TATE Exchange: Giving children free-choice and playing with ‘big ideas’

Being a TATE Exchange associate presented the CLC with a unique opportunity not only to reconsider and develop our practice but also to consider how our work fits into the wider world context. TATE asked its collaborators to ‘explore and illuminate’ the value of art to society. This provided us with an ideal starting point.

We wanted to bring together children from different schools, in different parts of the city and see how they could use technology to creatively respond to the environment at the TATE. It seemed an obvious choice to use the exhibitions in the new Switch House galleries to inspire thinking: ‘Between Object and Architecture’ and ‘Living Cities’ were fitting themes – both were familiar to the children and well matched with the technologies we wanted to investigate and related to the staggering views of London from the level 5 Tate Exchange space. Our final theme was ‘City Spaces’ and our aim was to encourage children to explore and create in digital spaces using, for example, virtual reality software and 3D design, to explore the relationship between space and electronic sound, to create actual mini cities, animated cities, drawings of the city and to think about their own communities and what living in London means to them.

A key question we asked ourselves in developing the programme was how we could encourage the children to think and make differently and how could we challenge ourselves to work differently. We wanted this to be a learning experience separate from the normal school experience and to provide plenty of space for experimentation and development of ideas. After some debate, (and fear at the thought of letting 72 children have run wild in TATE) we decided we would give the pupils free choice of activities on the day, allowing them to move between activities whenever they liked and to choose how they spent the time. A group warm up with sound artist Duncan Chapman and visits to the gallery spaces were the only set activities.

It was noticeable how children moved around the space in a relaxed and confident way visiting and revisiting different activities at their own pace. We felt that the way we arranged activities worked well. For example, some children used the sofas to sit quietly and draw, the floor to build and make and tables to use technologies. Some stayed with one or two activities for the whole day, whilst some moved systematically around the room. It was important that we had anticipated the need for adults to observe children closely and be alert to children who may be less confident in the space and to encourage them to explore different activities and parts of the room.


Teacher feedback/evaluations

‘The children came back to the building activity time and time again.  It’s not something that can happen in school as the timetable is constraining.  I was really impressed that all the children came together in the final half hour to help one of the pupils finish her building project.’  Lambeth teacher, yr 5


The activities children took part in throughout the day were:

Visit to Between Object and Architecture gallery level 2

Visit to Living Cities gallery level 4

Mapping our favourite place in the city wall display

Photosounder – sound creation from city photographs

Creating virtual reality city spaces with cospaces software

Creating virtual reality environments using HTC Vive and Gravity Sketch software

Designing 3D buildings with Sketch Up software

Building a cardboard city and lighting it with LED lights

Large scale pixelation animation of a city

You can see detailed descriptions of the activities on our TEx City Spaces blog

The experience was one of those rare days that both children and staff felt they will remember. It’s given us a new way of looking at children’s learning and an increased enthusiasm for collaboration. Our next step is to think about how we can involve young people even more in our planning and potential family collaborations.

At the end of the day, the children gathered together in groups from different schools to discuss their experiences. Asked what had linked all of the different activities during the day, one child said, Art, we made things, we were creative, we looked at the city. It was about our imagination.”

Sign up to our weekly newsletter to get edtech news and views, free resources and reviews direct to your inbox every Thursday lunchtime – including a weekly ‘give it a try’ app or tool recommendation.

If you would like to contact us please click here.