Images from the internet and an interactive arts package are helping Orkney infants give vent to their innate creativity. Jack Kenny reports
The island of Sanday in the Orkneys is about as remote as you can get in the UK. Nearer to Oslo than it is to London, it is bleak and beautiful.
Sanday Community School is the only school on the island and it is a genuine centre of the community. Helen Newman, who has just won the foundation category of the Becta ICT in Practice Awards, came to the island about 13 years ago. Music, painting and photography are important to her, and when she arrived she felt about computers the way most of us feel about tooth extractions.
Helen's classroom looks like a working studio. The work of the foundation age children dominates the room and any visitor is struck by the range, confidence and assurance that the work shows. This is not an ICT room but an art room where ICT is used. Helen conquered her ambivalence to computers when she was introduced to the internet.
Roaming the internet, Helen was struck by the range of art images that were available. She decided to use them. Her first technique was to find an image that she liked and which would also appeal to the children and then download it. She discovered a way of bleaching out the colour from a downloaded image. Using a program called Revelation Natural Art she put the images (without colour) into the program, projected it on to the interactive whiteboard and then invited the three and four-year-olds to restore the colour.
They were using a SMART Board and could have painted with their fingers, but they chose to use ordinary paint brushes. The Revelation program, some would argue, is too sophisticated for children of this age, but no one had told Helen that and she went ahead. The results were surprising: the children investigated the originals thoroughly and the restorations were accomplished with skill.
The next development of this technique was to use real paint. Coloured images were projected on to a piece of paper pinned to the wall. The children painted their pastiches of Van Gogh and Monet. When you look at Van Gogh's "Cornfield with Crows" you can clearly see one of the last images that the painter created. They are also producing work that few would believe children of that age to be capable of. They are developing their fine motor skills as well as increasing their appreciation of visual images.
Helen explains the work that the pupils did on Jackson Pollock: "I had been to a meeting about working with children from birth to three. I noticed it seemed quite acceptable for babies in nappies to sit on the floor playing with paint and getting it all over the place. Why, I thought, can't we do this with older children who would remember it for the rest of their lives? So we did."
"We looked at Pollock's work and I made up flour and water and food colouring. I gave them three colours in three big buckets. We put each bucket on the floor at the side of the paper. The children were wearing old shorts and tee shirts. I thought they would plunge their hands into the buckets, but they didn't; they put in their feet. Next thing they put in their hands and instead of painting the paper they painted each other. We got a mirror out so they could see what was happening. Eventually someone dribbled paint on someone else's hair. That set them off. They rolled on the painting and splashed more paint on each other. They were thoroughly enjoying themselves."
That they have a good eye for an image is shown by the photography they do.
An important recent project has been the book by Michael Rosen - We're Going On A Bear Hunt. This involved the children with digital cameras going out to record their environment. It was important to Helen that the photographs were the work of the children. The images were going to be used as the projected back-drop for a school production of the book.
When you first see the images the children created they are quite startling. Grasses, pebbles and rocks as seen by a child are from a very different perspective, a different height. Some of the images look as though they are the work of a gifted adult and you are reminded of the quote from Picasso: "Every child is an artist; the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
"How can you do all that, Helen?" asked a teacher in England. "In Scotland we are not target-led but experience-led," Helen replied.
* Logotron's Revelation Natural Art www.logo.comproducts.html
This art package can be configured by the teacher before the children's use to work at simple, junior or advanced level. The simple level has crayon, felt brush or paint brush. Natural media effects allow users to work with the same tools on the computer that they would in their real art and design lessons. Each of these looks realistic. You can almost smell and feel the wax of the crayon. Authenticity is also part of the paint brush; the colour runs out to give a gradually diminishing impact. You can paint colours on top of each other and they create new colours. The next level has watercolour brush, pencil, pastel and chalk.
* SMART Board www.smartboard.co.uk
* Birth to Three www.ltscotland.org.ukearlyyearsbirthtothreeindex.asp
Birth to Three is guidance for all those involved in caring for babies and very young children. This may include early years workers, social care and health practitioners, and students preparing to work in early years settings.
* Sony Mavica MVC-FD200 Digital Camera www.amazon.co.uk
A camera that uses floppy disks that you can remove and feed into the floppy disk slot on the computer. It will also record to a memory stick * Tate Gallery www.tate.org.uk
One of the best online galleries in the world
* Becta ICT in Practice Awards
The TES is media partner to Becta's ICT in Practice Awards which were announced at the Xchange conference in Birmingham this week. They are sponsored by Ramesys, Adobe, Toshiba and Viglen. Full details of this year's awards can be found at the above website address.