Supporting Pedagogy, Arts and Creativity Everywhere (SPACE) for all to Flourish

Cathy Gunning & Debi Keyte Hartland

We love how the arts lift us!

Often when we let ourselves go, and feel fully immersed in art-making, we can feel that it has a therapeutic effect on our wellbeing and being. Our creative souls are lifted! There is certainly a joy, a glow and a sense of fulfilment or absorption. It could be said that we flourish when “doing art”.  Believing this, we sought to develop a programme to enable others to flourish. We felt that if we could support educators in early years to in develop their practice, pedagogy and curriculum then the arts would fully develop the conditions needed for children to flourish and feel fulfilment in their lives (Pascal & Bertram, 2023). (We use educators in the widest sense – all adults who interact, work and build relationships with children to support and enable their play, learning and development).

For both of us, the arts and creativity are so much part of our personal and professional lives. They embody more than the act of art-making itself. Creativity brings us art with community; art with expression, freedom and depth of flow. It is this very power we find in art and creativity that inspired us to unite and bring a “space” to early years for making, creating and “arting”. 

Research backs this – we know that creative approaches to learning and applying arts and creative practice in early childhood enables creative and critical thinking, engages multi-modal learning and inspires young children  (Durham Commission on Creativity and Education, 2019).

As a headteacher, Cathy was introduced to coaching models and became convinced of the strength of applying this in leadership and pedagogy. Further to this, through her postgraduate coaching and mentoring in education research, Cathy explored how increasing educator confidence improved their pedagogy and practice, enabling the children to directly benefit from their increased self-confidence. Growing self-efficacy improved pedagogy. The essence of this research and her determination for enabling “Thinking Room” was entwined with Debi’s expertise in arts and creativity as a “pedagogista”, a role that is associated with the infant-toddler and preschools of Reggio Emilia. A pedagogista collaborates with educators through the use of reflective supervision and coaching to deeply explore the relationship between teaching and learning and to recognise and amplify the cognitive, affective and relational processes at play in learning and development.

The SPACE to Flourish programme

Thus, the SPACE to Flourish programme emerged from us joining together our passions and thinking. We are two creative educators who first met at an Early Education network over the pandemic. We became “pedagogical pen pals”, and began emailing each other to share our thoughts about the power of creativity and arts in early childhood education, and what could be possible.

A year later, a funded, creative possibility opened up, and we collaborated with Early Education to dream up a project to use creativity and the arts in early childhood education to support flourishing everywhere, in early years, for both the children and the adults working with them.

We wanted to show how inspiring and awakening arts and creativity in whatever form, could positively impact confidence, self-empowerment and joy. We wanted an opportunity to teach, coach and inspire responsive, attuned creative practice that enabled this fulfilment. We believed that space to be creative and in “flow” had potential and possibility to transform EYFS pedagogy. To put it simply, we wanted to bring space to flourish to settings in early years.

To our delight, our project was selected by the Mercers Company as part of their Early Years Special Initiative programme.

Through our unique collaboration as education coach mentors and trainers, we have noticed that we become stronger as two: we are aligned in pedagogical thinking and different in our training and experience. We notice that we deepen and enrich each other’s thinking and teaching as we share and practice. Our strengths and skills entwine into a unique and strong thread of artistic and creative specialisms, coaching, mentoring, teaching, and pedagogical thinking.

We use and apply these skills with the participant educators in responsive and attuned ways. Our methods are non-directive, responsive and creative. We co-construct artistic and creative development for the educators and children through their participation. We facilitate Thinking Environments that embody Kline’s (1999) ten components as an aspect of our visits and coaching spaces, in groups, teams and individually.

Progress to date

We are currently over two terms into our four-year project having launched in Autumn 2023. We are starting small with a trial in the first year working with six settings across Greenwich and Wandsworth. Two educators from each setting were selected from PVIs and schools serving diverse and disadvantaged children, including those with SEND. The settings were asked to have ambition for their creative journey, and commit to the year-long programme, with a hope to stay involved as mentors into the following years, and beyond.

So far, participants have reflected on:

  • the need for their own creative inspiration and experience as adults because then, they are better able to support and foster children their children’s creativity. This has been enabled through developing educators’  experiences and efficacy in practical and engaging arts-based workshops
  • how attuning to children enables deeper understanding of them and all their ways of communicating (their 100 languages)
  • how the presence of an educator is a witness to children’s creative thinking that can be lost in the hustle and bustle of routine – attuning to and appreciating children’s thinking as they explore, investigate, think and create with materials such as charcoal and collage
  • how the project is as much a space of flourishing for adults, as it is for thinking about how children flourish
  • how enabling children’s agency means that anything is possible (opening up to creative possibility)
  • how not interrupting the flow of creative thinking and the feeling of “being in flow” (Csikszentmihalyi) has resonated with practitioners who are thinking differently now about their routines, and how they stop the flow when stopping and starting with different interventions and activities
  • how educators are thinking about creativity and the arts and how that connects and affects their children with SEND in how they explore and investigate the world around them
  • how involvement in the project enables “a space to think” which never happens usually as we are all busy doing our jobs….  Practitioners have reported on on how this thinking space has enabled them to both challenge and articulate their thinking with others with whom they work.

We hope that all who participate in the project will embark on a journey of flourishing. We will explore what flourishing is and means to us as individuals. Some possibilities might be that we grow in confidence, find our creative paths, enjoy bringing creativity and the arts into early years, develop and embellish our creative practices with children and make time for creativity personally.

We believe that through personal growth in confidence, and confidence in teaching, the children will be inspired, seen and heard as unique learners which in turn develops their confidence, wellbeing, progress and self-efficacy. We believe that children empowered in this way, and attuned to through “care-full”, connected, relational pedagogy will be able to make strong positive transitions and find confidence in their learning power.

Our SPACE to Flourish project provides time for educators to think together in a series of face-to-face days, in-setting coaching/mentoring, whole setting twilights, plus termly group sessions online and ad hoc support. In and after the second year, previous cohorts will be incorporated in some activities with new cohorts, as well as having some ongoing support to embed learning, creating a sustainable change of culture post project.

Enabling Spaces to Flourish

Our desire is to support creativity and the arts in early years to enable all to flourish. This project, through its innovative coaching and mentoring approach, gives the power to educators to develop their own arts-rich creative approaches in their teaching, and for all their children to be agents of their own creativity and expression. A conversation between us recently imagined the concept of “flourish bombs” – bringing little explosive thought droplets into educator thinking as we co-create and work to support their practice.

We will keep you updated on the progress of our journey. To follow the project and stay updated you can use the hashtag #SpaceToFlourish on social media and look up our SPACE to Flourish page on the Early Education website.

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