Childrens Creative Retreats

Childrens Creative Retreats
Disadvantaged primary school children

This project was designed in direct response to an identified need from key experts from the Department of Children, Young People, Education and Skills (CYPES) for there to be a more equal provision of cultural and creative activities for children across the primary sector.

Research conducted in 2018 showed an alarming disparity in the lives and opportunities for children directly in line with socio-economic profiles. On the one hand, some students in Jersey live in large comfortable homes, are well-travelled and enjoy five or six extra-curricular activities each week. In particular, it is noted that their academic performance and general well-being are bolstered through:

1. Access to experiential learning through the arts and music.
2. Opportunities to embrace their own creativity that heightened connectivity to themselves, others and the environment.
3. Developing in an environment that celebrates learning and positively encourages the participation of parents, the wider school, the local community and CYPES.

On the other hand, many children are growing up in a small bedsit where English is not spoken in the home. CYPES was particularly struck that a surprising number of these students have reached seven or eight years old and had never once visited a beach nor enjoyed simple pleasures like a picnic. This is a small insight into the unbalanced level of provision for children growing up in the Island. Results of research conducted by the department showed that there are a number of children whose lives outside of school is largely spent looking at a screen. It also became clear that the vast majority of these less-advantaged students attend public schools in the St. Helier area. In partnership the Senior Policy Advisor at CYPES, ArtHouse Jersey has formulated this Children’s Creative retreat project in response to such disparity.

We wanted to offer children an opportunity to discover their own creative skills whilst celebrating those of their peers in a dynamic and stimulating environment. Children’s Creative retreat provides a unique experience for a class of up to 25 students, with priority given to those whose access to culture and extra-curricular activities may be limited. The project has been devised in conjunction with the Education Department, and is informed by research in Island schools looking at children’s social and creative development.

We hosted a pilot project with St. John’s Primary School in October 2019 to test the model. Twenty-four Year 6 children enjoyed exercises and games to help them develop confidence in their abilities and encourage collaboration, decision making, perseverance, and focus. The children took part in a programme of creative activities that introduced them to new and playful ways of exploring their own creative potential, regardless of previous experience.

The workshop facilitators worked closely with the Senior Advisor at CYPES and the Headteacher of St. John’s School on all aspects of the pilot, from planning to delivery and evaluation. The Headteacher observed the whole process and recorded on-hand testimony from the staff and students which highlighted the positive effects of the initiative.

“It was a wonderful experience to go outside into our playground to look at things from a different perspective. Seeing beauty in small things was very powerful. I was so proud of the pallet I made of tiny things.” -St. John’s pupil

“I liked everything we did, but my favourite activity was building the dens, because it was great to share ideas, listen to each other and collaborate well. We had so much fun. I would not have known that I could work so well with the people I teamed up with” -St. John’s pupil.

Each retreat will take the form of a one-day workshop for 25 children chosen by the headteacher. It is likely that a proportion will be pupil premium students, especially those who are thought to have limited access to the arts and are less likely to engage in cultural experiences.

This project was needed in 2019, but will be even more important in 2020 in light of the pandemic. Young people’s worlds have been turned upside down which for many will have a negative impact on their mental health and sense of well-being. Although we are ‘all in this together’, a child spending lockdown in a bedsit will have lived through a very different experience than others from more advantaged backgrounds.

This project is designed to be transformational: it will help disadvantaged children value themselves and their own creativity, resulting in them seeing themselves in a new light. The Retreat will enable them to perceive their surroundings differently and to notice the potential of their peers. It will give the children a new perspective on their learning in the classroom and their relationships with friends and family. Participants will develop their communication skills and be better able to express their feelings about the new environment COVID-19 has created. Engaging in creative practices as part of a team will ignite their imagination and reestablish their self-worth by seeing first-hand the value of their input to a group project. The Retreat will equip them with the understanding that they are capable of self-generating ideas and can have control over other aspects of their lives.