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Wonder Art Workshop by Sally Haughey

Review by Ruth Mottram

If, as a practitioner, you are anything like me then you are always on the lookout for fresh approaches to fostering creativity in children, and new opportunities for them to explore their artistic inspiration. That’s why I was so excited to pick up this recent title, Wonder Art Workshop.

The author Sally Haughey is an internationally acclaimed early childhood education specialist and founder of “fairy dust teaching” blog. Her ethos, long-established around play and investigations for children, advocates for “Creative child led experiences for nurturing imagination, curiosity and a love of learning”, and she has is a keen champion of loose parts play and process art. As for methodology, Sally follows the Reggio Emilia approach, which is currently enjoying something of a resurgence.

Many of you will share my own personal horror at pre-cut, off the shelf, pre-determined art experiences for children. Regimenting and controlling their creativity and funnelling their art experiences does not help them grow or learn, instead churning out identikit artwork that all looks the same. You will be glad to see that this book challenges those ideas, calling on practitioners to provide “wonder” play based art and making at its finest.

The book begins with introductory chapters on ‘honouring children’ and their desires, feelings, and where they are in their learning development. We are challenged, by stepping into the ‘wonder journey’, to reflect on what it means for us as teachers to really invest in art creation for the benefit of the children?

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Meanwhile, the areas on ‘preparing your wonder-based art space’ provide a fascinating insight into Sally’s approaches for introducing children to various resources and what to include in continuous provision, whether in an art studio or space, or in your creative zone.

This engaging art activity book, with its step by step guides and beautiful photos, lead practitioners through what Sally titles “Workshops”. I would call them delicious invitations that will entice children to naturally pursue beautiful, open-ended learning and creative experiences.

How to use and get the best from this book

Each invitation to an art activity sets out several elements:

  • What you will need (resources i.e. pipettes, brushes, bowls, clay etc).
  • The invitation (e.g: How will the activity look?): This is at the heart of the workshop, and how we tempt children to take part.
  • Working spaces: This helps us to think of the bigger picture, our continuous provision, and what can do to help extend children’s thinking and engagement.
  • The process: How to present objects, ideas and challenges, and what may happen during the session.
  • Explorations: What else could we use or add?
  • Some workshops also provide us with some ideas for how to extend invitations for older children.

Sally uses many “tools” as part of her workshops. What becomes apparent right from the start is her love of loose parts. If you are not already familiar with loose parts play and its benefits, there is a section dedicated to it in the book, with some fabulous ideas to get you started!

Other tools used include pestle and mortars which, whenever I have used them with children, I find that they love! The concentration and engagement from crushing and grinding all manner of substances is extremely engaging for small children, and this book shares ideas for how to introduce these new resources.

Other sections include using Playdough, clay, flowers, chalks and other tactile resources.

Sally masterfully shares with us her knowledge and expertise on different process art explorations and how we can observe the children when enjoying these experiences.

The closing chapter gives us some fresh ideas on displaying children’s artworks in novel ways, which are both inviting and attractive.

Some of the invitations are things you may well have tried, while others are new and intriguing. All told, this is a book both to be dipped into and treasured, a real boost to inspiring a love of creativity, both in the children and yourself!

Curriculum links:

This book ties seamlessly into other areas of the curriculum. For example there is a lovely workshop, one that I intend to practice myself, that involves making ‘story blocks’ from old CD cases, beautifully linking to literacy and early reading skills. Another sees children creating ‘adventure capes’ using material which has been decorated by the children.

What a fabulous way to promote communication and language, and personal, social and emotional connections. ‘CD spaceships’ and ‘tube sculptures’ encourage children to use STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills.

These kinds of experiences challenge our children to think outside of the box and create amazing opportunities for open ended questioning and exploration.