Finding Spaces

Working with early years exploring materials

A partnership between Craftspace and three Birmingham schools

A young child places a small woven willow sculpture onto his head.

Making willow structures with Laura Ellen Bacon (Photo: Anand Chhabra)

Three residencies with willow artist Laura Ellen Bacon
Working with: St Thomas Early Excellence Centre, Princethorpe Nursery, and Bloomsbury Children’s Centre
Early years project

Finding Spaces extended the exploration around materials and parents and children working together developed during the Treasure Boxes project. It targeted 3 nursery schools from across the city.

Willow artist Laura Ellen Bacon worked with small groups of parents and children to explore different structures using willow and a range of other materials, creating sculptures on the grounds of the nurseries. As part of the project, parents and children from each setting also visited a willow farm.

Exploring the impact of making together on children and their parents

At the beginning of each residency, children and parents worked separately. They gradually began to work more cohesively, children working with their own parents as well as with other adults. This allowed for different ways of learning: children learnt by observation, watching their parents make and seeing them as people who can learn things.

“During the project they developed their language skills and literacy skills by using new vocabulary. They talked about what a nest is, dens, the moon. The project has really fuelled their creative thoughts and imaginations.”
“It was good for children to see adults working and learning alongside them, at times they were able to show their parents what to do so they gained confidence from the role reversal.” Debbie Pullinger, Bloomsbury Children’s Centre teacher

Participating in the project had initially been quite daunting for some parents, as some had had bad education experiences, or some didn’t think they would be able to achieve anything. However, the project gave them the chance to experience something different and inspired them to do more things at home with their children.

They were impressed with what they achieved during the sessions, and enjoyed seeing a different side to their children, and how capable and confident they were. One mother said that she had seen her daughter in a new light during this project, never having quite realised the extent of her capabilities, and felt closer to her as a result.

Helping nursery staff to develop documentation skills

Debbie [Pullinger, Bloomsbury Children’s Centre] learnt a lot from the project and her skills improved rapidly in a short time. She felt it had been much more than a project for children and parents, it had been developmental for the staff through learning about evaluation and photography/documentation. Photography training showed staff how to observe and position yourself to capture images which reflect a child’s perspective.

Supporting makers to take their practice into early years settings

Laura had no previous experience of working with early years, and was at the beginning fearful about how materials could be used. Through working with and observing children interact with the materials, she saw more value and beauty in simplicity and soft exploration. Following the project, she was more aware of the tactility of objects, and was more keen to involve parents in school projects.

An adult and young child place objects onto branches.

Summary of project aims

  • Involve parents and carers, particularly from BME communities, as active participants in the creative development of themselves and their children.
  • Explore craft materials, processes and products as a means of sharing diverse cultures and experiences.
  • Use sustained contact with a maker and making processes to build confidence and skills in parents, carers and their children.
  • Extend the research and deepen learning about how parents, carers and children can develop their creativity together and how creative processes can support sustained shared thinking.
  • Further develop and support the capacity of makers to work within early years settings and with culturally diverse participants.
  • Provide access to and encourage use of regional and national cultural facilities.


Laura Ellen Bacon – willow artist.


Three nursery schools in Birmingham; St Thomas Centre Nursery in Birmingham City Centre, Princethorpe Nursery in Weoley Castle and Bloomsbury Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Nechells.


The project was funded through a Birmingham City Council Arts Education Award.

Where Next?

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Various materials lie on the table with 3 hammers.

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2019: Discovering materials with young children and families.

An older man works with a young boy hammering a metal punch.


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