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Our challenge was how to engage very young children, aged 0-5, with these themes in meaningful and enjoyable ways. Of course, babies and toddlers are no strangers to an interdisciplinary approach! The boundaries between art and science are constructs which they have not yet established in their minds. To a small child, both natural and created objects may be admired, examined and explored in creative and analytical ways. However, we wanted to highlight to these children and their families the connections that have always existed between nature and art, and so educators from the Fitzwilliam Museum teamed up with the Botanic Garden to learn together.
Visiting the Botanic Garden in the Autumn is a delight for the senses, and the variety of colours is simply stunning. With the older children (aged 2-5) taking part in the visits, we shared the beautiful picture book Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. Reading beneath the branches of the spectacular liquidambar tree was a lovely experience, and when the children began searching through the carpet of fallen leaves for their own ‘leaf man’ we were able to understand how artists find both inspiration and ingredients for their work among the natural world.
In the garden room, we used plant material such as spinach, turmeric, berries and red cabbage to make vibrant colours. The children painted these onto tiny pieces of handmade cotton rag paper, which they were then able to bind into a little book using a rubber band and a twig – a mini manuscript made entirely of plant-based materials!
Brilliant morning pitched at pre-schoolers perfectly
Mum of 3 year old
For the younger visitors (aged 0-2) we planned a more exploratory session, in which the babies were invited to join in with action rhymes and songs and just to immerse themselves in the colours, scents and textures of the Autumn leaves. Children spent time gathering and sorting leaves into baskets, laying down on the ground gazing up into the branches and playing with their adults among the spectacular display of the Autumn garden. Again, we made paintings from plant-based colours (and the fact that all the paints were edible was a big advantage with this age group!), this time on a larger scale in keeping with the physical development of the children.
We also offered natural building materials, mirrors and story books, all placed next to the windows into the garden so that the babies had a choice of creative activities to enjoy.
Wonderful link with garden…Daniel loved it – so welcoming and fun. LOVED IT! Thank you so much! Nothing we didn’t like; it was excellent. Really interesting way to explore something – topics runs through whole session – Really well planned.
Mum of 20 month old
We had a wonderful morning at the Botanic Garden, and it was a great way to highlight the links between our collections. We will look forward to visiting again soon!
With thanks to Alison Ayres, Nathan Huxtable from the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Learning Team at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, especially Hannah Elkington and Bronwen Richards.
Nicola Wallis, Gallery Educator, Fitzwilliam Museum