Patterns, Print-making and Portraits that Talk…

19 August 2016


Community and Learning Intern Blog

Our Tuesday morning led-session this week was called ‘Playing with Patterns’. We led the children around Stowe House and got them to look closely at all the detailed patterns on the floors, ceilings and walls of Stowe House. They created the patterns they saw in a little pattern booklet which they could take home using feathers, little circular stickers, tracing paper etc. We were pleased to see that the children really enjoyed making their little booklets.

After the ‘Playing with Patterns’ session there was an afternoon drop-in session with artist Linn O’Carroll on print-making. Fran and I were delighted to take part in this session and learned about how to use simple techniques with foam board and coloured paints to print our colourful designs inspired by Stowe House onto a thin scarf-like piece of material. I finally felt like I was actually pretty good (by which I in fact mean ‘acceptably capable’…) at doing something arts-and-craftsy after my complete failure at being any good at sewing last week…

On Wednesday this week we were once again assisting the National Trust’s Learning team with their activities and this week they were running a session for children in the gardens called ‘Plant it, Grow it, Eat it’ during which, on a bitterly cold August morning, we helped children design their own little pots into which they could put cotton wool and some cress seeds to grow their own greenery.

When we’re not busy helping with the sessions for children here at Stowe House, Fran and I are in the library designing sensory trails for possible future use. This means we’re making activity trails for children to use around Stowe House which involve the senses (eg. a sound trail in which children have to imagine what sounds they would have heard in each room back in the days when the library was the Temple-Grenville family’s ballroom, for example). The main project we have to complete over our time here at Stowe House, however, is creating a ‘soundscape’ for children to enjoy in a drop-in session at the House over this summer. With plans, designs and sound files for that being created and finalised by Fran, it seems that a truly engaging experience for children is in the making. The title of this session has been decided upon: ‘Sound Explorers’.

This week I have also been doing some observation of visitors as they use the stunning ‘talking portraits’ we have downstairs in our Discovery Centre in order to see whether they are easy to use and engaging for visitors. The talking portraits are visually stunning pieces of technology. There is a portrait of Lord Cobham, for example, on the wall which, once a panel is selected by the visitor, will show an actor dressed as Lord Cobham telling you about the history of the House from Cobham’s perspective. Stowe House wanted to make sure that these brilliant talking portraits were easy to use and were being enjoyed by visitors so I had to observe families using them and provide feedback on whether all three portraits captured their audience’s attention and how easy it was for visitors to work out how to make the portraits start talking. Fran and I have also given important and useful feedback to the Community & Learning team Jess and Lesley here at Stowe House this week on what digital learning methods were discussed in our meeting with a digital team at the Museum of London last week. We are now putting together a plan for what Stowe House could do with iPads to aid the Stowe visitor experience. It is fantastic to know that what we have observed, learned and documented will be of use in future to the team here at Stowe House when they are exploring ways to make the visitors experience here even more enjoyable and ways to make the exciting pieces of technology in the Discovery Centre more accessible.

Preparation for the next Tuesday morning led-session ‘It’s All Greek to Me’ has also been moving ahead this week so all the resources needed for that session and our Sound Explorers session are set up and ready to go! For the ‘It’s All Greek to Me’ session I’ve been researching the Greek gods and important figures in Roman history which are depicted by the statues in the Marble Saloon so we can teach the children all about them. I have also put together a shortened child-friendly version of the myth of Pan and Apollo’s musical duel which I am excited to read aloud to the children as my two glamorous assistants, Fran and Jess, help me act out this musical battle. (How crazy we’re going to go with our re-enactment depends, of course, on whether we think the children will just roll their eyes at our silliness, or laugh along with us, but that will have to be gauged when the session is under-way!) We will also get the children thinking about music and sound during the session using the musical instruments we will also later use for our Sound Explorers session, meaning ‘It’s All Greek to Me’ should hopefully be a useful insight into how children respond to the use of sound for learning. We’re really looking forward to that session.

Yet another enjoyable week at Stowe House goes by and we’re really happy with how things are progressing and how the sessions for children are going. There’s still even more exciting stuff to come!