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KS1 Book Topic – Explore Different Artists’ Materials With Spots By Helen Ward

If you were a guinea fowl and your plumage didn’t look quite right, what would you do? Take matters into your own beak, of course...

  • KS1 Book Topic – Explore Different Artists’ Materials With Spots By Helen Ward

For the fowl in question, the star of author-illustrator Helen Ward’s latest picture book, Spots, he pens a letter saying ‘please send spots’. So, the next day sees the arrival of ‘a promising package tied up with string, that he knew would be full of just the right thing.’ However, whilst the box does contain spots, unfortunately, they are not the right kind.

Thus begins an entertaining and visually sumptuous exploration of the successive incorrect deliveries – from join-the-dots spots to splats, drips and blots – before our unhappy fowl receives a package of spots that are ‘wrong in the right sort of way’ and decides to wear them with a smile.

Dedicated to the ‘quietly eccentric’, Spots is more exuberant than restrained. Complemented by a robust and satisfying rhyming text, this is a picture book that less confident readers will enjoy. It also has much to offer a more sophisticated audience and makes an excellent starting point for creative projects right across the curriculum.

1 | A feathery touch

To grab your children’s interest and encourage them to make a deeper connection with this book, set up a sensory activity for them to explore before engaging with the story.

Wrap a selection of different feathers inside intriguingly-decorated boxes, and cut a hole in the back of each so that the contents can be touched. Ask children to guess what the parcels contain before describing what they can feel. Or, for a simpler approach, pass feathers around the group and ask your class to describe them with their eyes closed.

Encourage the use of rich, descriptive vocabulary before moving into a broader discussion: what kind of bird might have owned each feather? Do big feathers always belong to large birds? Why are feathers sometimes so brightly coloured? What would your feathers look like if you were a bird?

When you’re ready to share the book, choose a time to read together when you can enjoy the experience and discuss it in a relaxed way. If possible, have extra copies so that children can look at the pictures in small groups afterwards, and prepare some questions that will help them form and express their reactions to the book.

Find out where birds live, what they look like, what they eat and how they behave. Look at birds from every continent before asking your class to choose their favourites.

Aim for a list of about 12 birds, making sure that they come from as many countries as possible. Mark each bird’s home country on a large map and create imaginary names and addresses for them. Set up a role-play Post Office in your classroom, including writing materials, envelopes, stamps and a postbox.

Display the birds’ names and addresses and ask children to write letters from one bird to another, or from themselves to the birds. The letters can be addressed and posted. If you create a mailbox for each bird somewhere in your school, they can even be delivered. If you have contacts in the birds’ home countries, ask them to send postcards to your class.

2 | Ink blot test

Explore a range of artistic media and encourage children to create their own spots, dots, drips and blots. As well as giving them the freedom to experiment, try setting limits on what can be produced and how, so that they are challenged and have to come up with solutions. For example, restrict the number of colours or ask children to use a specific combination of media.

There are lots of ways to celebrate spots, dots and blots. Make Jackson Pollock-style collaborative banners where everybody contributes drips of paint, or keep it small and contained, with Seurat-style dotty colouring-in.

Create painted backdrops and cut into them with a hole-punch or use circular objects to print spots and circles. Use fingers to spot-dot large-scale cut-outs and create hanging mobiles with the results. And if you’d like to create some blot-birds, start with randomly-generated ink or paint blots on paper and turn them into birds by adding pen-drawn beaks, tails and feet.

For inspiration and more ideas, look at Hervé Tullet’s work (such as The Big Book of Art and Press Here) or check online for videos of him at work. Try his Petit Bateau performance:

A spot of science
Use specialist artists’ materials such as watercolour, pastels and acrylic to create spots and drips, as well as more familiar media. How do they react when they’re mixed together? For example, what happens to an oil pastel spot when painted over by watercolours? Repeat the experiment using chalk pastel or water-soluble pencils to see the difference.

Work with your class to generate questions, such as ‘What happens to the size and shape of the blots if you tip the paint out higher up?’ and work out how to find an answer. This might involve tipping the same amount of paint from different heights and measuring the size of the blots.

Once you have your results, look at them to see if you’ve found an answer. To extend the learning, write reports about what you’ve done and what you’ve learned.

3 | In plume

The final illustration in Spots shows birds sporting some innovative looks, and our guinea-fowl tries lots of spots before deciding that the best are the ones you wear ‘with a smile on your beak’.

Collect exciting fabrics, hats and other accessories to make a ‘plumage box’ and invite children to put together outfits. Use photographs, drawings and note-making techniques to record their choices.

To take this further, use scraps of fabric and paper to make Icarus-style tie-on wings. My Dad’s a Bird Man by David Almond and Polly Dunbar is an engaging and emotionally deft illustrated novel for Year 2 and above that features bird-man costumes, as does Grahame Baker-Smith’s FArTHER.

Fowl play
For some party-game-style PE fun, make coloured cardboard spots and some corresponding counters.

  • Put the counters in a bag and arrange the spots on the floor.
  • While there’s music playing, children move around the space.
  • When the music stops everyone chooses a coloured spot.
  • Draw a counter from your bag.
  • Children occupying spots of that colour are ‘out’ – or, if you’d rather not have an unoccupied audience, they can receive points, and the game goes on.

If you’re playing for points, you’ll need a second bag containing numbered cards. At the end of each round, draw one to discover how many points will be awarded. Keep a running total to find the winner – and to give the game some maths fun, create cards that help children practise number skills such as counting in multiples of five or 10.

Birds of a feather
Helen Ward’s guinea fowl wants spots because everybody else has them. But is it a good idea to change yourself in order to fit in? Try ‘hot-seating’ the guinea-fowl to find out.

Call for a volunteer to be the unhappy bird while children ask questions about what happened in the story and how he felt about it.

Alternatively, draw a bird shape on a large sheet of paper. Ask children to tell you what the guinea-fowl was thinking and feeling during his plumage quest and write this inside the shape. Around the outside, record suggestions about the thoughts and feelings of the other birds towards their friend.

What kind of things should we consider changing about ourselves, and what can’t be changed? How can we help people feel comfortable about their differences and make sure nobody’s left out?

4 | Social circles

To distribute break-time fruit or treats, try making a Spotty Shop. Hide coloured counters and make a ‘conversion chart’ to show each colour’s value. Arrange your wares and make a price card for each item. Ask children to hunt for counters and spend them in your shop.

With a bit of thought, you can set prices that require children to do some number work before they buy. For example, an apple costing 25 points can be paid for by two red counters worth 10 points each and a blue counter worth five, but not by green counters worth two points, no matter how many are used.

You can also get hold of some extra-large cardboard boxes and use them to make Spots-style reading dens. Cut crawl-through entrances and decorate the exteriors to look like parcels. If you want to, cut ‘inspection hatches’ into each roof so that you can talk more easily to the occupants.

Provide books, torches and cushions for each den. For shadowy, spotty fun try Shark in the Dark and The Foggy, Foggy Forest by Nick Sharrat, My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes by Eve Sutton and Lynley Dodd, Press Here, The Game in the Dark and The Game of Light by Hervé Tullet.

Reading frenzy
Helen Ward has written and illustrated lots of different picture books. Try reading and discussing The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse and Wonderful Life, both of which she illustrated, alongside books which she wrote but didn’t illustrate, such as The Tin Forest and The Dragon Machine.

Encourage children to express their opinions. Do they look for familiar illustrations when they are choosing books, or are they interested in trying new things? How well do they think the illustrations in Helen Ward’s books match their different subjects and storylines? If they were creating a picture book, would they prefer to illustrate their own story or someone else’s?

Conversations like this will help your children to browse confidently and select their own books.

Exploring further…

Make sure everybody’s heard that the bird is the word with these flighty ideas…

  • Throw a spotty party by sending invitations via your Post Office. Dress up in your perfect plumage and play games like Musical Spots and Spotty Shopping.
  • Give your garden birds a treat, too, with snacks from a hanging feeder outside. Check the RSPB’s website (rspb.org.uk) for food that you can safely offer birds.
  • One of the parcels contains join-the-dots spots. Challenge your children to complete join-the-dots puzzles as accurately and quickly as possible, maybe even use pavement chalk in the playground to create some giant join-the-dots.

Carey Fluker Hunt is a freelance writer, children’s book ambassador and creative consultant.

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