All the more reason for going Out to Play

In the summer of 2020 the clouds parted for a brief moment to allow for Eco Drama to work with two primary schools for Out to Play CPD. In a time of uncertainty, due to Covid-19, we came together (safely of course) with staff from St Anne’s and St Albert’s Primary schools in Glasgow. We discussed the importance of health and wellbeing and how being outdoors, engaging in Storytelling and Drama, would be fundamental in supporting children’s transition back into school. Research showed that the spread of Covid-19 reduced when outdoors and this added to the already long list of benefits of Outdoor Learning. I left each school feeling inspired and invigorated for what was to come.

Alas, it was not plain sailing. Teachers had been working very hard on preparing for a blended teaching approach with bubbles and reduced class sizes. However, the cases of Covid reduced and so the schools would return with full class sizes. Very good news in general but an added stress and workload for already hard working staff. Embarking on my 5 week Out to Play residency at St Anne’s I was nervous to learn new policies and procedures and engage with children in a new way. For years my practice has been very free and friendly. How would I retain my approachability if no one was able to physically approach? Well, luckily, all woes washed away the second I entered St Anne’s on my first day. I was instantly welcomed by compassionate staff and a safe environment. It is no mean feat to create a welcoming atmosphere during a global pandemic but somehow St Anne’s achieved it. It was now my duty to meet their level of comfort and learning in my Out to Play workshops.

I gained a great deal of learning from my five week residency in St Anne’s Primary. Here are my top four reflections based on this experience of delivering creative workshops outdoors in the face of Covid-19:

1. All the world’s a stage

Going outdoors can inspire possibilities you would never have imagined. Use the space you have to your advantage and use its potential. In Out to Play workshops we create a Storytelling circle in a cosy space. The children then choose a space of their own to develop their own stories and share them with the rest of the class. Using this outdoors space, as opposed to indoors, allows children to be more free with their creativity. They can be louder as their voices won’t carry. They can move more as they have more space. And hopefully we can all relax a bit more as there is a proven reduced risk of spreading Covid. As you can see in the picture above, children create whole tales about a single tree or hole in the ground. Go outside and see where your imagination takes you.

2. Express yourself

Drama and storytelling are great ways to process, reflect and express. We are all going through an unprecedented time and each child will be processing their thoughts and feelings in different ways, with some often coping with other traumas in their lives at the same time. Stories are a great way to approach subjects such as adversity, kindness, friendship, trust and verbalising feelings. Considering characters’ journeys can encourage empathy and improve emotional literacy (as well as literal literacy). Acting out their own stories can help build confidence, wellbeing and team work skills.

3. The gift of nature objects

Early in my planning for this residency I made the decision not to use props. A scary prospect for a storyteller. However dramatic tools such as mime, setting the scene and encouraging imagination mean that a workshop can be just as exciting with no touchable bells and whistles. Usually I would bring art materials for the children to create settings, characters and props for their stories. Instead you can encourage your group to use found natural objects. As you can see from the pictures above we made nature mandalas, an autumnal colour spectrum and nature characters. When borrowing from nature like this it is important to teach children how to look after it. Don’t disturb living creatures. Don’t pick living plants and trees. And always put things back where you found them so bird can make his nest and caterpillar can have her dinner.

4. Open and honest communication

We can’t hide all children from the news of Covid right now. Therefore, we must have open and honest conversations about it and try to answer any questions they may have. Like in most situations having clear rules and boundaries can help create a sense a safety. Normally I wouldn’t think twice about holding a child’s hand or sitting with them while they show me a ladybird. Unfortunately at the moment I have to reduce this close contact. To explain this to each class in a nice way, I would explain that I have to keep my distance but I have a big loud voice so you should all still hear me. I also said ‘sometimes I may have to step away from you. It’s not because I smell (Or maybe I do, ew!) but because it’s one of the things adults have to do at the moment to keep everyone safe.’ Practice a way that’s comfortable for you to explain your rules in your workshop. It will make you and everyone else feel that bit more comforted.

Thank you very much to St Anne’s Primary staff and pupils. It was a privilege to be able to work with you and learn from your creative teaching approaches. I will endeavour to continue working with people in the same compassionate and understanding way that you all do on a daily basis. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with you all exploring the concrete lands of the Giant’s Causeway, Hades’ Underworld, Awongalema’s jungles and sailing the Selkie’s Seas, not to mention the amazing stories and worlds you all created during teacher week. Long may your exciting outdoor adventures continue!

By Sarah Rankin, November 2020