Jennie O’Neill and Jo McCluskey are the powerhouses behind SE Craft Studios, and their passion for the project is undeniable.
“We both spent time living abroad before moving back to the Southeast and feel passionate about all the things that make Waterford special – particularly the beaches,” explains Jennie.
It was this passion for all things coastal that drove their “By the Sea” project pitch for the 2023 Creative Waterford Open Call. The project proposed using recycled and foraged materials to celebrate the county’s coastal region through a series of craft workshops for primary school children in Waterford City.
The workshops took place in June 2023, with an impressive 278 children attending. At a glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking these workshops were simply about having fun – and indeed, a lot of fun was had – but scratch beyond the surface and you’ll see the depth of theory that went into the planning process.
Sustainability is not just a buzzword for SE Craft Studios; it’s a core value, embedded into every aspect of their work. All materials for workshops were either recycled or foraged – no small task, as Jo recalls painstakingly picking splinters off pieces of beach driftwood to ensure safety for little hands.
The workshop content contained an educational element, where children were introduced to the concept of “Take 3 for the Sea” – collecting three pieces of rubbish to recycle each time they visit a coastal region. This lesson was paired with a simple art task of creating a picture centred around a piece of rubbish; with many novel “rubbish monsters” arising alongside meaningful conversations about plastic and its prevalence on our shores.
Fine Motor Skill Development
The best ways to develop a child’s fine motor skills are so playful they don’t realise they’re developing new skills at all. This was certainly Jo and Jennie’s experience when they guided their workshop participants to make viking bracelets using dyed and recycled yarn – participants were so excited about choosing their colours and gifting their creations the neurodevelopmental benefits went unnoticed.
While we’re on the topic of skill development, the sensory element of working with foraged materials should not be underestimated. Children with various sensory profiles had the opportunity to gently move out of their comfort zones working with the different smells and textures the materials offered throughout the workshops.
Going forward, Jennie and Jo would like to expand into working with seaweed during the workshops – offering children a chance to explore the various textures of seaweed at different stages in the drying process.
Jennie and Jo insisted from the outset that their sessions must be at least 90 minutes long. While some adults might panic at the idea of asking small children to engage in an activity for this length of time, they were determined to give participants the chance to fully enter a “flow state” and experience crafting as a mindful activity.
This aspect of the workshops proved to be a huge success. While traditional “relaxation activities” such as meditation may be challenging for particularly active youngsters, a repetitive and rhythmic activity like weaving proved to be a real hit when it comes to developing those all-important self-regulation skills.
An important element of SE Craft Studio’s ethos is the preservation of traditional crafting techniques. Jennie and Jo taught the children heritage weaving and also collaborated with them to create a traditional pagan “wishing driftwood”. These ancient techniques captured the imagination of the children as they heard stories of ancient Waterford settlers and learnt to craft just as they did – while adding their own unique spin using favourite colours and drawings. Through a simple activity like crafting, a tradition and story is carried forward to a new generation, preventing it from dying out.
The workshops fostered opportunity for children to work both individually and in groups. While they warmed up by doing individual activities such as rubbish monsters and bracelet weaving, they also participated in a collaborative driftwood and weaving project (one of these collaborations is pictured in our fabulous featured photo by John Bermingham of All That Can Be). This fostered important groupwork skills transferable to all aspects of classroom work.
Much Done and Much to Do
“By the Sea” may be over for 2023, but SE Craft Studios are far from finished. Jennie and Jo are inspired by their experience of the workshops and eager to continue on their mission of spreading sustainability, heritage and developmental skills throughout the Southeast.
This year alone, they have been snapped up by festivals such as Cruinniu and Harvest, and are taking bookings for private and school workshops. If you would like to experience the SE Craft Studio magic firsthand, reach out to them on firstname.lastname@example.org.