by Sarah Rankin
Eco Drama’s Out to Play project with early years children ended at the beginning of December. Starting with Westercraigs and Barlanark and we have just finished in Crookston and Buchlyvie nurseries. I had the most wonderful time with each nursery and the project finished on a high with exciting workshops and productive CPD sessions. It has been an amazing creative process and I have learned so much from all the energetic children and inspiring staff members.
Three main elements I have focused on have been themes, structure and play.
During the planning time for this project I got to work with previous Eco Drama Artists Ben and Sophie. Ben continually emphasised the importance of nature connection and always having nature at the heart of your workshops. I reminded myself of this throughout the project and ensured every story, game and activity reinforced a love and appreciation of the environment. Sophie had the fantastic idea of planning workshops ‘from the ground up’, and so, the early years workshop themes were Earth, Water, Trees, Flight and Weather. In each session we explored our ideas about the theme through Drama, Storytelling and Play.
Once the nursery leaders had decided their theme for their workshops they found it easier to plan the session. Whether they were inspired by their outdoor space, the group’s ideas or a good story, the leaders were fantastic at bringing everything back to the natural world.
Designed specifically for early years children, the structure of Out to Play has been very important. Children responded well to the structure and repetition of the sessions. They quickly learned the routines of the workshops and would ask ‘Where is Hickety Tickety Bumble Bee?’ when they knew it was time for a name game. They would also mime putting on their imaginary explorer gear without being prompted.
I found that engaging them right at the start with something exciting works well to gain their attention. For example, in the last week we found Mother Nature had left us some rainbow dust. As we played with it, real rainbows appeared in the sky and we were invested in the magical adventure that followed. Once they are interested in their adventure they are keen to listen to a story and take part in games. We would then allow for a significant amount of play time and end on a thank you song. The thank you song worked well to give closure to the end of the workshop and also provided a moment of reflection to think about what we are grateful for in nature.
After focusing for so long the group then need time to explore and process things in their own way. This is where Play is absolutely essential to create an inclusive learning environment. Free Play, Role Play and Messy Play were our favourites to experience the theme of the workshops. 2, 3 and 4 year old’s learn so much about the world through play and trying things for themselves. They enjoyed playing alone and with each other, often forging friendships through play and bonding over their favourite animals.
Play time also provided the opportunity for a lot of accidental learning to take place. For example, lifting rocks to find bugs and finding icicles behind the shed. Nature is a natural learning tool and we must give children time to find all its wonders on their own. This includes giving them a chance to assess their own risk and explore their own boundaries. It has been great to see nursery leaders supporting children to learn in their own unique way and participate how they want. The staff have also shown great commitment and creativity during play time by getting involved, messy and silly.
Continuing Professional Development
A big part of the Out to Play project in Continuing Professional Development with staff. I have to say it’s especially fun with Nursery Leaders as they are so welcoming, creative and up for a laugh. After CPD with four nurseries, the most benificial ellements seemed to be nature connection, confidence and mapping the space.
During the CPD we spent time making up sensory activities that would ignite our sense of sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell. There were some great ideas including making perfume, blindfold adventures, and guessing games. We spoke about the importance of nature connection and how it increases positive health and well-being, instills a love of nature and how it can be a great learning tool. We found the exercises we created also supported communication and vocabulary as you would use a lot of describing words.
My personal aim for the CPD was to build confidence in every single staff member. Some nursery leaders voiced fears about storytelling and drama games. They said ‘What if I forget?’, ‘I’ll lose my place’, and ‘I’m not an actor’. However once we’d broken down what they wanted to do they often realised they are more than capable. Nursery leaders tell stories, pretend to be animals and play games on a daily basis. Their challenge was to transfer these skills to the outdoors and commit to a character or story for that time. Everyone did amazingly and the children absolutely loved it because it was their own nursery leader being extra magical and silly.
If you’re ever nervous about delivering a workshop take some time to practice it and walk through it in the space. Most importantly remember it’s OK if things don’t go to plan. If your story changes or the group want to stick to one activity and not move on that’s OK. As long as everyone’s having fun.
Mapping the space
Each nursery drew their outdoor space and mapped out all the opportunities they could see. They thought about what areas were most sheltered or open. And what each area could be through the eyes of a child. We used our wild imaginations to create fairy homes, troll bridges and pirate ships. The nurseries found this particularly useful and were excited to set up different scenarios for the children to explore.
My hope is that the nurseries I have had the pleasure of working with continue to embark on creative adventures outdoors with confidence. It has been such an interesting, fun and fulfilling journey and I feel very lucky to be part of Out to Play for early years. To everyone I have worked with on this project thank you, merry Christmas and enjoy all the adventures the new year brings.