Home Art (downloadable slideshow 1): Paul Klee

Includes three low mess activities, each one inspired by a piece of art by Paul Klee. The slides include audio prompts and instructions. You will need: At least 5 pieces of paper, drawing tools (pencil, biro, charcoal or felts) and colouring tools (paints, collage materials – scissors, glue, coloured paper or felts). Each of the three challenges should take 30mins – 1.5, depending on the individual.

Most suitable for Key Stage 1 children – Year 1 and Year 2

Home Art 1: Mark Making to Music

This is suitable for all ages.

You will need: A piece of paper (preferably no smaller than A3), some drawing materials (pencils/felts/pens/charcoal), a speaker and access to the the video links below:)

Please share your outcomes and any videos of you taking part on my FB page!

Playlist of eight tracks to use for Mark Making
Remember that you can always add to your drawings afterwards and re-listen to the tracks. Here is an example of my mark making:)

A regular blogpost

My posts are usually art education related, and rightly so – I am no lifestyle blogger or whatever the term is. However, today I felt compelled to write and to share a more personal post…Maybe it is the extra time at home.

News came toady that Tate is closed until May. Whilst obviously not a necessity, in the same way that loo roll or pasta is, the gallery is an important space to many. I certainly take it for granted that I can ‘pop to Tate‘ whenever I want. Aside from the art viewing, I am a member there and I often setup shop for the day, with my laptop, in the lovely working space. It is an inspiring room to be in with panoramic views of London and lots of interesting people to observe in-between working.

The truth is, I am starting to feel embarrassingly aware that my life in 2020 London is very ‘blessed’. I am at liberty to see friends, dine out, visit galleries, go to yoga or for a swim and nip to the well-stocked shops whenever I need or want to. Covid-19 is impacting my precious little routines and freedoms and it is making me feel silly for taking them for granted in the first place.

Some of us, including me, live in relatively breezy times where the basics of life are fairly easy to navigate. Sometimes this means we have the luxury of embellishing our lives with extras that I for one will appreciate more, post Covid. For example, just last week I ordered three packs of rice malt syrup online  – because I had taken the ‘tough’ dietary decision to cut down on sugar – and they arrived the very next day. Flash forward to this week when the idea of queuing for toilet paper is becoming a reality.

I know things are not hard-hard now…or yet (especially compared with certain times in history or other places in the world) but I am starting to feel waves of deep recognition for the life I usually take for granted. Even when life is self inflicted sugar-free, it is very sweet.

I am social distancing as of Thursday last week – luckily a lot of my work can be done from home, although school visits and meetings have been postponed. Working from home is great but a lot of the things I rely on to boost my wellbeing and that I depend on if I do feel worried, are not possible right now. E.g. yoga classes, swimming, galleries and seeing friends and family. If you do have to work from home or self isolate, it can take some adjustment, especially when you are used to being busy and the comforting routines of school.

So, we adapt…

Intentions for social distancing (I appreciate I am in a position to…)

Set an alarm for every weekday

As per Julia Cameron  write ‘morning pages’

Walk almost every day in nature before I sit to do work on my laptop, or if not before then after or definitely the next day.  Hopefully most of us can find some place of greenery to walk in where it won’t be too hard to keep a distance from others

Speak with my family on the phone – and via WhatsApp –  much more regularly

Paint and draw

Experiment with baking

Work on those ‘projects’ that I never get time to

Meditate more – I practice Vedic or TM but there are lots of guided meditations out there, Ekhart Tolle is always good call

Do housey things  – sorting / cleaning / cooking / crafting etc.

Enjoy quality time at home

Be grateful  – not always easy but there is always something you can find to be grateful for and writing a list can be uplifting

Not feel bad about not being super busy


On one of my nature walks…







Pupil voice in Primary Art and Design

I often find myself responding to Qs from art subject leads via FB and emails, these questions are increasingly around how to evidence progression and how to ‘defend’ a particular approach to assessment… For example, a decision by a teacher not to use the general school marking system in sketchbooks (I myself do not write in children’s sketchbooks).

I am a big believer that gaining and collating feedback from the children forms an important part of the bigger picture and direction of your art provision, and any outside visitors should be interested to hear their perspective too. Here are some ways I have gathered pupil voice in the past:

A simple A4 question sheet to KS2 done at any point throughout the year (children should feel free to fill this in anonymously if desired).

An anonymous ‘comments and suggestions about art’ box.

Informal chats with small groups of children, outside of the context of the art lessons.

Discussions with the class during art lessons.

A large canvas with a question on it – children are invited to paint responses.

A big question focus each half term with children invited to attach post-its with comments in response.

Creativity is...
Children from all years contributed to this large canvas, completing the sentence ‘creativity is…’

It is always interesting to hear the children’s responses to questions such as:

How do you know when you have made progress in art?

Why do we have art lessons?

What do you learn in art?

What are the guidelines for using sketchbooks?

How are art lessons different / the same as other lessons?

How do you improve in art?

How do you feel in art lessons?

Why do people make art?

What skills do you learn in art/ did you learn this term in art?

I don’t write in your sketchbooks, how do you feel about that?

What do you do if you are stuck in art?

Which areas do you want to improve on in art?

What makes you feel most proud in art?

Who knows the most about your progression / work in art?

These sorts of questions can really inform your choices about teaching, planning and assessment in art. I suggest very regularly collecting pupil feedback as an integral part of your art and design leadership, try to make time for it (I hear you eye-rolling at the idea of making more time to do more things? I know, sorry!).

Leading on Art has its own set of challenges compared with other primary school subjects, not least because we are often creating the intent and implementation with very little national guidance. It makes sense that our approach to its place in our schools should feel more creative, less top-down and truly consider the school community. For example, you could use a cross section of pupil feedback to create a manifesto for your art provision, feeding into your decisions around that Ofsted prompted consideration of ‘intent’.

When you are asked about progress in art and how you asses, hopefully your pupil voice evidence will backup that the methods your school uses are effective…and if they tell you otherwise, then it may be time to reflect and change. Keep in mind that Ofsted have said “developing and embedding an effective curriculum takes time, and that leaders may only be partway through the process of adopting or redeveloping a curriculum”. Be brave about evolving your art provision and changing things up a bit; as long as you have well considered reasons….pupil voice can form a big part of that story.








Teaching Art but don’t feel ‘Arty’ or creative?

I love all the work I do with primary school teachers and I have the utmost respect for them. Having really only ever taught Art and Design at primary (and secondary) myself, I am always in awe of how class teachers navigate their way through all the subjects, not to mention all their other tasks and responsibilities.

Teaching at primary level, more so than secondary, involves a fair amount of teacher self-led learning and re-familiarising with subject knowledge and skills. What we, in schools think of as ‘planning time’ does not necessarily factor this in; for that is time set aside for you to plan and resource the lessons for the children, assuming you have the skills and knowledge to hand (or, that a cursory recap will suffice). I always think that it is just as valid if you need to spend that time reading a few wiki pages or practicing some skills, maybe this should have another title…self directed CPD perhaps?!

Most teachers feel more confident and comfortable teaching some subjects over others and that is totally natural and understandable, we all come to teaching with a different set of experiences and preferences. The only problem is that this this bias towards certain subjects inevitably has an impact on how the children experience different subjects.

I have heard many teachers and teaching assistants say things like ‘oh no, I hated art at school’ or ‘I am just not creative at all’ and frequently ‘I can’t draw’. I strongly advise against using that sort of language in front of the children, as much as we wouldn’t expect a teacher to share how much they hate maths at the start of a maths lesson. I think it is fine and even helpful to share with the children when we find something challenging though, because that is a common human experience, and to share models a willingness to learn and grow.

I invite primary teachers who have to teach, or even lead on, Art and Design (I know you didn’t necessarily ask for that responsibility) to reflect back on their own experiences of primary or secondary art lessons. Do this with a view to reconnecting with why and how you feel the way you do when you have to teach or lead on the subject. Some primary teachers I meet have not made any art themselves since year 9, some were told they were not good enough at primary school, some were teased by others about their art…there are so many ways that seemingly small or insignificant experiences can knock our confidence. If we leave those moments unvisited we run the risk of negatively impacting the creative or artistic experience for those we teach.

Drawing, painting etc. are skills that can be broken down and taught or learned, they are not exclusive gifts for some people. Likewise, talking about art or analysing art can be accessed by googling ‘how to talk about art?’ – I like these Aesthetic Scanning guidelines by Harry S. Broudy in “The Role of Imagery in Learning”. Given the time, any teacher can get to grips with making art and talking about art.

That brings me to creativity; it is worth remembering that this is something already valued by employees and predictions say it will be increasingly desirable in future workplaces. It is a soft skill that may not be so easily nurtured in AI or technologies and I believe it is something we are born with. Getting into a creative task can utilise your sense of resilience, problem solving and a whole host of other skills. Not to mention that being in a state of creative flow feels good and promotes wellbeing.

Your creative outlet might be baking, playing an instrument, sewing, creative thoughts as you walk your dog, interior design or how you dress in the morning. Creativity is in all of us.

One of my favourite parts of delivering training and running workshops with children and adults, is seeing people get back in touch with their own sense of creativity. It is (sorry to be cheesy) a really beautiful thing.

I hope you, as a teacher, have some moments of creative flow in your days – however that may look for you. Your children will benefit from your genuine understanding of how important and nice-feeling those magic moments are.

Get in touch if you’d like to speak about how I can help you with your primary art provision, and/or support your staff in feeling creatively empowered and ready to teach.

Mandala designs by year 4

Christmas ‘art’ not cutting it? How about festive Paper Cutting?

If you are looking for a skills based lesson that can also provide some festive card making outcomes, then I recommend…paper cutting. I am always a bit bah humbuggy about letting the children work their way through pages and pages of white photocopying paper as they make Christmas cards, often with felt-tips, that don’t actually showcase their artistic skills. I really am not a fan of glitter either. If you want to have some festive fun whilst teaching some skills and introducing the children to some great art and artists, I suggest looking at some examples of paper cutting art. Art by Su Blackwell, Richard Sweeney and Rob Ryan always get gasps of wonder from the children, there is obviously Henri Matisse and his amazing collages – and I really love this book Paper Cutting

For a lesson; I spend some time looking at the paper cutting examples and discussing how the artists have created them. Then I show the children how to use scissors – even KS2 can do with a recap on how to use scissors properly – to cut shapes. This is essentially drawing with scissors and there is a technique to it e.g. twisting the paper not your body, snipping gently not chopping, visualising the shape as you cut. You could allow the children to pencil out shapes first or let them try the challenge of cutting without the outlines. Then let the children create beautiful paper cutting festive cards… I have made a no fuss slide show Paper Art for Christmas Cards that might help get you started.

Share on my FB page if you make any!



How to plan an Integrated Primary School Art Curriculum

The National Curriculum for Art and Design at Key Stage one and Two does not specify much and leaves it totally up to schools to design their own art curriculum. There are arguments for and against having an integrated Primary Art Curriculum versus a discrete one; but in my experience most schools do want  their Art Curriculum to link with Topic.

More often than not, it is the role of the Art coordinator to use Topic as a starting point for planning art and design schemes of work and it is a task that can prove quite daunting. Understandably, I get many emails asking for help with this – it can be a time-consuming and confusing process planning an art curriculum, especially if art/art history is not your specialist subject area.

How do you take subjects that are as broadly themed as  ‘The Tudors’ or Space Travel’ and find relevant art, artists, techniques and outcomes that are meaningfully linked?How do you do this whilst also mapping progression in skills across the year groups, providing a range of art styles and genres and diverse coverage of artists?

Based on my experience as a Primary Art Consultant, I have attempted to break-down the art and design curriculum planning process that I often go through when planning for schools. I  have included some links that might help you get started creating a meaningful and engaging art curriculum for your primary school.

let me know how you get on!

PART ONE: The Initial Mapping Out

I generally stick to the six schemes of work per year per year group format and I begin with a simple Planning Grid  so I can map out initial information

  • Populate the grid with the pre-existing Topic headings in the correct year/term place

Fig 1

  • Pencil in any obvious or already successful art links ad leave those that are less obvious blank for nowFig 2
  • Add to your grid any immediate thoughts on the skills/materials/outcomes you think would be appropriate for these particular art schemes

Fig 3

  • Next add in any specifics about inspirational art/artists linked to the information already on your grid

Fig 4

  • This is a pivotal moment in your planning – You will be starting to build a picture of how the curriculum could shape up – notice if your curriculum already shows:

Too many male/female artists? Too many schemes that deal with a particular skill or material e.g. painting or drawing? Too much art from a particular place or time?

Faces of art
Image from How To Talk About Art History


This stage of the planning involves lots of erasing and shuffling around of art, artists, skills etc. It can feel like you have lost the plot but trust the process and you’ll get there. I usually print out the planning sheet so far in A3  – then  start to populate with post-it notes so I can easily shift things around.

A)You can proceed by mapping out skills that you know you want to teach:

  • Decide which skills you would like to cover in your school art lessons, I usually suggest starting with a good coverage of: Drawing – Painting – Collage – 3D – Printing with Computing – Textile – Multi-media a consideration also.
  • In order to see progression in particular skill areas they need to be revisited and built upon – across the whole school experience, year 1 – year 6. For example, you might decide to have a painting and drawing scheme for every year group in every year i.e. two out of six of the schemes for each year would be drawing and painting based.
  • Many schemes of work will inevitably include drawing as an element of the design/planning stage. However, some schemes will be more outcome focused, maybe for display purposes or to provide a collaborative experience – therefore these schemes may not include a skill that you think requires revisiting/progression e.g. making a large woven textile hanging as a one-off project

B)You can also proceed by researching art/artists that link to your pre-existing Topic themes. Whilst remaining conscious of where and when the art is from as well as including art and artists from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds. I like to have at least one ‘key artwork’ that the children analyse and discuss, this is what I call being art detectives.

The National Gallery provides a list of BAME artists.

Some interesting articles on a-n specifically about BAME artists.

Google Arts & Culture is a fantastic resource and allows you to search via various categories.

Artsy is another site with excellent opportunities for searching according to a huge range of subject matters.

Art UK allows you to search via topic too.

Khan Academy has wonderful resources for better understanding art and art history topics

Most major art galleries have a good online search system, such as MOMA and Tate 

PART THREE: Refine the individual SoW

Now look at each scheme and map out what the specific outcomes and processes will be – is there a chance for children to experiment and explore a technique as well as producing a final piece or outcome. This is where you can start to pay attention to progression in the skill areas – so where you revisit painting or drawing, for example, how are you building on prior learning?


Who Am I?


Drawing – Charcoal

Related image

Alberto Giacometti 

Children look at and discuss the work of Giacometti

In Sketchbooks: Children experiment with mark-making, they explore ways of drawing individual features of the face, using contour marks like Giacometti.

Outcome: Children use mirrors to observe themselves and make a large final piece of a self-portrait out of charcoal



Have you provided opportunities for children to use their own ideas, research and experiences to create art i.e. copying a Tudor portrait using the grid method does teach a skill but does not provide opportunities for self-expression or design. It is fine to include  skills-based schemes like this but they should be offset with some schemes that require the children to design, research and plan for themselves too.

Let me know how you get on by contacting me or posting to The Primary Art Class FB page

Get in touch if you would like more info on INSETS or consultancy for your school.

In-House Primary Art and Design Audit & Consultancy

SPECIAL OFFER FOR Jan 2020 – Schools in the London Borough of Enfield only 

In-House Primary Art and Design Audit & Consultancy

Two in-school days


With Ofsted changes shifting the focus back onto Foundation Subjects, I am offering day visits to Primary schools in order to help enhance and improve Art and Design. I will work one-to-one alongside your chosen Art Co-ordinator in order to jumpstart an outstanding art and design provision for your school.

We will look at your existing art provision and ensure a well-rounded and relevant art curriculum – in keeping with the current Ofsted changes. We will discuss changes to your existing art curriculum that will ensure a balanced curriculum that considers cultural capital, alongside knowledge rich lessons and clear progression of key skills.

We will look at how teachers can plan and teach lessons that provide opportunities for progression in all skill areas, namely; drawing, painting, collage, 3D and printing.

I will offer specific support in how to select art and artists for your curriculum that are culturally, geographically and ethnically diverse, as well as artists who work within a range of themes and materials. We will look at how you can use artworks as a resource for supporting visual literacy and engage children in an in-depth understanding of art; which will benefit their practical work and enrich them culturally. We will look at useful methods of assessment in primary art.

My CPD events are successful but I have found that one-to-one consultancy days are the best way to really kickstart a school’s art provision.

Your Art Co-ordinator will feel confident and empowered to implement necessary changes and lead their subject so that it exceeds National Curriculum guidelines.

Consultancy dates must be in the month of January 2019

Contact for more info or email

Newly Appointed Primary Art Coordinator?

A quick post to share these pointers I think might help those who have willingly or otherwise been asked to take on the role of Art Coordinator. I have heard from a few of you lately and I suspect that schools are addressing their art provision due to Ofsted changes. A sense of panic is easily passed on when changes need to be made regarding the big O, so hopefully these notes will help ground you and set you off in the right direction.

New Art Coordinator HELP

New Art Coordinator.png

Your Art & Design curriculum: Have you included any BAME artists?

One of the most thought-provoking times in my art teaching career came just a few years ago, when I was head of the art department at an Inner (South) London secondary. It was a newly opened school and I had enthusiastically started the job just after the year nine children had chosen their GCSE options. The uptake for Art and Design was depressingly low. I attributed this to the fact that it was a new school on a temporary site with no art room; art was taught in the dinner hall with extremely limited resources. The school, for various reasons, had been unable to maintain a steady art teacher and the love of art was just not there (the general disappointment of the way that school experience unfolded for me is another story!).
I had asked a group of about 60 year nine students, a tough crowd, why they had not chosen art as a GCSE subject, and one of the girls (who at that point was a thorn in my side but who I later grew to admire and really like) shouted across the hall ‘black people can’t be artists!’. She shouted this at me as if it were the most obvious fact and as if I were ridiculous for suggesting thinking otherwise. This statement shocked me and then almost immediately didn’t surprise me at all; after all, why would she think that people of colour could be artists if she’d never been exposed to visual artists that were brown or black or anything other than white?! Also, why had she not been exposed to any in her lifetime – my thoughts, again, turned to the importance of proper primary (art) curriculum planning.
Screenshot 2020-06-04 at 12.26.22
Slides from CPD training I offer: I advocate including thumbnails of artists to highlight diversity or lack thereof 
Screenshot 2020-06-04 at 12.26.06
If you have attended any of my training or follow my FB page, you will know that I am now passionately proactive about the fact that children need to feel represented by the art and artists they learn about, and that they need to be introduced to diverse art and artists. I warn against the bias towards dead, white men in art curricula. I am sure this tendency is there is other curriculum areas, but art is the place where I can make a difference, so I focus my efforts here.
I must be honest and admit that it wasn’t always this way though. Even as person from an ethnic minority background myself (Indo-Guyanese-London-born), for a long time when planning art schemes, I would rely on the same gang of old, white, male artists too, because they were the main gang that I had learnt about throughout my art education; I inherently respected them as artists who were the pinnacle of skill and creativity.
I have been involved in art education for over a decade now and over the years I have gradually become more aware of planning to include (women and) people of colour in my schemes of work. That said, even for me, there is always that list of artists that are so deeply ingrained into my art brain that it sometimes feels weird leaving them out of an art curriculum. That is what education and school does, it feeds us with norms and ‘right ways of doing things’ decided by other people, that don’t necessarily reflect reality or possible realities. Then those ideas are perpetuated and remain unchanged and unchallenged, leading to scenarios like the one I found myself in on that day, with the year 9 class.
I have experienced actual audible gasps when I have shown photographs of black or brown artists to classes  – of course, the right thing to do is acknowledge responses and allow them to open up conversations. ‘can you explain that response?’ I often ask, and often the answers from children are around the idea that they didn’t realise black and brown (and often old) people could be artists, or that they have just never seen an artist that looks like that. One child responded utterly bemused to a photograph of an older black artist by saying ‘but he looks like my grandad’.
The young lady I referred to earlier ended up swapping her RE GCSE for Art, and I was delighted. Three or four years on, I wish I could send her a message somehow and let her know how much her response challenged me and how proud I was of her, how when she bravely made that honest remark she made a big difference to the conversation of that day.  Subsequent to that discussion many of her classmates went on to take art as a GCSE. (I am gutted that I did not get to make that art GCSE journey with that cohort. I had to resign from that post after 6 months because my integrity as a teacher was extremely compromised by senior management.) 
I advocate being proactive about inclusion in your curriculum – I invite you to begin with making a list of all the artists currently on your curriculum, examine it. When it comes to planning documents, I strongly suggest that you include thumbnails of the artists you teach about to make a stark visual reminder. 
The diversity in your  curriculum content must be broad enough to celebrate artists of all colours, cultural and geographic backgrounds, ages and genders…and as teachers we must be prepared to have the conversations that may or may not come up because of that.
In my role as a primary art consultant, I often get asked for recommendations for BAME artists; with this in mind, over the coming months, I would like to share with you some links with suggestions of BAME artists, look out for the links on my FB page. I appreciate how busy you are but the links will require you to take some time to read, understand and look at the works yourself, and to plan your lessons accordingly. If you find yourself scratching your head about how to use the art/artists for art lessons, please remember that you can always email me or post questions to my FB page.

Interview request from Iris: STEM & STEAM

I received this interview request from Iris, a sophomore at an American University. She wanted to ask me about the importance of art in education and the change from STEM to STEAM. Here in the UK we do not seem to be paying as much attention to STEAM as the US but maybe we should be – integrating art more instead of squeezing it out!

Do you think art has the ability to teach?

In my experience, art as a primary education subject in the UK is hugely undervalued and underused. What some people don’t realise is that the benefits of a good art and design provision surpass those traditionally thought of as purely subject specific. I believe that those decision makers who don’t understand the value of art as a subject are missing a trick.  Art as a subject in schools has the ability to teach art but also to enrich learning in many aspects of the curriculum. For example, art and artefacts are a lens that children can enjoy learning about history, science and geography through, maths and art have many natural links and talking and writing about art can increase language skills.

Would you place art education of equal importance to math and science and what is the relationship between the two disciplines?

Yes, Primary art is my specialist area and I firmly advocate a well-rounded curriculum in primary schools. Some schools may prefer to keep subjects compartmentalised while others may work with cross-circular methods of teaching, but one thing is for sure, we should not be leaving art (and other creative subjects) out of primary education.

Why is the “A” in STEAM necessary and what is wrong with the original STEM system?  What is the key goal of a STEAM centered curriculum?

I think that the US are way ahead of us when it comes to STEAM learning – over here the arts and creativity are taking a battering and those in decision making positions seem to be going backwards in terms of their education ideology, instead of forward thinking like those that advocate STEAM. From my understanding the original STEM model did not take into account the importance of creative, lateral thought and by including art and design STEAM recognises that the future needs innovators, creative thinkers and risk takers – qualities that art and design nurtures. The addition of art and design is promising for a future that supports entrepreneurial innovation, hopefully for forces of good!

Why do you think art is undervalued in the public educational system?

Maybe the wrong people are in charge and they don’t value the wisdom of people outside of their way of thinking.

I think there is this idea that we are born either academic or creative, I see this attitude projected towards children all the time and most of us adults identified as one or the other when we were young. We categorise people as artsy or mathsy, airy-fairy or practical, right or left brain led. Of course, individuals may have preferences and tendencies but it can’t be so black and white, because humans aren’t, look at Leonardo Da Vinci for example! STEAM seems to say that we can have it all, certainly primary aged children should have the opportunity to explore all subjects before fitting into a ‘type’.

I wonder if those people who are in charge and side-lining art and creativity do not value art education because they didn’t experience a good one themselves. It makes no sense though, because so many of us enjoy the creative industries and cultural enrichment, how can these things continue if we have no creative people?

Has there ever been an instance where you have had to fight for arts place in education?

Yes. I worked for an academy chain in London, the trustees were philanthropic, Conservative donors (a reductive description but I’ll stick with it) who had no background in education. I was the primary art teacher there and had written the art curriculum. When these people took over the school, I found myself in meeting after meeting as they tried to scrap art from the curriculum. They wanted (primary aged children) to be taught art history and did not understand the point of teaching the children art skills or a visual language.

What is your favorite part of encouraging art in kids education?

I absolutely love my job. I treat the children like they are artists and I am constantly surprised by the way they improve their skills, the concepts and ideas in their work and how they discuss art. I love when I teach a group of children for a number of years and I get to see how they develop as artists. Year 6 primary children working on their own concepts and in their own choice of materials is really fun to witness.

Art with Families in a Refugee shelter


I recently volunteered with charity Just Shelter and despite being an experienced art educator and a passionate advocate of the importance of art and creativity, I had some misgivings before we left. I found myself wondering whether art activities would be received well by the refugees, given the realities of life there.

My role was to facilitate art activities with children and families who were staying at a temporary shelter in Grande-Synthe, Calais. I went loaded with materials and activities in mind but with no expectations about how the day would go.

We arrived at the sports hall, which is serving as a shelter, around midday and while the other volunteers were distributing some of the supplies, I began setting up the art activities. I took in the setup; several families including pregnant women, in cornered off sections of the hall, simple bedding, a few possessions laid out and no privacy to speak of.


The main body of Just Shelter volunteers left to distribute aid in the woods, leaving myself and one other volunteer to run the art activities at the shelter. A teenage boy immediately stood out as a figure who was able to help settle the children, and as he also spoke great English I commandeered him to help setup and organise the activities. Rakir was so confident and mature, and the younger children responded well to him, I was impressed that he seemed so calm and collected in what was undoubtedly a stressful circumstance.

We setup two trestle tables in the centre of the hall and started with simple activities such as drawing and painting on large sheets of paper. The mood calmed, and slowly but surely the children and two or three of the mothers gathered around and began drawing and painting. I recognised that universal sight of individuals engrossed in creativity and felt gratitude that I was able to spend this time with the mums and their children. Every now and then a scuffle would erupt due to a child using another’s pencil, or a child would become vocal and anxious over not having a paint brush or some such tool instantly to hand. I noted how, by comparison to the classroom teaching I do, these children were easily riled and understandably possessive over materials, defending their equipment fiercely.


Throughout the day we kept the art activities flowing and we got to know the children and their personalities. None of the younger, primary aged children were timid or shy as I thought they would be, they were in fact steadfast and determined in what they wanted to do and how they wanted their art to look.  Without shared language we manged to navigate our way through painting, charcoal self-portraits and, the clear favourite with the children – printing. Each time we finished an activity I would invite the children to pin their work up on the walls of the sports hall. I noted that some of the children would spend calm focused time on their art, but they would finish by ripping it up, destined for the bin. While this behaviour is not exclusive to refugee children, it is something I have seen time and time again in frustrated children.


One girl, Sharia, did build quite a collection of her artwork though, she taped up prints and drawings above her family’s area. This girl’s father, a man with what can only be described as a regal face, thanked me profusely and eventually he reached into one of the boxes surrounding his temporary home, and gave me one of his bananas by way of gratitude for making art with his daughter.

All of the families consisted of a mum, dad and one or two children, but one of the mums I spoke with was a single mum with one, lively and emotional daughter. She communicated to me that she had escaped from her abusive husband, and that in her country she could not fulfil her dream of being an artist and actress. I felt a surge of guilt because even before I get to reflecting on this lady’s present living situation, the oppressive past she left behind and the uncertainty of her and her daughters’ future; The fact that I live a life where I am free to have dreams and passions is something that I take for granted.


My teenaged art teaching assistant, Rakir, was magnificent, he translated when we needed it and he helped organise the day. We learnt through him that because of the transient nature of the shelter, it is hard to form friendships and frequently sad to say goodbye to people. He spoke about the logistics of living in this limbo, he talked about how he loved sports and was keen to start his life. It was apparent he missed football as he and another boy tried to play keepie-uppie inside the sports hall, closely missing the art table and much to the loud uproar of the small artists sat at it.

It is hard to imagine what it is like spending day after day in that sports hall, trying to keep busy, thoughts no doubt whirring in your head, eating, sleeping and waiting. Apparently though, the sports hall shelter will be closing soon, and refuge in the woods, as is the case for many refugees, sounds even less humane.

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