Blog: Hats (hats hats!) off to Imaginate’s Creative Encounters Project!

20 March 2023

A hat made by children at Forthview Primary School as part of Creative Encounters
A hat made by children at Forthview Primary School as part of Creative Encounters

Peyton Horning joined Imaginate in March 2023 as a 3-week placement student from Queen’s University in Canada where she is pursuing a Master’s degree in Education, currently focusing her studies on the connection between arts and learning.  Here Peyton reflects on her experience at Forthview Primary School as part of the Imaginate Creative Encounters project. Alongside Lou Brodie and Ursula Cheng, Peyton and the students explored art, creativity, and imagination in a series of hat-making workshops.

In Canada, we wear our toques atop our heads to keep warm in winter. In Scotland, caps and bonnets may be worn while playing a tune on the bagpipes. At Forthview Primary School, weird and wonderful hats of many shapes, sizes and colours are designed and worn with pride by students – thanks to Imaginate’s Creative Encounters project!

The Creative Encounters initiative is a pilot project linking artists with primary students to co-create unique, student-driven performances – where young people are at the heart of the development and design process of a piece that will debut as part of the Family Encounters event, marking the opening of the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival (May 27, 2023). 

As part of the first stage of the creation of this year’s exciting piece, “Hat Hat Hat!”, by performance-maker Cynthia Cheung, Forthview Primary students participated in an engaging multimodal hat-making workshop developed and facilitated by designer Ursula Cheng. The students shortlisted and interviewed a number of artists before selecting Cynthia & Ursula’s piece, and are now working to design the performance’s hats, as well as the story behind them, which focuses on Hattie the Hat Collector who collects hats from all over the universe.

Over the course of three workshop days, Forthview’s P3, P4 and P5 classrooms were transformed into a technicolour world of one-of-a-kind hat creations, inspired by a collaborative exploration of the five senses: taste, touch, smell, sound, sight.  Researching different types of hats, sketching design plans, and then experimenting with different patterns, colours and materials (everything from pipe cleaners to pool noodles and recycled plastics), students were encouraged to playfully explore various mediums and techniques to create their own unique hat. After much cutting, colouring, gluing, discussing, problem-solving and modifying, the students’ concepts were brought to life and curated in a final exhibition of their work: a ‘wearable arts’ fashion show, where each student had an opportunity to show off their one-of-a-kind designs on the classroom HATwalk!

A group of students have also been working as the documentation team, chronicling the entire Creative Encounters experience. Following a hands-on workshop from photographer Kat Gollock, the team of intrepid young reporters and photographers took pictures and videos of the hat workshop, and are in the process of writing a pitch to present the story to broader news outlets in an effort to raise awareness of this initiative and its positive, valuable impact on the students and school community.

There is strong evidence that arts education experiences produce significant positive impacts on students’ academic and social development. As an educator, I understand and appreciate learning in schools can and should occur both in the arts and also through the arts (where the arts are integrated into non-arts curriculum areas) as a way to achieve improved student learning; enhanced student engagement and wellbeing; and successful education and career transitions.

Initiatives like Creative Encounters that bring arts-based learning into schools are critical in ensuring young people have a direct role in designing their educational experiences, and have access to the level of academic and social-emotional enrichment that they deserve.

Watching the Forthview students piece together a hodgepodge of ordinary materials like loo rolls and feathers, coloured card and plasticine to create magical works of wearable art, it occurred to me that this is exactly what Imaginate does! They piece together a variety of different components - artists, teachers, community members, theatres, students – to create a unique collaboration that results in something truly magical: student-driven, arts-based learning that gives young people an opportunity for self-discovery, expression, creative freedom and a holistic educational experience.  

The Imaginate team is a small machine with many moving parts working together to make all of this magic happen. Their passion for teaching children about the wonders of art and theatre is apparent. Their mission to ensure young people’s voices are at the centre of all of their work is laudable, refreshing, and desperately needed in today’s global education system.

There’s no doubt that thanks to this experience with Imaginate, I will go back to my Canadian classrooms with new insights, skills, and a stronger appreciation for the benefits of arts-based learning and its application across all curriculum streams… while wearing a really great new fashionable hat, thanks to the Creative Encounters program!

Toques, caps, bonnets… ALL hats off to Imaginate’s Creative Encounters!