iOi explores the outdoors at Curious Arts Festival

Emma Callow, Imagination Lab Manager, thinks about how getting outside can help families to bond

The festival season is in full swing and there are now plenty of UK festivals to choose from. Family festivals provide a great chance for everyone to spend time together as a family unit: discovering music, arts and crafts, street performers, nature walks, meditation, yoga, talks, story telling, spoken word, comedy and a good dose of the weird and wonderful. Festivals now offer much more than just music! In fact, Imagination Lab recently visited Curious Arts Festival, a family-friendly festival in the New Forest. We had a wonderful time working with over 200 children and parents over the course of a hot weekend in July.

Imagination Lab created a programme themed around ‘looking and exploring’. Mr. Looking took the children and families on a scavenger hunt to explore the outdoors and to find natural materials to use. The children and their families then returned to the Lab to examine what they had found using different methods. These included using digital microscopes to look closely at the objects, creating stop frame animation with the found items, making LED night creatures and using clay and natural materials to create a beautiful pixie and fairy installation.

The best part, we discovered, was that all the craft materials you needed were supplied by the environment around you. The wealth of natural materials allowed children and families to explore how they can combine them with digital technology, science and arts to create an informal and engaging learning environment in the outdoors. This setting offered families the opportunity to discuss unusual topics, create alternative worlds and to integrate what we know, feel and understand about the world and ourselves.

Watch stopframe animation ‘Shelly goes on holiday’

Learning at festivals

It’s easy to forget how fun, fascinating and effortless learning can be. Children are naturally curious and learning comes as a result of this. At the festival we saw a child fascinated to see a spider up close with the digital microscope. After this, he had the urge to look at his own skin and hair, the floor, a shell and whatever else he could find, through the digital microscope. He was there for over half an hour looking at different textures. Not only was he having fun, but he was learning at the same time. Einstein was right when he said ‘play is the highest form of research’.


Normally, playing freely happens naturally at a festival as you are away from your daily routine with no time pressures. Having time to free-flow play and discover things together can allow families to connect on a different level. Plato claimed that ‘you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation‘. It was great to see families bonding together over the two days.

Family time

One moment of family bonding involved the marble run workshop. They all joined the workshop and each had their own box, creating individuals runs. Suddenly, the youngest member of the family (around 5 years old) suggested they merge all the runs together. This created a lot of excitement amongst the family, including the eldest child who had been competing to have the longest run of all. Together, they built a longer marble run which they named ‘The Curious Run’. The process required them all to work as a team, negotiating with each other. The father said later that it was the definition of family quality time.


What parents said:

‘My children’s imaginations were completely captured. Never seen them so absorbed in something for so long.’

‘Easily the best things at the festival! We have two boys and they were kept entertained and interested. They loved the stop frame animation, creating marble runs and the chill out area.’

‘The activities have been brilliant. Well thought out, engaging and well, imaginative! Thank you for all your hard work.’

Our thanks go to Curious Arts Festival for allowing us to bring the Imagination Lab and to all the children and families who took part. We had a great time!

Check out what we got up to at Curious Arts Festival





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