Following our successful Local Stories Project in summer 2013, The Carousel Project developed two play packs aimed at engaging young children in the Blackdown Hills with one important aspect of their local heritage: iron working during the Iron Age. The first pack consists of a play mat with areas of a village and river suggested with colourful fabric. Thick cardboard rings and tough paper mache roofs act as Iron Age round houses and felt dolls represent characters from the accompanying book ‘Noni the Blacksmith’.
The second pack contains a long play mat suggestive of a river with pockets within the waves to encourage hide and seek type exploration with paper fish or ‘metal’ objects the children make.
Templates and ideas for accompanying activities were included with the packs, all of which were trialled during three sessions in Axminster and Honiton during Nov 2013 (clay thumb pots and messy play exploring circles, creating celtic type drawings, making ‘iron’ objects, decorating fish for the river, miniature round house making). The three play pack launch sessions were funded by Councillors Andrew Moulding, Sara Randall Johnson and Paul Diviani following the summer long Local Stories project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Sustainable Development Fund’
The heritage play pack launch sessions
Carousel were present with the playpacks during Children’s Centre Stay & Play sessions in Honiton and Axminster and at Honiton Library.
The children present during the Children’s Centre sessions were mainly 1-3 year olds with a few babies and the sessions were well received. The children enjoyed exploring the play pack roundhouses which was a pleasure to watch: hiding the dolls in them, putting the roofs on their heads as hats, turning and holding the roundhouse rings and hiding things in the river. The heritage educator was on hand to explain the heritage theme to the parents and to engage the children. A cardboard roundhouse was premade for the children to play in and hang their artwork up in. Copies of the accompanying book ‘Noni the Blacksmith’ were handed out at the very end of the session and played a crucial role in explaining the heritage theme to the families.
The play pack session at Honiton Library was held on a Saturday morning. It was well attended with families who stayed and engaged in the activities for long periods. Some families came specifically for the session whilst others had come to use the library and then became involved in the activities with interest and enthusiasm. The heritage educator read the story book to children and gave them the felt doll characters to play with and animate during the story.
Staff and parents were asked what they thought of the activities, play packs and the heritage theme of the activities.
Children’s Centre Staff (Honiton session)
‘Lovely that it was so visual. The minute the children walked in they made a beeline for the [round] houses. It was also nice they could go home with something: fish, clay pots, drawings. The Carousel staff were lovely. It was clever to tackle heritage at such a young age and use the re-enforcement of the book. It showed that simple works and parents can go home and take it a step further. A lot of the time it’s about the parents and educating them.’
‘Great. Come every week!’
‘It’s gone well. The activities were busy and popular. I made a lovely observation of a little girl who started drawing [with the charcoal] outside the roundhouse and then ran in to it and lay on the floor to finish her drawing. She obviously wanted to be in that space. The play packs were open-ended and heuristic. I hope to use them again.’
‘Really good activities.’ Parent at Honiton Children’s Centre session
‘It’s good that you’re starting [to introduce heritage themes] so early – the kids seem to have enjoyed it. It was nice that the [workshop leaders] made it so interactive and that the children can take a book away to read in a less hectic environment.’ Parent at Honiton Children’s Centre session
‘Very creative activities. My child was very interested in all of it, and enjoyed taking [the round houses] apart.’ Parent at Honiton Children’s Centre session
‘The children enjoyed hiding and finding things in the round houses and exploring [the packs].’ This parent thought that the children could ‘learn through play.’ Parent at Honiton Children’s Centre session
‘My 2 year old enjoyed playing with the roundhouses/hiding toys. He really loved the messy play with clay.’ Parent at Axminster Children’s Centre session
‘Great idea. Always good to educate children about local history/crafts.’ Parent at Honiton Children’s Centre session
‘Adam really enjoyed the sticking and making clay with me and his cousin. They also helped tidy up and play with the fish in the sea and books.’ Parent at Axminster Children’s Centre session
‘The creative sessions were very well received, the children made objects that were in context to the story and heritage theme.’ Nicci Wonnacott, workshop leader
‘Nice suprise to find something like this in the library. Something different which will make the kids more likely to want to come back [to the library] again.’ Parent at Honiton Library session
‘My child really enjoyed making a fish & adding the scales, especially using the glue. She also did some clay work with her cousin and nan which she liked.’ Parent at Axminster Children’s Centre session
‘A wonderful surprise to have found the Carousel Project at Honiton Library today. My 7 and 3 year old both enjoyed craft, storytelling and learning about life 2000 years ago.’ Parent at Honiton Library session
‘Very good. Encourages imagination. Makes them appreciate local history. Nice to have the story book to take away from the session. Activities well organised with enough for everyone to do.’ Parent at Honiton Library session
“The Book captivated the children, who all listened well, some asked questions and went on to recreate the story through the play packs.” Nicci Wonnacott, workshop leader
‘Wonderful that it’s such a local story. A lot of stories don’t have any bearing on where you live.’ Parent at Honiton Library session
‘We loved the theme. Great way to introduce children to the Iron Age. Particularly loved the dollies and the book, which was very well read.’ Parent at Honiton Library session
‘Thank you for a wonderful story and making it come alive with props and things to make.’ Parent at Honiton Library session
The play packs are now with the Honiton and Axe Valley Children’s Centre who will use them to introduce early years children to their local heritage. Special thanks are due to Carousel Heritage Educator Catherine Rackham for designing and creating the packs and accompanying story and illustrations.
To find out more about this project email firstname.lastname@example.org