For 30 years Greenwich and Lewisham's Young Peoples Theatre (GYPT) has toured participatory theatre to schools in south-east London, and throughout that time teachers have told us that our work engages a range of young people in a way that no other form of learning can.
"Sandy and the Fox" is GYPT's first participatory theatre programme for the new foundation stage and as part of our research we were pleased to discover the new Curriculum Guidance (www.qca.org.ukcafoundation) with its references to play, role play, open-ended questions, exploration and fun. It is almost as if the document has been written as a gift for theatre in education.
We set about creating a programme of work that would engage young people actively in the learning process, which they would be able to relate to and in which they would already have some expertise. We settled on a story about a five-year-old girl and a fox. Nearly every child in south London has seen a fox, in the gardens, crossing the roads or in the parks, and of course they are all experts in the lives of children.
To enable three to five-year-olds to get the most from our visit we started by telling them a version of the story in their classroom and then took up to 15 children at a time to the hall to take part in our play. In the hall the children were seated around the set of Sandy's garden and, using dolls, a dolls' house, puppets and themselves the two actors presented our story.
Sandy is sent out into her garden to play, or rather get out from under her mother's feet, and she meets a fox cub who is scavenging for food. The meeting is brief; they are both scared, but for a moment it seem that they might be able to interact and have fun. When Sandy tries to tickle the fox with a broomstick it runs away, leaving her alone again in the garden, which is now a mess. When Mum sees the garden she does not believe Sandy when she says "it was the fox".
Now the watching children's role shifts, and they become essential to the action. Sandy asks: "Can you tell Mum what happened? She doesn't believe me." The children become engaged in tackling Mum's assumptions that Sandy is fibbing, explaining exactly what has happened. Mum now introduces another problem: "Sandy won't go to sleep." The children offer a range of choices: "Sing her a lullaby", "Read her a story", or even "Smack her" rich material for the actor to explore with them.
The children are enrolled as fox cubs, preparing to go out of their den for the first time, playing and exploring in Sandy's garden. When they return to their den they discover a scared cub and it is up to them to help her. The cub asks: "What it is like outside? I want to go out but I'm too scared." The children, using their new expertise, help, advise, cajole and beg her to come out and play. On most occasions the cub went out, but sometimes, on the children's advice, she stayed in the den.
Working with only 15 children at a time for 45 minutes, we touched on all six of the learning areas for the foundation stage. We will even claim mathematical development as the children developed spatial awareness and were involved in counting and sequencing activities.
The curriculum guidance offers the opportunity to focus on play and exploration as the central way that young children learn.
To contact GYPT, tel: 020 8854 13160020 8855 4911 Adam Annand is associate director of GYPT