We have always valued drama at the nursery and regularly use a stage in the garden for spontaneous and planned performances. But it was a recent staff development day at the Globe theatre in London that made us brave enough to tackle Shakespeare, involving even our youngest children.
We chose The Tempest. Parents initially responded with a mixture of disbelief and amazement, but the staff's energy and sense of purpose were contagious. Our first step was to get staff and children feeling confident with the play. We then bought a range of children's books, including Bringing Shakespeare to Today's Children by Andrew Matthews, which proved invaluable.
Helped by Alice Pullin, our early years educator, children created their own illustrations, which doubled as a storyboard recreating the plot. We laid out their pictures across the stage and talked through the order, along the lines of: "This is my wizard; then comes Indy's picture of the storm and then Delphi's boat."
Breaking the story down like this allowed children's individual interpretations to surface and related the story to their own experiences. It was amazing how they grasped the theme and language. One child said "Listen to the sound of the stormy waves" as she made loud crashing noises with a drum, before moving around "the beach" pretending to look out to sea from the deserted island.
Next came costume designing and prop building. The nursery's hollow play blocks became the ship we sailed in. Sheets of materials and fairy wings gave us a wizard, butterfly and hummingbird - all brought to life by the magic of the storytelling.
I expected the biggest challenge to be keeping the pace of the story going within our mixed-age nursery, where one- to four-year-olds are integrated. However, my concerns were unfounded. It was wonderful to witness a four-year-old dressed as a hummingbird taking the hand of a two-year-old, while gently saying, "It's OK, Toby, the storm will stop soon. Look, you can wave like me, like a palm tree."
The children "travelled on a ship through a storm", became "shipwrecked on a desert island", followed a musician, were "captured by a witch" and searched for those they had lost.
Was this a correct interpretation of The Tempest? We think so. Our children engaged in rich literature, parents were amazed at what they achieved, and as practitioners we were so inspired that we have already started planning our next play, A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Claire Crowther is head of the Norland Nursery in Bath
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