A Flock of Words

15 August 2012 · 2 comments

in Art & Music Outdoors, Literacy Outdoors

Back in May I blogged about Bird Friendly Schools. Whilst lots of matters were discussed, literacy and birds were not covered. So this post fills a wee gap here.

For a while I had been wanting to visit Morecambe to look at The Tern Project which is an arts-based regeneration project based upon the bird life around the area.  A Flock of Words, created by Gordon Young, Russ Coleman and Why Not Associates in 2003, is a 300m typographic pavement of jokes, quotes, nursery rhymes, song lyrics, proverbs and sayings. It’s a wonderful mishmash celebration of birds and people created from concrete, granite, brass, bronze and steel.

If your school is within in a day visit of Morecambe or there is a planned residential to North West England, then this is an ideal free day out. It works particularly well on a wet day as the water highlights the stonework and text even better. Combine it with a visit to Leighton Moss or another nearby RSPB reserve and this would be a lot of fun.

For the rest of us, do not despair. The work provides many ideas to explore and develop in our own school grounds or nearby space.

Firstly, it does not matter whether you begin in the middle or either end of the walk. Part of the joy of this artwork is that you have to read it in all directions. So you see people with their heads twisted and walking in strange ways as they absorb the words and meanings.

I began “in the beginning” by reading relevant bird quotes from the Bible. I think we can forget that religious texts provide some great food for thought…

The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, recognises the contribution of birds to finding a safe haven for the other animals…

It’s marked by the dove carrying the olive branch, which remains a symbol of peace. Have a look at how The Coombes School celebrate the value of journeys, both spiritual and geographical annually in this blog post.

There really is something for everyone here. In Edward Lear’s famous poem, The Owl and the Pussy Cat, look at the pattern in the text. It is a good way of getting children to focus in and read. Often with poems and quotes, the text needs read several times with a moment to stop and ponder.

I wonder how many people have stood in this person’s footprints whilst reading the proverb. It was a very small set of footprints, child-size in fact…

The benches that lined the walkway were all quite plain and similar. Each one had a different collective noun for a bird. So as well as a bazaar of guillemots, there was a murmuration of starlings and various others. I don’t remember seeing an unkindness of ravens though!

Bird jokes littered the ground in attractive layouts…

And sayings were given special attention… “as bald as a coot” is a good example…

The poem in the photo below isn’t very clear. But as you follow the arrows from one piece of slate to the next, you can read out the nursery rhyme “Two Little Dicky Birds“…

When I first saw the rhyme below I just thought it was some arty decoration that I didn’t really get. It was my son who pointed out the words… “There was an old owl who lived in an oak

The layout of the texts were all very different. “Who killed Cock Robin” was a beautiful series of granite discs well-proportioned and complementing the other works nearby nicely.

What strikes me about all this work, is the creative use of known texts. Very often children recognise words and logos outside. Having nursery rhymes and songs etched into a pathway is unusual and I would love to see a young child look at some of the work and see the light dawning on his or her face.

The other thought which springs to mind, is how can we apply this approach to our own school grounds and outdoor space. We don’t need a big art project, but thinking about the interplay between language, people and place interests me. I think it’s got untapped potential in all sorts of ways. I’m also fascinated by the choice of fonts, stone and other materials too. It isn’t something that I have given much thought to, until now. Hmm… ideas set in in stone…

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