Islamic Art and Design Taught School Workshops at the Ashmolean


When the 2013 Primary Curriculum was launched, I quickly decided that I had some new taught workshops to write to fit the new areas of the history curriculum. British Prehistory was one new area to tackle but I also wanted to launch new sessions using our rich collections on display in Gallery 31 – Islamic Middle East. This spacious and beautiful gallery had been rather underused by school groups. Another reason for wanting to use this gallery was to engage with our highly diverse city school communities.


While the National Curriculum was calling attention to Baghdad 900AD, it was clear that other museums, including The History of Science Museum in Oxford, were better placed to create workshops directly hitting the History curriculum. Therefore, I decided to proceed with a cross-curricula approach, focusing on a number of different subject areas. Over the period of a few months I developed and refined my ideas into an Islamic Art and Design session for Primary school children.


Now, in 2020, we have been delivering Islamic Art and Design sessions for several years and each year the number of bookings has grown as word passes around the local teaching community. We have a rich collection of material culture from the Islamic world (Fig 1) and use a range of activities from jigsaws, object handling, tessellation challenges, ‘I Spy’ and drawing games to allow children to connect with objects from the collection. For more information about this session click here


                                                                                                                           Fig.1 Mosque lamp in Gallery 31 Islamic Middle East


Teachers have reported that the workshops provide a valuable ‘cultural capital’ experience particularly for children who follow Islam. Seeing valued objects from their own cultural heritage on display in the galleries, children often express surprise and delight when they recognise a familiar object or detail; “We have one a bit like that at home!”, “This is in Arabic!” are often heard during gallery hunts or object handling.

To complement the Islamic Art and Design session, we also run ‘Take One Object’ sessions focussing on a set of 48 Tiles from Damascus (Fig 2). Using the tiles as a springboard for learning across the curriculum, primary school teachers and their classes can choose a line of enquiry and build a set of interlinking learning activities inspired by the tiles. For more detailed information on this process read the teacher notes here


                                                                                                                         Fig.2 Set of 48 tiles from a building in Damascus


We have been delighted to welcome whole school groups to the museum for Take One, cross-curricular projects. Teachers can come to us for a training session, if desired, and then bring classes. Teachers often say that the whole school approach promotes teamwork and allows far more sharing of planning across the school.

However, with the current corona virus lockdown, the museum is temporarily closed and we are looking for new ways to support teachers, parents and pupils in their home learning.

One recent addition to our online resources are online jigsaw puzzles. These puzzles are stand alone at present and suitable for all ages.  However, we will soon be piloting packages for home learning with additional resources alongside the jigsaws.

So far two of the jigsaws puzzles depict ceramics from our Islamic collection. Why not try out the puzzles yourself? Just click on the following links:

Ottoman dish with flower sprays c.1530

Astrological bowl, Iran, 1797 – 1834

To discover more about our collections online click here

Find gallery 31 and 33 and discover zoomable images and information about hundreds of objects on display and behind the scenes in the Ashmolean.


Clare Coleman, Learning Officer EYs to KS2, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

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