Wednesday Workshop: Collaborating with Kids – Report

Posted on: Thursday 03 July 2014 10:14am by Hayley Pepler

So here was a session that promised the unusual. Four hours not just talking about kids, but actually talking to them. Yes, real, live children, speaking directly back at us, generating ideas, writing stories, and giving us an invaluable glimpse into the world through their eyes. 


  • Children will be brutally honest. They don’t worry about the politics of what is being said – you get an immediate sense of whether or not what you are doing is of interest.
  • Children know more, and can express and articulate their experience better than you think they can. And they look at things differently. Yes I know you probably knew that: but it was still a comment being made in the room.
  • Children are rigorous: they can spot flaws in stories and ideas quickly, and relish questioning and sharing what they see.
  • Working with children encourages adults to sit back, allowing the content to remain at the centre, and not the politics of who owns it to dictate development.
  • Children will engage with creating content, give their time and opinions freely, and enjoy being creative when you give them control to direct things themselves. So embrace it in your research, don’t avoid it.
  • One delegate commented that she would now actively seek opportunities to get into schools to work creatively with children, as a route to developing her work, having seen the benefit in this session.
  • Finally when designing superheroes: “Everyone needs a monkey sidekick.” You heard it first here, people, directly from one student in Year 5.

Session Details

Across ten workshops, delegates and children joined experienced education and arts practitioners as we took part take part in creative interventions, from building superheroes, designing badges, and debating the value of money, to dissecting a yet-to-be-published short novel and creating a story adventure from scratch.

If you were ever in any doubt as to the value of collaborating with children to explore and test ideas, then this session was out to prove you wrong.

The workshops themselves had been programmed with a lot of thought:

Lucy Neale from DigitalMe invited groups to originate digital badges that could be obtained for any skill that the children identified they had or were developing and shared online. The children had some pretty impressive presentation and communication skills when they shared their work with adults. Sadly I don’t think my drawing skills are quite up to the standards required to get the ‘SuperDooperDesigner’ badge developed by the first group of Year 5’s, though I could be on for my ‘Fundamental Blogger’ pretty soon.

The Pineapple Lounge are a research company that asked children to articulate their dreams and worries as a launch pad into developing and designing superheroes. Dreams included the predictable ‘I want to be famous’ and the not so predictable ‘I want to be respected’. It wasn’t long before the superpowers were flowing however, enabling the illustrator from Pineapple to breathe life into their ideas. Their suggestions made for some colourful pictures, including one more unusual piece in which the design on display nearly included ‘Supermoobs’ rather than the ‘Superboots’ asked for. To be fair, it was a noisy room.

Author Jeff Norton had made available for the children an early draft of his short novel ‘Grounded at Groom Lake’ prior to the session. The children clearly loved the work almost as much as they loved the opportunity to ask questions of the author. Jeff was able to get immediate feedback on everything from the characters and the setting in his work, although when he showed the children a mocked up version of the potential book cover, he was met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the bright colours and characters on the page. If you will ask for honesty, you can completely rely on a ten year old to give it to you straight.

Playwright Clare Duffy from Unlimited Theatre has spent the last six months developing a theatre piece called ‘Playdough’ that questions the values of money in today’s society. In her workshop, she played a variety of games with the children and delegates that encouraged us to think as much as it encouraged us to play and compete. This became a noisy, lively interchange, full of excitement and laughs, in which children and participants did everything from show off their backflips to blow up balloons until they pop in return for golden notes.

The duo from Coney, who specialize in creating adventures in learning, encouraged children and delegates to build a narrative and lesson interventions using stimuli drawn from elements of story structure. The first group developed a story in which a unicorn inhabited the body of a young girl and a supporting cast of characters had to help her decipher a code in order to become a unicorn once more. Adults taking part then had to pull that idea together into a plan for a literacy lesson. Again, the children were brutal in their feedback and insightful: quickly pointing out flaws and questioning elements of the lessons they thought might not work.

All delegates reflected this had been an invaluable opportunity to get closer to the audience, and seeing how experienced practitioners engage with children was very inspiring and a ‘real eye-opener’ for many delegates.

And we also were reminded that Moobs are still never a good look: even if they are Super ones.

For full details of the participants, check out the session guide here.

Introduced by:
Olivia Dickinson, Producer
Jon Spooner, Creative Director, Unlimited Theatre

Tom Bowtell, Co-Director, Coney
Toby Peach, Actor, Coney
Tassos Stevens, Co-Director, Coney

Clare Duffy, Playwright and Theatre Director, Unlimited Theatre

Jeff Norton, Writer/Producer, Awesome

Laura Pamment, Research Manager, The Pineapple Lounge
Sophie Stephens, Freelance Illustrator, The Pineapple Lounge
Emma Worrollo, Managing Director, The Pineapple Lounge

Tim Riches, CEO, DigitalMe

Olivia Dickinson, Freelance Producer
Executive Producer: Jon Spooner, Creative Director, Unlimited Theatre.

Sponsored by: Cake Entertainment

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Hayley Pepler

About the author

Hayley Pepler

Chatterbox Creations, Writer and Director

I’m usually occupied, either being a mum, writing, producing, singing or telling or listening to stories. I’m the Assistant Producer of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s live broadcasts to cinemas. Two weeks ago we broadcast Henry IV Part II to 380 cinemas across the world from Stratford Upon Avon. I also… Read more