both past and present students

Geraldine Lunn

Taking a new look at art in primary

At Canewdon Primary School in Rochford, we believe that every child should engage in meaningful and motivating art experiences. We want them to have moments that stretch their imaginations, as well as enabling them to build confidence and develop new skills.

We are keen to move away from the traditional themes and artists (such as Vincent Van Gogh and John Constable) and offer our students an exploration of different styles and genres. So we seized the opportunity to use our Artsmark journey as a way of developing our provision for the arts in a much more cross-curricular way (the process requires schools to show how they embed cultural education across the entire curriculum).

Our Year 5 class, for example, used a PE session to create Giuseppe Arcimboldo-style pictures (inspired by the 16th-century artist’s portrait heads made of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and books). The results were amazing.

In response to a recent pupil survey about our arts provision, we invited the visual artist Charlotte Meldon into school to run an art workshop. She is a former pupil who went on to study fine art at the prestigious Goldsmiths College in London; an ideal role model for our children. She planned three days of amazing arts activities, building cross-curricular links by delving into the history and geography of the local area.

She opted to focus on the Second World War pillboxes that are located around the area and are familiar to the children. She showed them pictures of different types of pillbox, many of which had been disguised as petrol stations or cars to trick the enemy (this thrilled our pupils, who had little previous knowledge of their purpose).

Some of the pillboxes were covered with netting that had been woven to act as camouflage, and Ms Meldon explained the historical reasons for this in an interesting and sensitive manner. She then helped our Year 3 and 4 children to weave their own nets using strips of fabric.

The Year 5 children also undertook some weaving activities and their learning support assistant said she was amazed at the level of concentration and the quiet focus of the class. She noticed that some of the best work came from the children who often struggle with the more academic subjects.

Our Reception and Year 1 classes drew windows on to boxes to create their own pillboxes, and it was impressive to how they interpreted what they had learnt from Ms Meldon in their designs. Many pupils used camouflage, painting in green to look like foliage, and a few had painted cars and decoy windows on their designs.

The Year 6 children made their pillboxes in groups, using interpersonal skills to work together to create fascinating designs, such as one incorporating modernist-style painting. During her presentation to Year 6, Ms Meldon showed pictures of a discarded Second World War tank that she had cleaned and decorated as an art project. One child said: “I loved the tank. It was really clever to take something that no one wants and make it into art, I want to do that.” The artwork is on permanent display and some of the children have asked to go and see it.  

Everyone agreed that Ms Meldon’s workshops were thoroughly successful. The children developed new skills and gained a new perspective on what art is. We were thrilled by this, as we firmly believe that art, in all its many forms, should be accessible to all children. I asked Ms Meldon if she had noticed any changes in the school environment since she was at the school as a student.

She said: “Absolutely! There is a lot more artwork displayed, it is of a good quality and it’s everywhere.

“I really like the fact that the children are learning about some more unusual, contemporary artists. And what they are doing is of such a high standard and inclusive. I can’t wait to see how the school progresses.”

On the last day, parents were invited into school to view the children’s work. We also gained permission to display the nets on one of the local pillboxes for a semi-permanent display. We all enjoyed the workshop so much; the children developed so many skills in such a short time and we can’t wait to organise the next one. It’s so inspiring for our pupils to see what they could achieve in life through art.

Geraldine Lunn is a reception teacher and arts co-ordinator at Canewdon Primary School in Rochford

Geraldine Lunn

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