Gerald Haigh finds much to cheer about in three new radio series for primary drama.
These three BBC radio series make up a complete drama course for the primary school, reaching into the lower secondary years. Each one is a rich resource, not just for drama itself but also for English and personal and social education.
The emphasis throughout is on children responding to stories. So, for example, in The Owl and the Pussycat, which is the first programme of 10 in the series Let's Make a Story, for five to sevens, the familiar story is told and acted by a wise old owl and a particularly languid-sounding cat:
"We're going to sail away for a year and a day, which is a very long time".
All through, though, the assumption is that teacher will stop the tape so that children can join in various activities - rowing the boat, exploring the island, looking through the telescope.
There are also activities in the series for older age groups, together with increasing emphasis on feelings and emotions. First Steps in Drama, for seven to nines, starts with a two-part exploration of E Nesbit's Five Children and It, itself a story with a moral, about the unforeseen effects of wishes easily granted. Another two programmes (in a series of 10) dramatise and invite responses to a story about the effect on a fishing community of building a hotel complex in St Lucia in the Caribbean.
In Drama Workshop - 10 programmes again - the themes are powerful ones for children. For example, there is the closure of a village school (in two programmes, Old School and New School) and a three-part drama called The Worst Pet Shop in the World, about illicit trade in rare animals. All the time, children are invited to share feelings and responses. In the story about the move to a new school, the narrator says, "When you're not sure what to do in a new situation, you can always copy someone who does know," and goes on to invite the children to take part in a paired activity in which one mirrors the actions of the other.
Very importantly - given the current priorities in primary schools - there are lots of literacy hour links in all three series. Some are given explicitly and supported in the teacher's booklet; less obvious ones will easily be teased out by teachers. Given the never-ending search for stimulating and inexpensive literacy hour resources, this factor alone should justify either recording these programmes or buying the tapes. A good teacher will find real value for money here. However, those schools choosing off-air recording should really get the teacher booklets, for they are packed with classroom ideas.