From Merrylee Primary to the Amazon Rain Forest…

by Sophie McCabe

What an exciting time we’ve had beginning our ‘Out to Play’ journey with the pupils at Merrylee Primary! We’ve had sun, rain, wind and everything in between and we’ve had some fantastic imagination and outdoor adventures already.

Merrylee has a hugely inspiring range of outdoor spaces, from the unique Urban Jungle to the outdoor classroom for rainy days (of which we have plenty) and the Trim Trail and Den building areas. Merrylee’s staff have proved to be passionate and committed to outdoor learning as a whole school initiative, which is a wonderful advantage for this project.

This term, I am working with all classes weekly, (except Primary 2 and 7, who will be taking part in the project next term).  As you may know ‘Out to Play’ will focus on using drama and storytelling outdoors to connect to nature and think about sustainability and eco themes. The class teachers then have the option to link into some of this in their lessons once they go back indoors, and many of the teachers have had brilliant ideas already to link to their particular eco topics.

In our first week of ‘Out to Play’ we began breaking the ice and getting used to outdoor drama by playing nature name games, where we could show an action and speak in front of the group to describe something we enjoy doing in nature.  I was pleased to hear almost all of the pupils at Merrylee could think of something they enjoyed doing outdoors or with nature – lots of people enjoyed playing tig, walking their dog and planting flowers and plants- a great start!

A selection of items were then revealed from my backpack with the children fairly quickly working out that they belonged to an explorer. Among them was an explorer’s map of our very own playground and all the sections that we will be exploring during ‘Out to Play.

There was also a letter addressed to the children, from the Awa Tribe, who are the most under threat tribe indigenous to the Amazon Rain Forest.

The children then took on the role of explorers, following the leader and journeying through their imaginations into the rain forest, taking a few snaps on their imaginary explorer cameras on the way.

Our “Explorers Map” of Merrylee Playground

 “Look there’s a sleeping Jaguar under the bridge, shhhh!” whispered some primary 1’s while creeping along the bridge.  It was amazing the amount of sights the children had created on their journey:  “I saw a panther and an Anaconda” , “This is a waterfall!” and “A savage animal camouflaged behind plants” and even “ I saw a unicorn that lives in Rainbow land”!

The children created a forest soundscape using their vocal skills, and listening with their eyes closed to the imaginary rain forest. We then described what we heard, including “water running”,“real animals”, “birds tweeting”. We then spoke about  how it made us feel, which varied from “relaxed” and “adventurous” to “scared because it sounded like there were real tigers!”.

In week two we received another letter from the Awa Tribe, who were curious to learn what Glasgow and Scotland were like in comparison to their home. “What is the weather like?” they asked, “ and what plants and creatures do you have”?

We had fun showing our reactions to the varying Scottish weather when we played “feelings circle” (Show how you feel when it’s SUNNY in Glasgow: everyone jumps and whoops with joy!).

Some groups embodied the forest life cycle using a freeze frame which ‘came alive’ for a few seconds from seeds, to creatures, to decomposers. This was a bit of a tricker exercise than I’d invisaged (especially for those of us sheltering from torrential rain!) but we got there in the end and I hope it helped children understand the part each role plays in the forests survival.

Amazon Rain Forest/ Scotland animal flashcards which helped us create mini scenes and learn who lives where

We also compared Amazon and Scotland-based creatures, with older groups practicing communicating using tone, pitch and gesture, by having conversations using only the word “banana” (as you do!). This then led to some fantastic mini scenes about family meal time, from aggressive foxes to Golden Eagles to wall-climbing poison dart frogs and Highland Cows. It was great to see whether the audience could guess which animal each group was supposed to be, and who was playing what role in their animal family.  One funny highlight was asking a group, “is this your foxes’ burrow?” to which they replied, “No, that’s the foxes dinner table.”, well of course it is, in drama.

We also tried a storytelling exercise using items from nature (pebbles, wooden egg, geodes, shells) and I was amazed by the stories created when we said “Once upon a time this was a ….” and passed the item around the circle. The items became magical items and suddenly had a whole different meaning.

“One upon a Time, this wasn’t a stone, it was a ………?”

We have so far explored many drama techniques including mime, freeze frame, soundscape, song, movement, improvisation, with older groups also devising short freeze-frame stories and mini scenes. We are also working on our confidence speaking in the group and using vocal skills, using song, rhythm and the popular Haka-style song “Smooth Avocado”. We also play energetic warm up games to work on confidence, team work and encourage expression.

One of my favourite quotes from a child was,

“When I go home I’m going to do more exploring!”

 I hope this project will continue to encourage an enjoyment of drama and imaginative role-play as a method of expressing our emotions, social skills and understanding world around us.

Finally, Classes have also been asked by Eco Drama to create a wonder box which many have decorated extremely creatively.  So far classes have filled their wonder box with drawings (of creatures they saw on their rain forest exploration), to handwritten letters to the Awa Tribe of the Amazon, some classes have even put items from outdoors into the box and some have written some describing words or some learning they had gained from ‘Out to Play’ that week.  Keep your eye on this blog for another update soon!

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2 thoughts on “From Merrylee Primary to the Amazon Rain Forest…

  1. I loved this write up – my kids are at Merrylee and enjoyed eco drama very much – but also because I designed the urban jungle and helped deliver the outdoor classroom. The Urban jungle was designed with kids who created it from ideas around local animals – foxes dens, birds nests, mouse holes etc so your eco drama was inspired by their original thinking (they are all at secondary school now).

  2. Wow- thankyou for your lovely feedback Felicity. It is nice to know some parents have had a chance to read my blog posts about the project. And thanks for your involvement in making the wonderful Urban Jungle! It is a unique space and working at the school I could see how many benefits there were for the pupils. It was also a magical and imaginative space for us to learn, play and create together.

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