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dance & Art

Drama – improves children’s writing

By | dance & Art, Education | No Comments

Drama can improve the quality of children’s writing and their motivation to write, research from Leeds Beckett University shows.
Working with Leeds Beckett’s Carnegie School of Education and the Alive and Kicking Theatre Company, Key Stage 2 (KS2) teachers in a Bradford primary school were trained in using drama to make writing more meaningful for children.

Alive and Kicking, working with children The Leeds Beckett researchers, led by Dr Tom Dobson and Lisa Stephenson, found that, after two terms, the children became highly motivated to write and developed a personal investment in the process of writing and in their final written pieces. Their writing was also found to be highly sophisticated and to meet the technical requirement of the national curriculum testing.

Dr Dobson, Principal Lecturer with expertise in creative writing, explained: “We observed taught lessons as well as the children’s writing and their reflections on the processes involved. Our findings show that the children’s motivation to write and the quality of their writing is improved by their involvement in drama. The main reason behind this is that drama provides children with an embodied experience of character, setting and story which the children can draw upon in their writing – when children write about their embodied experience, the act of writing becomes a problem-solving activity where the children think about how to translate their embodied experiences into text.

“We observed one class literally run to fetch their writing journals in a drama lesson and the children often spoke about how their writing had ‘real meaning’ for them. Surely these are the kinds of writers our schools should be nurturing.”

The research was funded by the United Kingdom Literary Association (UKLA).

The teachers were trained to use drama and to adopt the identity of a writer when teaching writing to their classes. At a time when government testing of spelling, punctuation and grammar can lead to less creativity in the teaching of writing, this research provides compelling alternative approaches for schools and their teachers to engage children and give them a strong investment in their writing, whilst also being able to satisfy curriculum demands and statutory testing.

John Mee, Associate Director at Alive and Kicking Theatre Company, said: “In all our work at Alive and Kicking we attempt to build dramas that create a problem to be solved and serve to introduce creative thinking, adoption of role, skill sets in art, music, design, story making and storytelling.

“To be able to work with every child and every member of staff across KS2 in our partner schools was terrific. Here we are now with a developed relationship with the lead teacher and an opportunity to take this work on into other schools as we work across the north of England.At Alive and Kicking we have always been intent upon reflecting on the strategies, techniques and forms that we use to create relationships and to build characters, narrative and dramatic tension. Here we have a moment to look at our work through the eyes of the children, the teachers and the researchers in detail and within a theoretical framework that we do not always have time for.

“Our learning from this work will be incorporated directly into our new planning and we will engage the teachers we work with in seeking opportunities to write within and beyond the drama, to build writing links that reflect and steer us into the next action in our stories. The work outlined in this paper should be a clarion call to teachers and teacher trainers to consider the launch pad that drama can offer in terms of context and purpose for writing.”

Let’s dance…

By | dance & Art, Education | No Comments
by Rianna Parchment
Kicks Dance

It will come as no surprise to you that as a dance teacher, I believe the benefits of dance for children are endless! With news headlines regularly expressing concern about childhood obesity, both parents and schools are on the lookout for children’s activities that promote and develop a healthy lifestyle. With many activities to choose from, what is it that makes dance classes so beneficial for children?

The physical benefits of dance lessons are obvious (and plentiful!). The physical act of moving your body causes your heart to beat faster and pump blood around your body, which helps to increase your cardiovascular fitness. In children’s dance classes, the repetition of exercises and routines helps to improve stamina and muscle memory. Regular dance lessons can help to strengthen muscles and improve balance whilst working towards developing flexibility and mobility. These are especially important for little bodies to help them become stronger, and to develop a good posture, alongside their co-ordination and motor skills.
The best part is that children enjoy dancing to music they love, so they are often reaping all these physical benefits without even realising.

Just as important as the physical benefits, the social aspects of a dance class also make it an important activity for children. Children learn to work with others who may not be in their class or may even go to a different school. Aside from the obvious benefit of making new friends, they learn how to communicate with other children, and how to share ideas with children who may not agree with them, whilst being kind to each other. They get the opportunity to regularly perform in front of their peers and get feedback and praise that contributes to a development in their self-esteem. Dance classes encourage children to learn how to follow instructions and use their problem-solving skills to approach tasks that they may find difficult.

If I had to choose, my favourite benefit of dance for children is it’s positive impact on a child’s mental health. In lots of dance classes, children come into the class without their parent. For some children, this alone is a big step, which makes them feel a little bit exposed and anxious. Even for some more confident children, the thought of performing in front of their peers induces some level of anxiety. As a dance teacher, I find there is nothing more rewarding than gently encouraging a child outside of their ‘comfort zone’ and inspiring them to share their ideas or try something new. During a dance class, you are able to see children grow in confidence and realise that they are capable of doing something that had previously scared them – be that volunteering an idea to the rest of the class, asking a child they don’t know to be their partner or even just coming in to the studio without their parent. Things that may seem like small achievements, such as coming into class alone or showing the rest of the class a favourite dance move, can be instrumental in developing a shy child’s self-esteem and make a difference to their confidence.

Dance classes provide the perfect opportunity for children to take part in a physical activity, which helps them to keep fit, but also to have fun and feel good – developing their social skills, creativity, confidence and self-esteem!

Kicks Dance is a fun, friendly dance business providing dance classes, workshops, parties and PE Support
for children aged 18 months – 11 years. Kicks has recently opened a sparkly new franchise in Reigate and Redhill!
www.kicksdance.co.uk

The joys of panto

By | Christmas, dance & Art, Winter | No Comments
by Mark Phillips
Ropetackle Arts Centre
Images by Richie Mountain

Pantomime is a curious British institution. Each year as we head into Christmas, theatres up and down the country start planning their festive finales; a magical mix of comedy, music, drama and spectacle, all aimed at bringing families together and sparking imaginations.

The funny thing about panto, or should I say one of the many funny things, is that it’s neither originally British, nor anything to do with Christmas. In fact, British panto emerged from Italy, and specifically the Commedia dell’arte – an ancient theatre show of improvised comedy. Commedia dell’arte featured a range of stock characters which today we recognise as the dame, the villain, the hero, the fairy and so on. As for being a Christmas tradition, well, that remains something of a mystery. While pantos have always been performed during holiday seasons, one theory suggests the Italian form merged with an ancient English folk play traditionally performed around Christmas time, and featuring several stock characters similar to those in Commedia dell’arte.

So, that’s enough history, how do pantos remain such an enduring feature of our festive calendars? Well, there are many reasons. Panto nowadays is very much a family affair, particularly geared towards entertaining children but always amusing the adults (innuendo, anyone?) Pantos draw from a wide pool of fairy tales from all over the world. English stories such as Dick Whittington and Jack and the Beanstalk stand alongside European tales like Cinderella and Puss in Boots. One of the most popular pantos, Aladdin, is an ancient folk tale from the Middle East! Add to this modern twists on classic novels such as Treasure Island and Peter Pan, and you’ve no shortage of enchanting adventures to choose from.

The magic of panto is not just in the story, it’s in the whole experience. Pantos are a chance for families to share quality time together. With increasingly busy lifestyles and the demands of work, time together as a family is a precious thing, and panto is a chance to treasure it. Pantos make the imagined real. For around two hours, families can escape from reality and immerse themselves in a fantastical world of fun, magic, excitement and togetherness. The traditional battle of good versus evil underscores every panto. And even though we all know who wins, there is nothing quite so uplifting as seeing these morals reaffirmed. But not so fast, there’s tension, there’s anticipation, there’s always what if… So the shared sense of happiness that eventually fills the auditorium is palpable, and for children – the triumph of good over evil is a powerful message of hope and inspiration.

Of course, nothing is quite what it seems in panto, and this is perhaps its most joyful quality – the chance to join in! Panto wouldn’t be panto without audience participation. With the fourth wall well and truly dismantled, the unexpected is laid out before you. Unlike other shows, you can shape the turn of events (well, kind of). Will the dame look behind herself? Will the hero know where to turn? Will the villain ever get the message (booooo)!? Boys and girls, it’s over to you. There’s nothing quite like the passion of children, energised by a gripping story and moved to cheer, jeer, laugh, sing and, in some instances, give frank advice (don’t you just love them). Participation like this makes the magic of panto just that bit more real.

So that’s why after all these years, panto is still going strong. It’s little wonder that celebrities (cough) line up to play leading roles, but more than this, many panto companies now feature local children in their productions. Companies that support this give children vital opportunities to benefit from the developmental and creative fulfilment of theatre and arts participation. Look out for local auditions and drama groups and get your children involved now. Drama improves children’s well-being in many ways, and panto is the perfect platform for aspiring performers. But remember, being in the audience is just as much fun as being on stage at panto, so whatever your inclination, panto has it covered.

And there you have it. The joys of panto. That curious, British-but-kind-of-Italian, Christmas-but-let-me-come-back-to-you-on-that, magical, interactive theatrical fairy tale extravaganza. Full of love, happiness, courage, fear, comedy, farce, triumph and festivity. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it. But if you’re still debating whether it’s worth visiting the panto this year, listen up. Boys and girls, you know what to do, altogether now… “Oh yes it is!”

Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham offers a year-round programme of family events including its Christmas panto – discover what’s on
www.ropetacklecentre.co.uk

 

Discover how to be a better parent and not feel guilty

By | dance & Art, Education, family, fun for children, Mental health, Relationships | No Comments
Top tips from Justine van de Weg,
The Arts College Worthing

As parents it is very easy to feel that we are not doing it right and we are often asked the same questions; How do I become a better parent? What am I doing wrong? I just want my child to be happy, why can’t I understand them? How do I deal with their outbursts, anger and anxiety? Why are they OK at school all day and then difficult at home? How do I say ‘no’ to my child without feeling guilty?

Here are five top tips to help you keep the balance of parenting (without feeling guilty).

1. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can
It is very easy for us as parents to compare ourselves to others and feel that we are in some way failing. The world bombards us 24/7 via social media with unrealistic images. This can make you feel that you should be able to achieve more. Life is often very hectic and many of us are faced with work and home life balance battles every day.

Ask yourself these questions:
• Do I feel guilty and upset after an argument?
• Do I sometimes feel out of control?
• Do I feel like a broken record; constantly repeating the same instruction?
• Do I feel burnt out and tired?
• Do I feel whatever I try is just not working?

All these questions that you ask yourself reveal the following:
• You care – that is why you often worry
• You are prepared to learn new parenting skills when you don’t feel judged or criticised
• You will naturally look at other parents and compare yourself forgetting they are doing the same with you!

Remember, when you compare yourself to other parents you are only witnessing them with their children on their good day. If you really think about it, you have some good days and some bad days but when you are tired the bad days can feel overwhelming and out
of control.

2. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries
What is a boundary? Factually saying aloud what you do not like somebody to say or do to you without becoming personal. Many parents become confused with the word boundary as they assume they are destructively disciplining. You can set the boundary with a calm approach, whilst being open to listening to your child without taking it personally.

Boundaries are healthy actions that allow you to:
• Say what you do or don’t like
• Explain how an action or situation makes you feel
• Want to resolve, instead of win an argument.

Boundary setting can become unclear when you ask your child to do something and threaten them with a consequence but do not follow it through. This is where the repeating of the instruction can feel like listening to a broken record.

Examples; “Can you please wash the dishes.” “This is the second time I’ve asked you to wash the dishes.” “By the time I ask you for the third time to wash the dishes, there will be a consequence of
not watching the movie with
us tonight.”

How many of you stick to the third request and follow through with the clear consequence?

When you are tired you feel yourself giving in and once again the feeling of being ‘a broken record’ arises. Simple, clear boundary setting helps your child understand what you expect from them and what you want them to do.

3. When you ask, give in return
If you want your child to work with you, help with chores and to work together as a team, show them their effort pays off. We all love to feel appreciated and if they are rewarded with a thank you or praise it will make for a happier household (this reward does not always have to be financial, you will mostly find your child just wants to do an activity with you).

4. Giving the special one hour
Every day switch off your phone and enjoy fully engaging without any interruptions and doing activities led by your child. It sounds obvious but how many times do you reach for the phone whilst your child is talking to you or wants your attention?

5. Have a clear routine or schedule
A routine schedule clearly defines to your child when they are spending time with you. Having a monthly calendar on the wall helps them to understand when you ask them to do chores, they will feel they are being rewarded and appreciated by spending quality time with you. If you have more than one child, they can see when it is their turn to do something special with Mum
or Dad.

In conclusion, start being kind to yourself and realise when you are tired, you can ask for help (this is not a sign of weakness) and don’t be afraid to delegate. Trying to do it all by yourself is something that you will never be able to achieve!

Justine van de Weg is the Founder of The Arts College in Worthing.
Art Psychology is a new area of study – a tool for parents to learn how their children’s brain grows as well as develops emotionally and socially in their home.
Call 01903 529 633
www.justine86.wixsite.com/kidsartclasses

What is so good about being part of a drama group?

By | dance & Art, Education, family, fun for children | No Comments
by Sally Orr
Co director at Drama Queens and longtime drama group facilitator

 

For the young children who run into our studio every week with smiles on their faces, there is an excitement about being part of a group; maybe with friends from school, or perhaps, with their new friends from the new group. There is the promise of learning something new and fun, or taking part in an invigorating or relaxing activity.

Since we established our theatre sessions, workshops and performances many years ago, we have consistently found that the younger and older children forge new friendships outside school. This is important in helping them establish their own identity at all stages of development from an early age up to the sometimes turbulent teenage years.

This is where the drama comes in – social skills are a part of our everyday lives and as we know, we start developing them at a very early age. By using the techniques that are available to us in the creative arts, we are able to lay the foundations that help build the confidence to use these skills. Friendships formed in groups outside school can create a world for children to escape to if there are troubles within school friendships groups, or can simply act as an extra layer to existing friendship groups.

Together with this, working within a creative framework can be a freeing and relaxing time for a child of any age, whether they are six or 16. We know that where confidence and low self-esteem are an issue, acting out, role-playing and using imagination can dramatically (please excuse the pun!) increase these in abundance, especially when encouraged in a nurturing environment.

Self-expression can be difficult, but all children and young adults deserve a way to express themselves; be it the child who likes to make shapes with their body to tell a story through the medium of dance, the teenager that likes to act out scenarios through improvisation and character, a person that can sing the phone book or someone that can use a pen and paper to draw their imagination. Every individual student should be able to find a medium that is best suited to them and be given the opportunity to have a creative outlet to express themselves.

The first thing I always notice and often hear said about why teenagers enjoy drama groups is the social aspect of them. Often the older children come along and really gel as a group; it’s a space away from their normal friends and school, homework, a place where they can come and enjoy drama and enjoy the sociability of a different group. It’s a place where new friends can be made and bonds formed, especially important if they are finding it difficult to make friends at school. The start of secondary school can be a particularly tough time, especially if friendship groups formed in primary school have broken up, as children go to different schools. Three of our drama groups are made up of young people who all love acting and drama and who used to go to the same schools. This is a place for them to meet weekly, and the friendships then can extend beyond school and college.

Confidence is tricky. There is no magical way to ‘become ‘ more confident overnight. However, it is well-known that being part of a drama class can help a child become more confident, if taken in consistent sessions. These might take the form of being part of an ensemble or group working on acting skills or perhaps working towards a small or larger part in a play with the support of the rest of the group. Two scenarios stand out for me from my experience as a group leader – I especially enjoy speaking to parents who say, “My child was so shy, they couldn’t speak to anyone, now they are more confident, now they can stand up in front of class at school and speak in front of everyone else.” Equally, a teenager struggling to be ‘heard’ in other areas of their life might develop the confidence to speak up, to go to an interview or to be more assertive with friends. There is also no doubt that many young people find that performing in front of friends and family, or complete strangers, is an exciting, often exhilarating opportunity to show a different side of themselves.

Exploring children’s ideas and concerns through the arts allows children a voice for debate and question in a controlled environment. They won’t just make assumptions, they will find the courage to ask questions and to express what they really want to say. They can start this journey by using the techniques that the performing and creative arts provide. Children from tots to teens realise that they can begin to reach for goals they may not have thought possible and this will spill over into every area of life.

By allowing children the freedom of speech and confidence to share their thoughts, ideas and opinions in a safe environment at a young age, a happy healthy teen will evolve and in time become a confident young adult.

Sally and Debbie have been running Drama Queens in Brighton for 14 years and offer groups for those from 5 to 18 years old.
Please see www.dramaqueens.biz for futher details.

Five benefits of arts and crafts

By | dance & Art, Education, fun for children, Relationships | No Comments
by Charlotte Baldwin
Operations Manager at IQ Cards

The majority of the time, parents and children do arts and crafts activities together as a fun way of passing the time and producing mementos of the younger years for parents to hold onto in later life. However, much more can be taken in both the short and long-term from regular art sessions, and during this highly developmental period of a child’s life, skills and tendencies can be established that are useful later on.
Parental relationships By taking time to work on enjoyable projects together, parents build upon and strengthen their relationships with their children. Children have fun and take pride in sharing their creations with their near and dear ones, whose opinions they naturally value the most. Meanwhile, parents find watching their children work an insightful experience, offering them a look into their child’s interests, emotions and development.

Confidence
Experimenting with arts and crafts during the early years of a child’s life helps to build confidence. During these developmental years, there are few skills a child can pick up that are open to interpretation, as there is usually a right and wrong way to do them. Art allows a freedom not found in many other subjects that children can explore, which helps them to expand their minds and the ideas they come up with. The lack of boundaries in art is a very positive influence.

Social interaction
The importance of socialisation, especially prior to starting school, is highly underestimated, which can lead to separation anxieties and other troubles when meeting and getting to know new people. Instilling confidence in a child to be away from parents and to interact with others is vital, and can be gradually implemented in group art sessions. There are many such classes run regularly in community centres, which allow children and parents alike to meet new people. This could be especially helpful if your child has no siblings or friends nearby.

Creativity
The prospective merits of creativity are often undervalued and dismissed as fun but ultimately useless in a real-world context. This couldn’t be further from the truth: it is an easily transferrable skill that can be put to good use both in and out of the workplace. All sorts of career choices, from engineering and technology to business management and teaching require creative tendencies that regular art sessions in early years can help to establish. By introducing your child to the joys of arts and crafts, you not only allow them endless fun, but also help them build a
wider skill set that will be useful in adulthood.

Motor skills
In adulthood, it is easy to take for granted the ease with which we do basic things with our bodies, and in particular our hands. Art and crafts can play a vital role in helping to develop these fundamental motor skills at a faster rate, allowing children to progress onto more commonly used skills at a quicker rate and with greater ease. By getting children experimenting with activities like cutting with scissors, beading and stickering, they become more comfortable with using their hands in different ways, and are more confident in moving on to using cutlery, fastening buttons and other such integral skills.

IQ Cards are a fundraising company that provide schools and establishments with the necessary tools to fundraise via selling high-quality and unique gifts designed by pupils. They are a Parentkind Approved Supplier.
For more information please visit www.iqcards.co.uk/