Over the last couple of weeks, Becky and I have worked with Andover C of E and Vernham Dean Gillum Schools for the second time on this project (with Andover C of E it’s my third time overall as I also worked with them to say thank you and goodbye to the One Ash tree).
In both these recent sessions we have used fold-out maps on walks out of school, to record the Ash trees that we found, and the different features and wildlife that we encountered along the way.
Andover C of E is a town centre school, whilst Vernham Dean lies a few miles to the north of Andover in a very rural area. With the first school, we walked through the town and along the river, whilst with the second we visited the nearby playing field (Bury Dean, a plague burial site so the children tell me) before walking up a hill along the sides of fields to the local church.
As an introduction to each of the sessions I shared examples of different ways that maps have been made and used, by artists and others. For instance, two different maps of the Mississippi, one using colour and shape to show how its path has changed over time, and the other in the form of a long scroll, wound into a wooden case, another mapping different myths and beliefs by Grayson Perry. We talked about how maps can show you where to go, or record where you have been, can be ways of recording both physical features and thoughts/feelings.
It’s always really interesting to see what the children notice and how they choose to record/map it. Obviously the key thing we are looking out for are Ash trees, and the main way they have of identifying these at this time of year is by the black buds. Once we’ve located an Ash tree we stop and take time to look around us, and encourage the children to listen too.
On our walk through the town we passed along streets lined with shops. One child shared how he lived in a local pub, others drew the sculpture of the ship by the river, whilst a few took rubbings of river-themed poetry set into the pavement. These experiences give us a chance to start to explore Andover’s cultural heritage and the links between Ash trees and the River Anton, which together give the project its name.
In Vernham Dean a lot of the children experimented with mark-making using fallen Ash sticks, grass and soil. They noticed animal tracks in the muddy path and we offered them visual guides to help them work out which animals had made them. A tunnel made of Hawthorn and Blackthorn was named the Fairy Tunnel by the children and led to drawings of fairies being added to a few of the maps. The children have been exploring natural resources and mark-making in school in other lessons, and were clearly extending and connecting this learning whilst out on their walk.
With Andover C of E, we ended our walk at a Park near Rooksbury Mill, and made artwork to highlight the position of the Ash trees that we found there. The children are keen to do more making with found materials next time.
At Vernham Dean where the children had told us they wanted to focus on maps/posters and other forms of publicity/interpretation, we spent longer on the maps and are looking at how we can expand on these next time, perhaps creating a form of trail for local people to follow.
I really enjoy giving groups of children this kind of opportunity to share a little of themselves with us, showing us what they notice and telling us why it stands out for them, stories of local experiences linking home and family, or a fascination for snails. As one of the teachers noted, it gives time to stand back and watch the children and get to know them in a different way, and gives the children a chance to personalise the experience, making it more engaging for them and giving them the opportunity to work alongside new friends, learning from and sharing skills and ideas with one another.
In the next session we will be working with Portway Junior School again, taking a walk down to make artwork together at the nearby Charlton Lakes.