Lots of young children sitting on the floow of a library listening to and watching a person reading out a children's book
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How to be a shooting star! Bringing books to life for early years families in Devon

Posted on 05 January 2017

“There was a countdown to blast off and then children went zooming around the library taking their junk robots made from straws, bottle tops and even shiny shower hose reel on a tour of the library. Everyone joined in singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star whilst children threw tissue paper stars that floated featherlike through the sky towards them. One little girl took the opportunity to become a shooting star herself. Others took turns rolling in a huge giant silver tube on the moon.”

Between September 2015 and July 2016, more than 270 families in Devon joined in a unique and successful project that brought children’s literature to life, through storytelling, visual arts and movement.

The Devon Carousel Project, ExploraTale Session. Image © Robert Darch.

ExploraTale was an innovative partnership between Devon-based arts organisation The Carousel Project and three diverse libraries in Devon: Exeter, Tiverton and Honiton.  It was supported using National Lottery funding through our Grants for the arts programme with an award of £23,810.

Over the course of a year, artists led free weekly drop-in sessions at each of the libraries and, using everyday materials, transformed the library space into scenes inspired by popular children’s books, old and new.

As a result of the project, families had the opportunity to engage with high quality participatory arts that supported learning and creative skills development whilst the libraries became seen as trusted, inspiring and welcoming community spaces for children and adults.

ExploraTale has had a positive and lasting impact on many people.

a week’s worth of activity in one morning!Honiton Library participant

Exploratale had four clearly articulated aims that combined arts participation for early years families with promoting the local library as a relevant community cultural space:

  • to nurture creativity and enjoyment in children and their parents and carers;
  • to promote the library to parents and carers with early years children;
  • to help develop children’s pre-literacy and school readiness;
  • to improve each library’s capacity for partnership working.

All the activities were led by The Carousel Project (TCP), a Devon-based social enterprise bringing creative learning experiences to early-years’ communities across the county.  Carousel was set up in 2011 by a cross-discipline group of local artists and educators to focus on children from 0-5 years and their parents/carers.  They have a background in working at Children’s Centres with targeted creative learning experiences, including to families who need additional help with the tools, ideas and confidence to support their child’s development.

The Devon Carousel Project, ExploraTale Session. Image © Robert Darch.

The library partners were keen to engage children in the world of a story in a way that would lay the foundation for ‘school readiness’ through encouraging speech and language skills and a love of books.  Both Carousel and the library partners also wanted to develop a model for future partnership working that would help with the planning and delivery of cultural projects in a library setting.

loads of great ideas for play which we can go home and explore ourselvesTiverton mum of 2 year old

Each week Carousel artists Lizzie Swinford and Tamsin Pender explored a different story by weaving together visual art, movement, music and making.  Children and their parents and carers were encouraged to enter into the world of the story in an imaginative, communicative and playful way.  The library space, with its islands of books was used to inspire

The sessions offered a sensory experience of the essential elements of colour, movement, texture and sound through the lens of the storybook.

Exploring the book Zoom, Rocket, Zoom by Margaret Mayo and Alex Ayliffe, children went moonwalking and orbited the library with their spacecraft.  The families collaborated to construct a large space shuttle (den) made from large cardboard and shiny objects.

Each library venue had a different feel and group dynamic.  Tiverton Library had a very regular audience, averaging more than 24 participants a week but attracting 175 unique participants overall.  Honiton Library was smaller with an average group of 12 participants and 77 unique participants in total.  Exeter Library unsurprisingly attracted a very diverse group with regular participants being joined by new families dropping in as they discovered the sessions.  Exeter attracted an average group size of 28 and 328 unique participants in total.

a fundamental stepping-stone to access the arts, reading and movementMum of 3 year old

Evidence collected through the project evaluation shows that ExploraTale positively impacted all of the participants in a variety of ways.  While the impacts are often unique to each individual, there were similarities known as ‘Generic Learning Outcomes’ that included enjoyment and creativity through arts as well as progressive changes in attitudes, opinions and behaviours in relation to the libraries.

By providing creative experiences in a mix of simultaneous activities, the children could choose how to engage and what they wanted to do.  As a result:

  • participants unanimously agreed that ExploraTale help their child to develop their creativity and imagination;
  • young children’s diverse needs and interests were catered for;
  • participants had fun in a friendly space;
  • some people have changed what they do at home;
  • families have discovered new places to go and things to do - especially other library services and events.

Promoting the library to families was a key aim of the project and feedback from participants suggests that ExploraTale has not only created new ways of using the library but also increased existing library use.

We’ve been borrowing more books Tiverton mum of 2 year old

Not only that, more than half of survey respondents agreed that they felt more positive about the library as a welcoming community space, whilst the active encouragement to play and make noise challenged people’s perceptions of a library.

The Devon Carousel Project, ExploraTale Session. Image © Robert Darch.

Children developed more confidence, better social skills and the ability to listen, the building blocks of ‘school-readiness’.  By inviting the children into the story, ExploraTale developed pre-literacy and encouraged a love of books.

ExploraTale has helped to nurture the staff as well as challenge and change their perceptions of what is acceptable in a library setting.Karen Leach-Bowdler, Senior Supervisor, Exeter Library

ExploraTale has successfully met its ambitious aims of delivering high quality drop-in creative arts encounters that supported learning outcomes for participants and promoted the three different libraries within their communities.

The challenge now is to find ways of rolling out the project more widely and sharing the learning from the Best Practice Partnership Model to inform other libraries and arts organisations.

Carousel has already secured funding to continue ExploraTale in Exeter and that’s good news for children and families and for the library.