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Room 2's teacher, Sarah O'Neil has used head-shots of her kids to display the goat masks they made at the end of last term. She was preparing a similar display of their rooster puppets after Wednesday's session. The re-enforcing of the work we're doing together with her students is super strong...
 
 
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All the pots of bulbs we planted with each class in the introductory workshops sprouted over the holidays - at this rate they should be flowering just in time for the performances in a few weeks... Perfect!!
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Lucas crowing about his creation!
First day back after the holidays and I was wondering whether much of the familiarising of characters and concepts we'd been doing with the kids last term would have faded away... Turns out that they were rip roaring and ready to go as soon as we arrived with Rooster in tow, lighting up as soon as the CD of his theme song was playing and then happily getting into today's "make and do" activity to create a "marotte" (wooden spoon-based hand puppet) mini rooster of their own, which we got to manipulate a little at the end of the sessions. Very heartening - and again underlining the intrinsic value of the whole "embedding" process we've been exploring in this residency. The gradual build up and re-enforcement of characters, concepts and sensations over time seems integral to providing  just enough "safety" for these kids to more readily engage with what they encounter in the story. I'm realising it's not about entirely removing any new experiences and sensations for them (because surely that's a key part of what visiting artists and a show should be providing for them) it's just about lessening the more frightening or confusing elements of what they're being presented with - kind of like the subtle difference between giving them "the shock of the new" and the more enjoyable "surprise of the new". Rooster is a good example of this -with his bulging eyes, pointy beak and proffusion of tickly feathers and the way he bounces around, Rooster is potentially the most confronting of the puppets for a lot of the kids. But today, after singing his song together many times, making rooster noises together, helping us use his  tail feathers to tickle their teachers etc, he clearly became far less threatening. Going on to make mini-roosters of their own (handling feathers of their own choosing etc) and making their mini roosters interact with the big Rooster puppet cemented this.
Again, we were happy with the way we'd prepared the craft activity - hitting the right balance between readily acheivable steps (such as pre-placed double-sided sticky tape to squash materials onto the base) and plenty of choices of colours for feathers and beaks etc - providing them with plenty of ownership and variable degrees of independence or hand-over-hand assistance as needed.
Highlights today included: All four boys in Bluegum class being sooooo present and engaged and obviously PROUD of their puppet-making - Travis an exremely accomplished Cockadoodle-doer and Robbie a fine peck-peck-er!
Harry in Room 2 using the Aided Language Display about Rooster to tell his classmate Katie she is also "bossy"! Abbey trying very hard to indepently lift her hand to her head to make the rooster's comb action - which requires a big effort on her part and delighted her teacher, Sarah.
Normally "tactile defensive" Aidan from Room 5 happily surrounded by a "flock" of tickling roosters during the singing at the end of the session! Watching Jayden from the same class reach straight for the 2D book of the Jub Jub Tree and turn to the Rooster pages immediately after the session!!

    
 
 
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Was wondering how it would be after the holidays, whether the gap would mean we would have to go through the familiarisation process again. Today we were meeting Rooster, singing his song and then each student was to make their own rooster. Had a great session with Bluegum first up this morning. Only 4 students in - but they all had a ball making their very own rooster, singing the song and getting the little rooster to meet the big rooster...Franky's design was very clever, and the pre-preparation made the difference in making the end result achievable and very effective.The session with Sarah's class also went well. A couple of the students were having not so good days and they were quite vocal in their expression so it was important to focus on all the students that were engaged and happy with the activity. Sarah made the comment that Harrison has become progressively more comfortable and happy to meet the animal characters. Even though the tactile nature of the feathers was not so comfortable for him - he still seemed to enjoy making his own rooster. Kate was very proud of her rooster and gave us a big smile!!!!! We had a quick business meeting with Ros Hamling at lunchtime to catch up on where we were at and also talk about who we should invite to the final performances. One of the things we expressed to Ros is that we are surprised at how quickly the residency has gone and that actually we feel in following the format of breaking down the show and exploring each element through interactive make and do and drama - it hasn't left us any time to do any more experimental, open ended stuff. I think I thought when we first started the residency that there would be more of that. But actually everything has felt quite tightly timetabled and structured. Hmmmmmm. Makes me wonder if our final show will change very much or whether it will be the children's experience of the show that will change more.....The activity specific Aided Language Display (ALD) was most hopeful in all three classes today. This will be a very important part of our pre-show resource package - and I guess we will have to sort the intellectual property issue - as these have all been created by Anne Gray in the Library so far. Final class with Deanne's mob was fun. We finished the roosters in time to actually manipulate the marots while acting out Rooster's song. The children seemed to particularly enjoy their "Little" rooster meeting the big rooster. After the session finished Jayden went straight away to the 2D copy of the Jub Jub Tree Story. 

 
 
'We had a good time last week, reading the Jub Jub Tree storybook. I read the story very animatedly, and even the E.A's joined in! The children loved it, I had all their attention'
'Ive been really enjoying it! The kids love the hands on- the more interactive, the better they are involved. They love this type of thing.'
Deanne Jones

'It was good'
'Enjoyed the bells and dress up'
'It did work, all the kids interacted'

'They are still raving about yesterday (Sensory Walk) it really met all of our needs. Most people come in and tell us what to do, but you are catering to each individual child and its a real pleasure to do this.' Shona
 
 
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A jam-packed day of Goat IMMERSION today - drama/role play and "make & do" mask-making sessions all centered around the character of the Goat - continuing to explore ways of "embedding" elements of the show into the classroom environment. A whirlwind day of fur, curly wool, pipe-cleaners, pop-sticks and bleat bleat bleating!
Interesting to note what kinds of shifts were needed from Michelle and I as facilitators across the different groups - ranging from the pre-primary littlies in Banksia, to the combined lower-primary Room 2/ Bluegum group (who also taught us that, depending on adult/child ratio, 8 is probably up the top-end of numbers when it comes to leading hands-on art activities), through to the older more ambulant and verbal kids at Belmay. Good to see that, after our initial concerns that we had over-prepared the mask-making activity, our modification of the exercise to include much more choice for the kids seemed to work well and gave them a decent amount of ownership of their artworks. Also gratifying was that the steps we had worked out for the making process and the level  of input they required of the kids seemed to be pitched right and kept them engaged - (couldn't help wondering in my head about that old chestnut of just how much "hand-over-hand" assistance is too much... but judging by their responses to their finished pieces, the kids were definitely happy with what they'd come up with.) Using the individual mirrors for the kids to inspect their creations along the way (just like the old cliche of the painter periodically stepping back from the easel to appraise his work) kept the kids interested and, again judging by their responses, was very affirming - not to mention fun!
It seemed like such a natural progression into the drama/role play side of things - the Goat song on high rotation on the CD very much helping to link the activities - and  most of the kids were more than happy to extend their play into a bit more physicalizing and noise-making. Highlights for me included Dawn in her furry goat tunic dress-up having a good boogie to Goat's song and Harrison dancing together with Goat! Overall the children are much more comfortable with the puppets and the gang at Belmay greeted Goat like an old friend when he arrived at their classroom! Very gratifying to hear that some of the classes have been enjoying using the 2D books in storytime and listening to the CD of songs outside of our visits with them. So interesting to watch the layers of experiential understanding building upon each other...  I feel like today was a great balance of learning, play, imagination and FUN!
 
 
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So today when we arrived, Chris let us know that the AIR grant had made the school newsletter - with some great photos of the parent and child group from the sensory walk.
I felt much more relaxed today, having done both the drama and the make and do for goat yesterday with Rachel. Our first session in Banksia was an ambitious one - we were going to combine drama and make and do as we only had one session with them. Felt like Franky and I worked well together. Wonderful to have the enthusiasm of Maureen and Suzanne. We instinctively began using the mirrors from the beginning of the session and this seemed to really enhance the children's experiences. Alex, Jack, Samuel and Alex Ridge seemed to engage with both the drama and the making aspect.
Next session was the make and do session with Rm 2 and Bluegum. It was great just to be able to focus on the make and do. Even though there were only 2 kids from Bluegum present in the session - it still felt like a large group - 8 of them. Learning from the session with Banksia we also used the mirrors throughout the session. After we finished making our masks we invited the children to join us in a dance of the goat. Dawn, Harry and Katie were enthusiastic in joining us on the floor dancing. Other students danced from their seats. Again I felt like the pretending aspect was easier today after our session yesterday. It will be interesting to see what happens with Rooster and Donkey - whether this aspect of pretending will get easier.
Final session for the day at Belmay - again we combined drama with Make n Do. We had an hour and this seemed ample enough time for this group to complete both tasks. I was interested to see (with the exception of Lachlan) how easy it seemed for the Belmay group to pretend. My sense is that they love the stuff. This is also what we had observed with Tim's music class and the blood song.
Had a good chat with Melinda about the application of our residency learnings for other schools. We talked about what elements would be essential in a pre-show kit (songs, 2d book, bag book) and what other resources schools might like to choose ( drama incursions, make and do lesson plans). Melinda pointed out that schools often planned far in advance - so the previous year was the best time to try and plan a tour. On the other hand we agreed that the schools would really appreciate something made especially for PMLD kids. Not sure about the best way to investigate this.....

 
 
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Today Rachel and I facilitated a drama workshop with a combined Bluegum and Rm 2 group - seated on the floor in Bluegum. I was a little nervous. We had done the preparation and the plan. Bring in goat, meet the children, play his song, sing along, pass out goat coats and beards, pass out bells. Sing the song again. Sing the song again. Do a hand and foot warm up - try and get the children moving like goat....
Well it mostly worked...It was great to see some of the children really enjoying acting out being goat. Some children were enthusiastic in making the noises and knew all the words to goat's song. All children seemed to respond well to the music and being able to use the bells. It was challenging to work with such a big group. Just seeing all the children and staff seated in a semi-circle felt like we needed to summon performance energy. This was somewhat at odds with the discussion Rachel and I had in the car about needing to have the confidence to allow the children to be in control of their own experience.
Second session was drama with Mrs Jone's  class. It was great having a smaller group to work with.I was still nervous. I think some of the angst for me has been working out what to do when I can't rely on words to be the key to the imagining/somatisation. This is such a strong association for me when working with drama. "Imagine you are in a deep dark forest walking softly on cushiony moss..etc. etc."- Not that we can't work into that - but we need  to find a different way in. A light bulb went off - when Deanne talked about the importance of modelling. That we need to fully model what we are asking the children to do. I suppose when we are actually performing this is what we do - but still it was an insight that struck me more fully in the context of trying to facilitate a drama lesson. Later in the afternoon we facilitated a goat "make and do"session - where we made the goat masks that Francis had developed and prepped earlier. It was really cool to see the children enjoying making choices about the color of the wool and horns and playing with the box of wools and horns and forelock fur. It was also gratifying to revisit "being goat"- building on what we had done in the first session and using the masks that the children had made. I could really see the development from one session to another and how they built on each other. It made me really happy to see Lucas and Aiden and David moving around like goat with their masks held in front of them. Lucas in particular was enjoying wearing his mask and looking at himself in the mirror. We managed to get photos of all the children wearing their masks.

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After the dynamic and fun-filled experience of working as an artist team of 4 doing the bulb-planting session last week, I was a little apprehensive about what I could achieve working solo doing the same session with Deanne's kids in Room 5. The artist team had very much realised with the earlier workshop that music is an integral part of the experience that somehow unifies the elements we're working with for the kids - focusing them into the activity and framing things. What would happen for the kids, I wondered, without Bec's accompanying drum beats and musical interlude to "fill in the gaps"? Would I "lose" them while klutzing about to find the next prop and swap over from one puppet to another? Fortunately, I had Bec's newly recorded CD of the animals' signature songs to help me introduce each character - which really helped. Forced to improvise, I had to leave the puppets outside the classroom door in the hallway and ended up with an even more exciting "entrance" for each animal as the kids watched me running out into the hallway to look for Rooster only to have Rooster "pop out" around the corner and precede my own entrance as Deanne cued his song - Bang! Kooky excitement in the classroom! (and quickly establishing me as "second banana" to the animals whenever the puppets were animated throughout the session). Also a relief is the realisation that the "embedding" of the characters seems to be working - a number of the kids were genuinely happy to see the animals returning to their class - at the very least, their appearance seems to signify that something fun's about to happen.
In terms of my concerns (as it turns out, incorrect) about the "gaps" in the session that working solo necessitates, what I soon realised was that these provided welcome processing time for the kids in between the steps of the bulb-planting exercise - so that one child might still be thoughtfully rubbing dirt between their fingers for a couple of minutes while I was gathering the watering cans. (I had spent prep time making the actual flower-pot sensory - covering it with reflective sequins and long fake grass - how nice that the kids got to spend time actually exploring it  while I was busy fishing out the plant bulbs from my kit...). Since this realisation, I had the opportunity to read some thoughts from one of the principal artists from another fantastic UK sensory theatre company, Bamboozle, who specialise in creating sensory story experiences for PMLD kids. He was talking about  remembering to give kids time for "being" as opposed to always be "doing". As theatre makers/performers/entertainers there's often such an ingrained aversion to letting what we call "dead space" creep into a show but in this work it's almost the opposite - that is, in this context these gaps can actually be the breathing  spaces for the kids, which, as the name implies, brings what we're doing with them to life...