The Anxiety Monster

From an arts engagement programme by Jayne Williams and Emma Green, a commissioned work for Fountaindale School, Inspire and County Youth Arts.
Five brilliant young minds explore what anxiety means for them.…


Have you seen my heads?

A lovely little animation about a three-headed monster who happens to have lost his heads. Created during a Sojo Animation workshop at Nottingham Lakeside Arts Centre, featuring the artwork, voices and stop-motion work of some very creative children aged 5-12 years old.

An animation created mostly by the children at Cantrell School Nottingham following a Sojo Animation Workshop

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Thanks to Lakeside Arts, last week I got the chance to work with some of the next generation of talented young animators, namely Year 5 at Cantrell Primary School in Bulwell.
Here is the wonderful result of our Sojo Animation Workshop.

Thank you for being so creative and hard working guys, and check out how BRILLIANTLY you did!

Team Sojo!

The Zone of Proximal Development


The concept of the zone of proximal development was originally developed by Vygotsky to argue against the use of academic, knowledge-based tests as a means to gauge students’ intelligence. He also created ZPD to further develop Jean Piaget‘s theory of children being lone learners.[5] Vygotsky spent a lot of time studying the impact of school instruction on children and noted that children grasp language concepts quite naturally, but that maths and writing don’t come naturally, that these are concepts taught in schools and tend to come along with some difficulty, while Piaget believed that there was a clear distinction between development and teaching. He said that development is a spontaneous process that is initiated and completed by the children, stemming from their own efforts. Piaget was a proponent of independent thinking and critical of the standard teacher-led instruction that is common practice in schools.[6]

Alternatively, Vygotsky saw natural, spontaneous development as important, but not all-important. He believed that children would not advance very far if they were left to discover everything on their own. He noted cultural experiences where children are greatly helped by knowledge and tools handed down from previous generations. Vygotsky noted that good teachers should present material that is too difficult and “pull the students along.”[6]

Vygotsky argued that, rather than examining what a student knows to determine intelligence, it is better to examine his or her ability to solve problems independently and his or her ability to solve problems with an adult’s help.[7] He proposed a question: “if two children perform the same on a test, are their levels of development the same?” He concluded that they were not.[8] However, Vygotsky’s untimely death interrupted his work on the zone of proximal development, and it remained mostly incomplete.[9]


Finding creativity through spontaneous play.


Amahrya’s mother had spotted some of my early ‘Thunk of the Day’ animations online and had commissioned a special Thunk as a keepsake.  Amahrya and her mum came round for a play session where the plan was for me and Amahrya to play and chat and doodle and chat some more until Amahrya says something brilliant for a ‘Thunk of the Day’ and that would be that.

It turns out that we got through the plan in a flash and I had all that I needed to create Amahrya’s very own ‘Thunk of the Day’, but Amahrya had expected a proper play, so we decided to put our pencils down and play with a few of the toys she had noticed in the room.  Might I note that at this stage I was no longer concerned with removing my influence from the direction of play.  As far as I was concerned I had captured all that I needed.  I’m not even sure why I decided to keep on recording the audio, but my goodness I’m pleased I did.  What happened was incredibly interesting for me in terms of my research.  

Amahrya and I began to play with a doll’s house, and the play developed into a kind of a game.  We would take it in turns to knock on the door or answer the door, using little models of people or dogs or soldiers or whatever we happened to pick up.  At some stage in the play, Amahrya knocked on the door and I responded in the same way my mother used to respond to my son when he was very little whenever he knocked on the bathroom door in the morning.  

She would say  “Who is it?”

and he would respond, “It’s me.”

and she would ask “Are you the Big Bad Wolf?”

and my son, would howl with laughter while desperately trying to persuade his grandma that wasn’t the Big Bad Wolf.

So here I am, spontaneously bringing my influences to the play, and Amahrya responds initially in the same way as my little boy had.  She was not the Big Bad Wolf.  Now, it has to be said, Amahrya is a little girl who knows what she wants and she is in no way afraid of taking the reigns when it comes to the direction of play.  She said something along the lines of “Now you be the big bad wolf and knock on the door.” and so I became the big bad wolf.  Now I have a habit of trying to take the fear out of everything where children are concerned, and when I was the Big Bad Wolf I felt a pull to be a nice, kind, gentle, vegetarian wolf and eventually Amahrya’s character allowed me into the doll’s house.  We then switched roles again but this time Amahrya really embraced the role of the Big Bad Wolf, and she ended this episode by tricking my character and eating it all up!  It was a brilliant moment!  I would never have moved the story in this direction, not in a million years!  I think I laughed until I cried.  

And so this was a meeting of both me and Amahrya, plus all of our influences and this is how it differs so greatly from a normal Thunk. 

The Gestalt Cycle of Experience 

While discussing my research with my mother, who happens to be a psychotherapist, who initially trained through the Gestalt approach, she mentioned something the voiced perfectly much of which I had been trying to say.  

I was talking specifically about how to run a successful creative workshop for children.  I know ‘successful’ is a tricky word to use hear because what I might see as successful, someone else might not.  To clarify, I feel a successful workshop is one where you allow a child to feel safe enough to float away from their inhibitions and to quieten the voice in their head with all the rules (within reason. Violent 6 year olds are never a good idea to have in a workshop)…just for a while.

I discussed other problems such as kids opting to copy each other rather than trusting their own creative instinct.

She told me to have a look at the Gestalt Cycle of Experience.  So I did.

This cycle of experience basically listed every block, every problem that occurred in my workshops. It added clarity to what I had been trying to voice. It organised my thoughts and helped me to start to think about reducing the blocks to contact during my workshops and therefore increasing both the happiness and creative output.

I have made an animation to explain all…