Megan Dowsett is a creative consultant working in museums, galleries and the arts, an illustrator who is finding her voice through personal and local projects, and a parent to two young beings who can't help but influence her creative journey.

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.

12 April 2020

Begin with a Story: George's Marvellous Medicine

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
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.

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.

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