Each year at St John’s children in each of the Form 3 classes are encouraged to think about which child-led art topic they would like to pursue. After research and discussions, they vote on their favourite topic and this year Form 3M opted for ‘wildlife’ as their choice. Near the start of their topic they visited the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve and England’s most famous fen, Wicken Fen, to provide inspiration for their artwork. Here, the children had the chance to experience drawing 'en plein air' and, due to the inclement weather conditions, do short two minute bursts of drawing where they focused on line and shape from what they observed.
Now, more than ever, nature has provided a source of comfort and quiet inspiration of this ‘lost landscape’ – a unique remnant of un-drained fenland, which once covered the vast lowlands of East Anglia. Wicken Fen is one of Europe’s most important wetlands; home to over 9000 recorded species including many rare species of plants, birds and dragonflies. The children were able to explore the heart of the reserve, the ancient Sedge Fen, via the Boardwalk trail.
Child-led topics at St John’s start in youngest year groups. Our research into ways of nurturing children’s intrinsic motivation has found that two of the key ways of achieving self-motivated learning are autonomy and purpose. These are both natural features of the child-initiated learning topics. The children have ownership of what they are learning and how they are learning it. As topics are chosen and directed by the children, they can immediately see the purpose.
After Form 3M's trip to the nature reserve, the children have continued with their 'wildlife' art topic and have used as inspiratoin their memories of what they saw and heard on the trip, as well as their sketches. Head of Art, Mrs Sam Downer, explained, 'Visiting Wicken Fen was an opportunity to be outdoors and to have a real sense of place in such a beautiful and unspoilt part of the world. I have been so impressed with how the children have developed their artwork since returning to school and used both memory and primary sources to create watercolour compositions. Child-led learning enables children to go on their own adventures with their artwork and to use their preferred media, combined with real-life experiences and their imaginations.'