Developing 21st century life skills through art (collage making)

26th January 2020

Facilitated by: Ruchi Dhona (Let’s Open a Book)
Module designed by: ArtSparks Foundation
Project Site: The Community Library Project


It had been a while since I was looking for an inclusive art based intervention which would create an environment in which every child would thrive. This search led me to Artsparks Foundation's EdSparks Collective programme.

ArtSparks Foundation

ArtSparks Foundation is a Bangalore-based educational organization that works to support the development of 21st century learning and life skills in participants through visual art and design-based learning interventions. EdSparks Collective is a professional development programme for all those interested in exploring the full potential of visual art and design to enrich participants' learning, growth, and development.

The 12 session programme has been designed to build an understanding of the various dimensions of arts-based pedagogy, from child development and the arts, to learning theories and their application within classrooms, to facilitating and eventually developing robust curriculum of my own, and much more. As part of the programme, I was required to do field work, implementing an Action Learning Project on ground. This report details my experience with the project.

Project site: The Community Library Project

The project site was The Community Library Project’s library in sector 43, Gurgaon. The project site is a free community library, open to everyone. There were 11 participants of age group 10 years and below. The participants attending the workshop reside in nearby areas and attend different schools. Outside of the sessions being facilitated by me, they have little or no interaction with the other participants attending the workshop.

The project aimed at developing the following 21st century skills and attitudes among participants:

  • Problem Solving
  • Flexible Thinking
  • Investigation
  • Creative Risk-Taking
  • Perseverance
  • Close Observation (Attention to Detail)
  • Collaboration
  • Communication

Project details

Project design

The overall module (7 sessions) consisted of creating imaginary animals through the medium of collage. Each session was designed to last approximately 1.5 hours and included technique demonstration, the actual work period, and time for reflections.

The first couple of sessions required participants to sketch animals based on close observations (an imaginary animal was created by combining body parts of two or more animals). A crucial element of this was to understand how complex forms can be broken down into simple shapes. Once a prototype was created, the remaining sessions were dedicated to re-creating the imaginary animal working with the medium of collage – starting with big shapes, moving to small shapes and filling in the finer details. The final session was dedicated to creating and sharing stories about their imaginary animal. 

Student engagement and response

When we started the workshop, participants were a little unsure of what to expect, since the art classes in their schools are quite different. They asked lot of questions before the activities and needed support. I could see that this was clearly out of their comfort zone - in fact in the beginning a couple of them were quite reluctant to actively participate. This could be attributed to two reasons – one, participants hadn’t been previously exposed to an intervention like this. Second, the library is fairly new, and participants are gradually getting used to working with adults facilitating activities like these. However, as the sessions progressed, participants started getting increasingly focused. Some of them would often want to stay on and work on their pieces even when the others had left. And all of them showed up week after week. In fact, on the last day all of them unanimously said that they wanted to attend more sessions!

It was quite impressive to see how participant behavior evolved over the sessions. For example, Baby was quite reserved during most part of the workshop – in the beginning she hardly uttered a word. But on the last day she smiled and happily shared her work with others. Khushi took it upon herself to help me, so she would show up fifteen minutes before everyone else did and helped out with putting out things that we needed during the session. Whoever finished their work early would help with collecting the supplies and putting those back into the box. The other interesting thing was that initially the boys were quite hesitant about speaking with the girls. But eventually everyone opened up to each other.

Case Study: Manish

There were several instances where I noticed changes in skills and attitudes of participants, but for me the most interesting journey was that of Manish. Manish is one of the older kids and had a certain way of doing things. Initially, he found it quite difficult to break away from his way of thinking, and try something new.

While he aced the sketching activities, he didn’t have any prior exposure to collage making. So he was really worried that his work may not be among the best in class and kept stalling his actual work for as long as he could. Even when he finished, he only did it half-heartedly. It was only in the sixth session that Manish really started investing himself in his work. That day he gave me a high-five before he left the class. I somehow felt that this was his way of telling me that he saw merit in what I was trying to do. Manish was also quite reserved in the classes – he made it a point to sit farthest away from me in the classes. If he sat closer, he tried to hide his work from me until the very end. The only person he felt comfortable talking to or sharing his work with was his friend, Ashish. During the sessions Manish and Ashish would always stick together – it was hardly surprising that in the first couple of sessions their work was quite similar. However, on the last day I deliberately made them sit far away from each other so that they couldn’t see each other’s work. It was very hard for the two of them to work separately! I thought while Ashish was still able to cope, Manish was feeling quite stuck. He tried avoiding speaking to the other kids in his group during discussions, but was left with no choice. After he finally presented his story, he confessed that he felt very emotional as he read out the story. I thought it was very brave of him to open up and share his feelings.

Facilitator’s note:

When I joined the Artsparks programme, I intuitively knew that an art intervention could be a very powerful tool for working with children. However, to me it seemed like a choice between two approaches:

  1. A cookie cutter approach, where each child is required to replicate a pre-decided product by the facilitator. Needless to say, a child’s creativity doesn’t find much room in this approach. Also, it promotes comparison of artwork created by different individuals, where some participants end up thinking they are not creative or talented enough.
  2. An open-ended approach in which the child learns through discovery. While it allows for exploration, learning is purely incidental. Also, due to the lack of enough scaffolding, a child may never fully realize their full potential.   

This field project has helped me understand that a robust approach can infuse the joy of exploration with a meaningful learning experience. For example, each session plan was designed to develop certain skills and attitudes among the participants. For example, the focus of the first two sessions was to encourage close observation, which was done by closely observing photos of animals provided to the participants. They first looked at the photos to break the animal figure into simple pieces and create a pencil sketch. When it came to adding details, they were given magnifying glasses and asked to look again, which made them realize that there were several other details that they hadn’t noticed earlier. Formative assessment was built into the lesson plan, such that the child had enough opportunities to review and improve upon their work. Participants were encouraged to seek support from their peers and be appreciative of each others’ work. And the overall module was designed such that at the end of it, every artwork created by the participants was diverse and unique.

Ruchi Dhona is passionate about making a difference in the social development space. She graduated from St. Xavier’s College in 2007 with a specialization in English literature. Post MBA she has worked with organizations like A.T. Kearney and Bain & Company. Through her organization Let’s Open a Book, she has set up free libraries in Assam, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.
The Community Library Project
Dharam Bhavan, C-13 Housing Society
South Extension Part -1
New Delhi - 110049
Donations to The Community Library Project are exempt from tax under section 80G of the Income Tax Act. Tax exemption is only valid in India.
Illustrations provided by Priya Kuriyan.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
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