Megan Dowsett is a creative consultant working with museums and galleries, and an illustrator who is finding her voice through personal and local projects.

Through the name Norris and the Flamingo, she shares the sense of adventure that runs through all of life, wherever we are on our journey. A sense of imagination, of possibility and discovery, for children and adults alike.

30 April 2020

Begin with a Story: Tell Me a Dragon

20200424_105712 Things got a little tricky at the beginning of last week. A little burnt out and at the same time bursting with ideas and exuberance, all of us frustrated at how little space there is, physically and spiritually, I suddenly realised my thinking had gone a bit haywire: home-schooling was such an opportunity for ME to be creative, for ME to enable learning the way I believe it should be, for ME to build a portfolio of experience and ideas. I have to be honest, it was becoming a bit too much ME and not quite enough of the KIDS.

20200424_121240 I've shared my thoughts with a couple of people - a few others who are simmering with ideas, pressure, juggling and a serious lack of headspace, and I realise I'm far from alone. Parenting is such a creative thing - we had found a balance, long ago when the kids were at home and we provided social time, free play, and independent time too. Then we found balance in a different way when kids started school or nursery. And now ... now there is a whole new equilibrium to find, in very narrow confines.

So, I took a big step back. I took a few days off Instagram, and abandoned my blogging plans. (Yes, I'm here, but I'm not sure how often I'll post!). It was mighty hard - this EGO is a powerful thing!
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Added to the mix was a bit more direction from school; I find it very difficult use the more prescriptive approaches to learning with Feets - especially while Bean is in the same room, demanding attention and distracting Feets the moment she tries to sit down. Still, I decided to try a combination - the theme from school was mythical creatures, and so the week evolved from Tell Me a Dragon, a poetic, magical vision by Jackie Morris.

20200424_104256 The week had a serious dip in it: recently, we've hit a serious wall of perfectionism in our previously carefree, experimental 6 year old. We make so much mess together, but all of a sudden, everything we do - all the things that used to make us happy - go terribly 'wrong' in the first 30 seconds and deteriorate fast into tears, shouting, and gloriously stamping feet. And that's just me!

So: Tell Me a Dragon, by Jackie Morris, which you can see her reading here.

Literacy
- We read the book, and picked out the words that described each dragon. Wrote them into little dragon eggs.
20200423_105332 - We fell out. Feets took on the planning of her own literacy for the rest of the week. Not much literacy happened as a result, if I'm honest, but she did write an incredibly poetic description of her own dragon (when I find it, I'll share it :-). Perhaps there's nothing left to teach her.
- (Also, as the week began to improve, they wrote invitations to their two closest friends and delivered them, inviting them to hunt for dragons in the woods on Friday afternoon...)

Numeracy
IMG-20200425-WA0002 - With Mr Liam, Feets got to grips with fifths and thirds, through the tricky task of dividing birthday cakes for Shrek and his friends.  Our shed door was littered with pictures of fairytale characters! (One day, perhaps I too will manage a completely spontaneous shed-door lesson complete with full chalk illustrations, but for the time being this is definitely Liam's forte)

Creative Time
20200423_233515 - We used a technique suggested by my Mum's fabulous art teacher, Debbie Chisholm, to create our own dragon eggs: paint your egg with water; grate some watercolour pencil into dust using sandpaper and sprinkle it onto the wet paper - beautiful results, thank you Debbie! (I thought it was a fail-safe experimental technique for a perfectionist Feets. It wasn't. But Bean loved it.)
- Inspired by the willowy shapes of Jackie Morris' dragons and the variety of forms they take, we took a sack of watery art materials outside and experimented with creating dragon forms. Again, Bean immediately filled her page with joy, while Feets burst into tears and stormed off with the snappy instruction to 'find 10 positives'. The sensible part of my mind took enough control to suggest we stop for lunch, before she got to 10 positives. And the magic happened after lunch, when I turned around to discover Feets on the table, churning out one flamboyant, experimental, magical dragon after another. I left her to it and took Bean for a walk.
20200422_115621 20200422_132746 - The next day we made glitter glue and gave our dragons a shimmer, along with eyes, mouths and other details.
20200424_112116 - Everything came together with a buzz of energy and a glow of magic on Friday morning, as Feets awoke early, cut out numerous eggs and dragons, and helped me write a sign for the fence. We set off with chalk, dragons, eggs and wire. We hid the eggs in an abandoned bird's nest, in our den in the woods, and strapped the dragons to trees leading back to the entrance gate. We hung our sign, and passed another happy half hour creating dragon footprints in chalk up the first part of the path. Then we hid to watch our friends doing the hunt.

20200425_104401 With a clear message in my head to remove the pressure on myself and the kids, I had begin the week with the idea of a dragon trail as a possibility, depending how it all went. By Wednesday, it was looking highly unlikely. But the joy of watching our friends follow the dragon trail erased (almost) every memory of our tricky start to the week! 20200425_132044 What's more, we sent the message to a number of their school and nursery friends, and the families in our block, and were rewarded with numerous photos of children doing the trail. Dinosaur stampers appeared in the nest; video messages of thanks; a chalk message on the pavement by the gate to the woods; and every time I went to re-stock the eggs, the sound of voices hunting for dragons.

We floated like kites into the weekend! 20200425_161302

19 April 2020

An Interlude of Birthday Cards

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If you ever receive a birthday card from me, you're lucky. If you receive a card on time, it's brought in a panic from a shop. The thing is, you see, birthday cards are such a great opportunity to play, try something different, not get too caught up in the perfect result, and show somebody that you REALLY care about them. This usually means I have a great idea in my head.

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Most of the time I fail to execute said idea. But this is what happened when my two best friends turned 40, and my fairy God-Daughter turned 9 under lockdown.  A chance to play with pop-up and paper-cuts, creating something beautiful and surprising for the inside with just a hint of it on the front.

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Happy birthdays, folks!

12 April 2020

Begin with a Story: George's Marvellous Medicine

Rainbow
The experience of home schooling is particularly challenging in the current context - "Miss B doesn't DO it like that!" - parents trying to work at the same time ... and of course, NOWHERE to escape to.  But there is one thing that I find gloriously liberating - it doesn't really matter what they learn.  We concluded, the priority right now is to pass their time constructively, to offer some kind of structure to the days and weeks (for our sanity, if not theirs), and ideally, to prevent them forgetting EVERYTHING they've already learned.

20200330_095215 For a while, I've been hoarding little pots, jars and bottles from the kitchen and bathroom.  My children love making mixtures so much, that I was waiting for the right level of desperation before proposing a Medicine Shop.

Well, the other weekend, when Feets begged to make a mixture just as I finished cleaning up the kitchen, I fobbed her off with the promise that we would make mixtures in school that week, if we could only have a clean kitchen for an hour at the weekend.

20200401_120720 The deal was sealed, and I was committed.  We have spent two weeks on George's Marvellous Medicine, by Roald Dahl.  We've used 5ml syringes to measure the sizes of vessels, followed recipes to mix paint, made smoothies, set up a medicine shop with accompanying information book, and put on a show.  The mess was wonderful and ... well, messy; staying ahead of the game was exhausting.  Thank heavens for an Easter 'break'!

And here is the detail, for anyone on the lookout to borrow ideas ...

The First Week
Maths:
Potions ... naturally, we took the opportunity to look at capacity.
20200331_102627 - We took a selection of four pots each, and used 5ml syringes to fill them with coloured water so we could find out the capacity of each pot.
- We built towers out of duplo and added labels to them to make scales which we could practice reading, guessing whether they were counting in 2s, 5s or 10s.
- Then I gave in and created a couple of worksheets to practice reading scales.
20200403_101738 - We switched to bigger vessels and used the scale in the mixing bowl to find out how much water different vessels from the kitchen could take.
- We finished the week by writing a recipe for and then making our own smoothies.

Creative Time:
What could we possibly do but make mixtures?  Mixtures, and music.
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- I wrote recipes for mixing the colours of the rainbow, using combinations of primary colours and water.  This enabled a very large rainbow of thanks and hope to join the lovely array in people's windows.  Warning - this used quite a lot of paint; we have mixtures to spare!
20200401_123212 - We experimented with how to make our own paints, using anything we could find in the kitchen.  We boiled onion skins, spinach, mushed up red grapes and boiled them, and tried red peppers too.  We stole a load of spices from the spice rack.  Took the whole lot outside with some syringes (I tried to include recipes and measuring in this, but it was too exciting and the recipes quickly slipped to one side) and painted more rainbows with the results.
- Looking for slightly less washing up, we used rice, lentils and couscous etc to make rainbows in yet another way.  This kept the children very busy while I was in a work meeting.
20200402_113814 - Squeezed in some music midweek to give me a 'mess-break' and quench my fear that I do nothing but art.  Having long felt limited by the lack of songs that really get children moving, I've made a playlist, including my favourite song by Artburst - Hop, Skip and Jump.*
- In our second music session, we took some pots and pans outside and woke up the neighbours by building a drum kit.  Next time, I'll wear ear defenders.

Literacy
Mr Liam led literacy in the afternoons and demonstrated just how much Feets can write - she reviewed the story with character and aplomb.

And ... the Second Week
Literacy: Mission for the week: Create The Medicine Shop.
Desperate to make just a bit less mess, this week we spread the project out, making an information book about the medicines on sale.  We also read Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski alongside George's Marvellous Medicine - another book about a mixture with dramatic results, more accessible for Bean.
20200408_103335 - We played the Tasting Game - I put tiny amounts of widely varying foodstuffs into small bowls for the children to taste - everything from peanut butter, to soy sauce and toothpaste.  First they looked, then smelled, then tasted.  I wrote down all the adjectives they used to describe each one, and then tasked Feets to invent descriptions for imaginary medicines using some of the adjectives we'd discovered.
- We imagined what might happen if they tasted those medicines, and enacted the result - everything from flying, to turning into a dog or exploding.  Feets wrote down the results and created some accompanying illustrations from magazine cuttings.  Bean stuck cut-outs of strange beasts into a picture of a cauldron, for her own mixture.
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- We invented names for our medicines.  I broke the most common medicine names in our house into segments, and we arranged them to invent new names.  Admittedly, Feets was just as interested in inventing her own spellings for existing medicines.
20200409_132753 - On the last day, we finished compiling our descriptions, titles and illustrations into an information book.  Then we abandoned maths and spent an (astoundingly independent!) hour mixing horrific medicines.  Feets created medicines that fitted the descriptions in her book, before pouring them into suitable jars and labelling them.  Bean couldn't believe the freedom and created a grotesque range of concoctions, happily using the syringe to transfer each mixture to a jar.
- That afternoon, they opened a medicine shop for Mr Liam, poor man.

Maths:
We looked at multiplication in anticipation of opening a shop.
20200406_120317 - We began every day by playing bingo, which worked a dream.  Feets had simple addition sums (then subtraction, then a mixture) with totals less than 12.  Bean had numbers between 0 and 10.  They won a raisin for every row or column.  Could play it forever.  So could I - minimal effort.
- I gave Feets a bag of money to count up.  Tasked her to work out how many 5s, 10s, 20s and 50s she needed to make £1, and to sort it into piles.  We got there, but it was a slog.  She made bridges out of coins.  She misses school, and her friends.  I can't blame her.
20200408_120717 - We looked at the multiplication sign, x, and wrote down sums that totalled 100p, using the calculations she'd been doing the previous day.
- I created a code in which she had to solve multiplication sums (5s and 10s) to find the value for each letter, and then apply the relevant letters to the number codes below.  This, she loved.  There will be more puzzles and codes, when we can find the energy to spend an evening preparing them.

Creative Time
Mr Liam led creative time each afternoon.  They put on a show - Super N to the Rescue!
20200410_145422 I can only share my impression, but I thought it was fabulous.  A distinct step up from the Saturday morning 'Sofa shows', and they had thought about everything:
- a musical score played on the piano, recorded on Liam's phone
- set design, painted on cereal packets and propped up between the slats of the picnic bench
- costumes and props
(Nice job, Robs!)

Job done.

*You can find the playlist on spotify - 'Movement Songs for Children', user name Liam Roberts