Sara Marshall, Eco Drama Schools Officer explores its latest project Out to Play. Founded in 2007, Eco Drama engages, entertains & inspires people of all ages to value and care for our natural world through inventive theatre, music, storytelling and creative learning workshops. Eco Drama’s latest project ‘Out to Play’ was designed to explore the unique role of drama and storytelling within outdoor learning.
Over 14 weeks, drama artist Ben Mali Macfadyen worked with 4 Glasgow primary schools, running 150 outdoor sessions, and connecting with 283 pupils aged 5-12 years old. A gifted storyteller, theatre-maker and performer, Ben was integral in making Eco Drama’s vision spring to life in weekly creative voyages; physically accessed through the school grounds, but leading to the imagined landscapes of the natural world. Ben said:

“I love exploring diverse mediums such as puppetry, storytelling, mime, treasure hunts, masks, forum theatre, ritual, physical theatre and music. This is an amazing opportunity and I can’t wait to have many wonderful playground adventures with the children involved whilst also developing qualities of wonder, creativity, physicality and knowledge about the natural world and our place in it.”

Come rain or shine, the ‘Out to Play’ pupils and class teachers ventured outdoors every week, celebrating the diversity and beauty of our living planet under the encouraging eye and guidance of Ben.

“Much of the journeying through mythical landscapes was about bringing natural places back to life using the imagination, one example being in ‘The Meadow of Memories’, where they gently took imaginary insects, worms and spiders from my pockets to a new home. I’m hoping that we will
return to these environments in the coming weeks and see them continue to flourish.” (From Ben’s week 1 blog: To Neverland)

Their paths crossed water-worlds and treasure maps, story trees and animal tales, magic beans and living plants, mythical narrative and cherished songs. Fresh connections to the outdoors were grown and nurtured through imaginative play, drama and storytelling. Each week Ben would blog and re-tell his experiences, the games played and the stories told:

“I sat down the classes and read them the tale of ‘How the Camel Got its Hump’ from my great-grandfather’s tattered copy of ‘Just So Stories’ by Rudyard Kipling. In it are a wonderful collection of tales that explain the origin of animals with moral tales of transformation… After this I asked them how they thought their own favourite animals came to be the way they are, and this led to the creation of amazing performances of stories such as ‘How the Wolf Got its Howl’, ‘How the Chicken Got its Wobbly Bit’, ‘How the Baboon Got its Red Bum’, and the genius suggestion: ‘How the Pug Got its Squashed Face’.” (From Ben’s week 5 blog: Becoming Animal)

By using creative play and adventurous learning, the children built upon emotional connections to nature that are subtle yet resilient, perhaps even primal. The simplicity of touching a tree, the act of “becoming animal”, of planting seeds and patting soil, imagining whale sounds, singing tribal songs, recounting tales of wilderness near and far; these experiences helped to instill in them an affinity with nature. They awakened a curiosity about the world they inhabit and enabled them to spot it more readily upon their own doorsteps. A pupil from Balornock Primary said:

“I loved it because nature is what is inside me. Thank you for everything. It has been a delight. Nature is important because we are nature. If we didn’t have nature we wouldn’t be able to live.”

The pupils’ obvious enjoyment of their sessions with Ben, their awakened sense of wonder and delight for the world they live in is celebrated in their feedback, as growing confidence allowed them to express their own individual relationship with the environment. Another, from St Vincent’s Primary, said:

“It’s a fun positive way to explore nature and life. Thank you for teaching us. This program has made me aware of nature and more confident and happy.”

The ‘Out to Play’ residencies serve as an essential platform for teachers to experiment with and gain confidence in outdoor learning, whilst providing them with a holistic program of learning. This is achieved through collaboration, co-leading, post-residency CPD sessions and resource packs to be shared amongst fellow-teachers and local schools, leaving behind a creative learning legacy. Jilly Moffat, a teacher at Aultmore Park Primary, said:

“Ben has inspired me with lots of activities and stories – he has planted a seed and I look forward to implementing projects next season… I have loved being a part of ‘Out to Play’ and the children have absolutely loved it also!”

And Fiona Harris, a teacher at Balornock Primary, said:

“It made me realise that a lot of what I do inside I can take outside.”

It is Eco Drama’s confident hope that the impact of ‘Out to Play’ will echo in the minds of pupils and teachers for years to come; that it will even leave behind its own trail; a lifelong love for nature. Finally, here are a pupil’s wishes for nature:

“I wish nature will never end… I wish nature can have a good life… I wish people wouldn’t cut down trees and pollute rivers… I wish people could understand nature… I adore nature… I wish flowers could talk…”

For more information on ‘Out to Play’ and access to Ben’s blogs click here. Other Eco Drama productions and workshops
As well as running residencies like ‘Out to Play’, Eco Drama also tours theatrical productions and workshops to engage and inspire people of all ages to care

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for our amazing living planet. One of the most popular shows is ‘The Worm – An Underground Adventure’, an exciting musical tale for 3-7 year olds, guaranteed to make everyone giggle, wiggle and love the squirmy wonders beneath our feet. After the performance, the audience are invited to see some real worms in a specially designed wormery. Schools who book the show are given a Classroom Activity Pack & Wormery, with lots of useful pre- and post-show activities. All participants are encouraged to use their own wormery to produce compost and dispose responsibly of food waste. For more information, please click here. …………………….. This article was first published in NAEE’s journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 110). To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.

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