Special schools aim to support children with learning disabilities through daily structure, a safe and controlled environment as well as extra supporting adults. The goal is to ensure that children develop their abilities and reach their potential. However, as schools are hierarchical institutions, there may be pressure for children to conform and fit within the expectations of adults, limiting their freedom to express themselves. This presentation will discuss aspects of a Leverhulme funded collaborative project which invited children to act as researchers and respond to the question: "what inspires you?" The reason to start with the question of inspiration was to make room for the children’s preferences and their backgrounds. To find answers we made music, art, created puppets, told stories, performed and danced. Our final goal was to make a film that combined all what we created that was accessible for all the young collaborators.
The presentation will showcase this film and offer examples of moments where the project succeeded to disrupt the environment and empowered children through their collaboration. It will also highlight which tensions the research caused and where objectives and working methods were challenged by the schools. The presentation will ask questions about how children perform and employ their art to push boundaries, play with the rules and apply subversive humour. Finally, it will ask if there is a risk that children’s abilities may be underestimated and if it is possible to embrace ‘artistic chaos’ so children may find and develop their own potential (if they want).
Dr Karian Schuitema is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Keele University. She is an interdisciplinary researcher who specialises in participatory research with children as well as theatre and cultural representation. Her current project ‘Art Research Together (ART!)’ invites children from special schools to co-create knowledge using community arts (www.artresearchtogether.uk). In addition to her academic research she has extensive experience of working with children and young people in schools, nurseries, colleges and play centres.