Wednesday 2 December 2015

Guest Post: Poppies and Puddles at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Social media can be an absolute joy. It helps me to stay in touch with friends and colleagues from far away, see their beautiful children as they grow, feel somewhat part of their lives despite distance. It also helps uncover the shared interests, passion and beliefs of the fascinating people I'm lucky to have contact with. This is the second of a series of guest blog posts from some brilliant, inventive and creative mummies in my life. Rachel is an ex-colleague and is now a teacher in the glorious North. Here she writes about the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and ponders the differences in how her little girl and boy experience art - and particularly how this outdoor context works so well for her three year old boy.

I am fascinated by research that attempts to understand the difference between boys and girls brains and crucially, how we can use this understanding to help their education and learning. Some of this stems from my teacher training - wanting to understand how to make lessons engaging for all the students, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or background. But mostly it’s because I have a son and a daughter and I am endlessly fascinated by how two children, who have seemingly had the same upbringing, influences and experiences can be so different. Most of the research would agree that this is because male and female brains develop at different rates. The part of the brain that covers things like reading, writing, memory and language (the hippocampus) develops quicker in female brains. Boys brains develop quicker for spatial awareness (the cerebral cortex) whichmeans they learn best through movement and experiences. And people are generally agreed that girls are wired to sit still for longer. Obviously there will always be exceptions to the rule, but as parents it helps immensely if, when we are getting frustrated by a child’s inability to do what we expect them to do, we can understand how it’s our approach that needs to change, not the child.

Art is a prime example of this. As the mother of a 5 year old girl and a 3 year old boy, I’ve had to adapt to how I introduce my children to cultural experiences that will interest and excite them. When my daughter was barely weeks old, we started visiting galleries and exhibitions. We attended the fabulous toddler sessions at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, coloured in at The Lowry and visited an eclectic array of shows. When my son was born I wanted to treat him to the same opportunities as my daughter. My son is curious, articulate and insightful. But he does not sit still. He can convey his thoughts in a fantastically adept manner, but every thought he has is delivered at 90 miles an hour. So I had to rethink my approach.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park (, hands down, the best place in the world for my son to experience a range of artists and designers. So when I heard that the iconic ‘Wave’ poppies would be visiting, it was another great reason to head over to Bretton and check them out. The YSP is outdoors. This, in a nutshell, is what makes it so fantastic. There are no shushing members of staff, noannoyingly flimsy barriers wrapped around a priceless work of art. And as every parent across the land will testify, any whinging or crying from children seems much easier to deal with when you are in the open air. Plus there are no queues, ever.

The Sculpture Park is spread over 500 acres of beautiful countryside and woodland. A visit to the park is just as much about splashing in muddy puddles as it is about innovative sculpture. We went during half term, and even though the site was much busier than usual, the sheer amount of space meant that once you get through the visitor reception area, you feel as if you can enjoy every acre at your own pace.

My son’s pace is, as I mentioned, 90 miles an hour. We collected a map from reception to help us choose the most suitable walk and he careered off into the distance, running towards the first poppies – this way’ sign he saw. My daughter followed on at a more gentle speed, carefully studying the map to check we were on track for our destination.

My son was particularly taken with the sculptures that he could touch or hide behind. The children spent a few minutes playing hide and seek in Anthony Caro’ enormous metal creation – Promenade – with its various nooks and crannies to explore. He loved the Lego-like design of Sol LeWitt’s brick sculpture – entitled 123454321.

However, half the fun of YSP is that the art is scattered across acres and acres of countryside. Each time we return, we discover new pieces hidden amongst the trees. Even the trees themselves are beautiful. There were a lot of muddy puddles to splash in, and as we visited in the Autumn Half Term, piles of leaves to kick. As we approached the poppies, which are beautifully displayed on a bridge so they can be seen across the park, my children were more interested in collecting acorns than seeing the once in a lifetime ‘Wave’ - artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper’s sweeping arch of ceramic poppy heads designed to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of war, currently touring the UK.

He made music with the tuning fork sculptures we passed as we returned to the Visitor Centre – Caroline Locke’s The Frequency of Trees, and weaved in and out of JonathanBorofsky’s enormous Molecule Man 1+1+1. At the time, I wondered if he would take anything away from the visit, having careered round the site, pausing only to eat a cheese sandwich. But he still speaks of some of the sculptures and reminisces about our visit when he sees a poppy.

As we left, the advert for one of the visiting exhibitions read ‘Art Makes Children Powerful’. I guess time will tell if that goes for my two. What I do know is that the differences between my son and daughter will continue to surprise me every day. It’s up to their parents and those who influence their lives to nurture this individuality and give them both experiences they will remember for years to come.

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