Compliments and Challenges: To see ourselves in a new way

Papier mâché week is the main event of our Seen + Heard groups: an intense five-day experience of new skills, new possibilities and bringing children’s imagined ideal selves to life. It’s about more than making models: it’s about coming face-to-face with strengths and difficulties. 

On day one, the children are nervous. They have five days to turn newspaper and wire into a piece of art which represents themselves and their future dreams. It’s the new and ambitious nature of the project that makes the end result so powerful, inspiring pride and ownership of the work for children. They know they have to work hard, believe in themselves and their abilities, and make themselves vulnerable.  

While the whole week is a challenge we know the children are capable of doing this. As they complete the project, their old beliefs about not being good enough, or not being the kind of person who can create, are proven wrong again and again. It takes time and repetition to rewire the brain to support a positive and loving self-conception, so we make a point of challenging our children. 

We begin the day by giving each child a personalised compliments and challenges note. This always brings huge smiles. Eyes sparkle with the joy of being seen and of recognition. Later on, they’re encouraged to identify their own positive qualities: and with understanding and confidence, they often say they are “precise, empathetic, gentle, thoughtful and trustworthy”. 

The challenges are just as important as the compliments.  

We give each child a challenge unique to them. These encourage children to build on their existing strengths and allow us to help children focus on something new, which will help them feel happier and included. They accept their challenges with enthusiasm and often get straight to work. 

These compliments and challenges build up each child’s self-concept during the week, encouraging them to see themselves as full, rounded and known people. Compliments build the muscles to fuel the effort needed to grow, and mastery of challenges can be absorbed and grow into a conscious and valued aspect of a child, providing alternative ways of seeing themselves.  

Papier mâché is all about layering: adding structure through glue, water and imagination. As they create their models, the children also remake themselves, adding layers of confidence and strength. These kids eat challenges for breakfast (along with bacon, eggs, and lots of toast).

Gabrielle Podvoiskis
Seen & Heard Fife Project Worker

Papier Mache week images are from Realising Ambition (2012-2015)