Early Years & Contemporary Art

‘Wild Things’

In collaboration with KIDS INC and DALC

The Children of Little Learners DALC meet ‘Wild Things’! 

The children of little learners DALC were introduced to “Wild Things” in our setting on June 29th. The children were first introduced to the lovely Seodin, Liz and Natalie, who greeted the children through song and actions. The children were instantly intrigued. There were nine children present ranging in ages from 2 years 3 months to 4 years and 2 months. Our setting, for the occasion was stripped of furniture to ensure no additional stimulus would take away from the session. Due to Irish weather we were unable to meet at the Lab studio so were very grateful the team could join us!

Seodin, staff and the children gathered in three groups on the floor where they were introduced individually to natural materials for play; media included a generous amount of lentils, kidney beans and chick peas. The children were encouraged to touch, feel, and allow the grains sieve through their fingers. Every child and adult participated in this sensory and explorative play. Large sheets of white paper were provided for the children and adults to create together and individually. We made hand imprints, flowers, people, wind, snow, dinners, rainbows and so much more. The children’s imaginations were ignited which led to them taking the lead in developing and expanding the play. The children ventured from group to group mixing and playing with all three media.


Seodin then introduced the children to clay, she captured their attention by using exaggerated movements when pulling, and teasing the clay apart. Every child was given a piece of clay. This more robust natural material invited more physical play; the children pulled, rolled, squeezed and manipulated the clay.

The adults stepped back and the children were allowed to play uninterrupted for a period of time with no restrictions, no instructions, just the freedom to play and explore with the natural materials.

One major observation in the introduction to “Wild Things” was the surge of language used during the session. The children were keen to show and tell you what they had made, they discussed shapes, planned their play, and used language associated with mathematics such as heavy, light, big, small, etc.

Some children were involved in deep play until asked questions about what they were making:

Halle was observed to be playing quietly by herself using all three media. When asked what she was making she said it was “fire”. She pointed to the lentils (orangey, red in colour). Rolled pieces of clay were placed carefully on top of her fire which she described as sticks and she talked about how playing with fire was dangerous and her Daddy says she is not to touch.(Photo 1). Jerome Bruner, a child psychologist, talks of play as “memory in action” and discusses how “children play in order to remember and think about events and experiences in the lives”, “in order to make sense of them” (cited in Smidt, 2011:15).

The children participated in dramatic and symbolic play, this promotes abstract thinking. When we saw Leo use rounded clay as a football, and Davin talking on the phone using a large piece of clay they are using symbols. This shows the preliminary stage of learning through symbols, the next stage for some of our children is primary school where the children will use letters, numbers and words as these are real symbols for real objects and quantities.

Sam created his own sculpture where we, being adults, presumed it was a snowman or person. However this was a real lesson for adults not to make presumptions about children’s play, just because he made something doesn’t mean it needed to be something. Sam had no name for it, he pointed to specific parts and named them as a window and a door. (Photo 2) Davin’s masterpiece was also “a secret”. (photo 3)

“[the] process of play is more important than the product”

(Sylva et al, 1976:244)

The session ended when the children came together to discuss what we all created with the materials. The children had a fantastic morning, and enjoyed playing with Seodin, Liz and Natalie. We all came together to say goodbye through song again and a promise of playing together again.

Written by Anne-Marie Dixon

“Wild Things”

Session One: Peas, Beans & Lentils

June – July 2016

I had chosen seeds to start with for  ‘Wild Things’.

What can you do with early years children and seeds?

I created three pods by cutting out three circles of paper which we could work from in order to  investigate three types of seed in The LaB Galleries Cube Space. This ensures there is enough space around which the children can sit so that they can each access the materials.

The chlidren enjoyed the tactility of the seeds.  They enjoyed picking them up and running them through their fingers.

‘These are hard’ 

‘These are smooth’ .

I have the seeds in metal trays so the seeds make a sound when hitting the tray, different seeds make different sounds. The children then took a handful of seeds and place them onto the paper this again makes a sound, a softer sound. The children become absorbed in listening, playing, sifting, organising, piling and shaping.

I then gave each child a piece of clay.  Clay is a natural material from the earth so it gets the children to have a chance to feel soil, feel earth, feel the ground. The children become absorbed in pressing, shaping and manipulating the clay. Some of the children start to add seeds to their clay shapes.  Each child approaches the task quite differently. Some of them sprinkled seeds onto the clay others pushed the seeds in one by to the clay and made quite organised decoration. Some of the children turned the clay shapes over and decorated the other side of the clay, making 3D pieces.

One of the children asked what are these? Where do they come from?  I turned the question back on the children. What are these and where do you think that they come from?

‘They come from the shop’

‘A lorry driver brings them to the shop’

Through a discussion we learn that they are seeds used for food and cooking.

When we ran this same workshop with a second group (report from Anne Marie Dixon above)  I encouraged each child to speak about their own work This proved really valuable as each child had a sense of pride in their production and was given the chance to be heard. One child chose to keep his work a ‘secret’


“Wild Things”

Session two: Shells & Stones

June – July 2016


I had collected a number of beach stones and wanted to try out a Reggio inspired workshop that I had seen on some of their documentation.

The session felt crazy. The energy of the children was high and got higher during the session. The space felt small and confined today, and the stones were loud when dropped on the floor. It reminds me how important acoustics are in spaces. I had laid down cardboard to dampen the sound and some of the children played on the stones on this. The immediate reaction from one of the boys is to smash the shells with the stones. He is delighted by the results, more children start imitating his action. The workshop feels like it would be better outside but because we can not access the outside park space it means that I can not quickly move the workshop to that space. I introduce paper and chalk to the workshop. Some children start tracing the stones and one little boy starts to organise and lay out the stones on a sheet of black paper. But for some of the group the smashing is just so exciting that they keep doing it. The space is loud and the banging is loud. One of the creche staff suggests we move the workshop to the playground. We go round to the playground and Louise the staff manager meets us at the Kids inc. playground and says that unfortunately we can not use it as someone has dropped a bag of pistachio nuts into the playground and because of nut allergies we can not access it until they are all cleared. We walk the children back to the gallery today it feels like the children want to run and shout and expressive themselves but there just isn’t a space for them to do this.

We head back to the gallery. The energy of the kids is ‘wild’ and it is so difficult to transform it and scale it down. The blackboard upstairs becomes a musical instrument for banging against. We take them in small groups into the upper gallery to show them painting. I manage to get a few of them to look at one of the works but they mostly just want to run around.

I had worried about the cube space for this session but wanted to try it out because of the work from Reggio. I had brought cardboard into soften the space a little but it would probably have been worth bringing more cardboard. As Sheena had said the Reggio children are practiced in working with stones. Could the smashing of shells lead to ideas for another workshop as they did enjoy breaking them- Could we smash flowers to get coloured dyes? Could we smash chalk to get coloured powders that they could then run onto paper.

My conclusion is that I need to have softer gentler work in the cube space. I am going to ask to use the children’s playground for the next workshop so that we can be outside. After the session we visit the larger community spaces but the entrances to the park are all locked due to dealers operating in the park. The parks department and guards seem to be trying to move them on. When Liz and I walk round to the back gate of the park that could potentially be used for entering the park we see a drug deal being done.

“Wild Things”

Session Three: Flowers & Plants

June – July 2016


“Wild Things”

Session Four: Print Making with Vegetables

June – July 2016


Art, Ecology and Play with Young Children

Led by Seodin O’Sullivan in partnership with KidsInc, Foley Street, Dublin 1.