Today all sessions took place in the assembly area where the forest is taking form! Our new structure lends itself beautifully to creating the boundaries of our magical forest and seems to be a welcome addition to the space by the students and staff.  Throughout the day, other students and EA’s came simply to be in the space, to pass through it, have an explore and a feel...lovely to see!  (Must be the "Please Play on the Grass" sign!)

The sessions consisted of letting the children on arrival have a good explore of the space, taking their shoes and socks off and rolling on the grass.  In most instances it seemed that the children felt very happy to be in the space, they felt secure, yet stimulated.  It was delightful to see a couple of students who lately have been unsettled and upset, transform in the space and become very contented and joyous!  We welcomed the students to the forest with a forest song about all the sounds they might hear, and then introduced the instruments one by one that replicate those sounds- water, crickets, birds, rain, and a touch of magic with the chimes.  The children were given the opportunity to play them as they felt.  It was awesome to be able to give all the children as long as they needed to play and explore, and the combination of being in the forest space and playing the guitar softly created a very contained space in which most children stayed very present. 

I decided to investigate working with the loop pedal, and see how the kids would respond to being recorded and hearing themselves or sounds they had created. One by one each child played one of the instruments which was recorded on the pedal, until there was a complete forest soundscape complete with all sound effects and additional ones created by the kids.  The response to the exercise was overall very positive, though there were varying degrees to which the children understood when it was their turn, that they were being recorded, and that they were hearing the sounds they had created.  Those that did understand seemed thrilled!  David especially, from Room 5 demonstrated strong feelings of accomplishment and joy, clapping whenever he heard his sounds.  We will be able to use these recorded soundscapes in the show so when the children watch they may recognize their sounds, giving them a greater sense of involvement and connection to the performance.  A slight technical blip in the last session meant we had to abandon making a recording for Bluegum’s class, but that didn’t seem to bother any of them, who were much more keen to get into playing with water! We used tubs and watering cans to let them all feel the ‘Rain” as I played the rain song, they would have all climbed in the tub if they could have fit! 

Feedback from some staff who passed by during the sessions was the ambience in the forest was so pleasant, they felt very enticed to come and join in, just to lay down and listen to all the sounds.  All I all, a beautiful day in the forest!

Mental note:  I would like to make better use of the wonderful aided language displays that are beautifully made up for us,  i have not yet been confident with how to use them so they get quite underused which is a shame, because i feel they hold much communicative and educative potential in the sessions we have run.

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Wow what a pleasure to be in the forest with all the magical sounds of birds, crickets, cicadas, rain, bugs, leaf rustling and water. So beautiful to be on the lush green grass and watch the tinselly vines catch the light as they moved. So great to be supported by the musical accompaniment of Bec. So delicious to feel the stream on our fingers and toes... By the way - the children seemed to think so too!!!!!
Katie from Room 2 seemed the happiest I had seen her in the last week or so.

Was also good chatting with Vicky Caulfield from Curtin University about the project and beginning the process of trying to distill our reflections of the past weeks and how it will translate to our revised performance. Although it was a little bit hard moving from that more intellectual space back to the students.

donkeys drum the creeping song
Today a double whammy with the Belmay satellite class. First off catching up on Donkey. The students spent time chatting with Donkey puppet, stroking his furry mane/tail, patting his nose and generally interacting with him. We sang the Donkey's song together "Hee Haw Hee Haw I have met Gracie before" and  "Hee Haw Hee Haw - I have met Dakota before" etc. Then the class made their own ears and tail before acting out Donkey's stealing the leaves in the night scene. "Creepity Creepity Creep - Look Left Look Right Creepity Creepity Creep Look Left Look Right." Mrs Travers commented that she thought our activities were really well designed as she could see that participation and inclusion would be possible for everyone. This made us really happy as Mrs Travers is a very experienced staff member. I was particularly impressed at the level of comitment the students showed to their pretending. Highlight was watching Dakota pretending to be Donkey on all fours and eating the lolly leaf. (brilliant thinking Bec) Feels like Belmay has taken to this drama thing like ducks to water. Hope they get to do more of it......
After a snack break we went into the forest. The staff and artists working together to create a forest soundscape while the students lay on the floor eyes closed. Some students were really transported (eg: Dakota) while others found it more challenging to keep their eyes closed. Students then made some spectacular leaves together which will have pride of place in the upper canopy of our Jub Jub forest. To recap we all put our Donkey ears back on and grabbed instruments moving like Donkey and enjoying the percussion while we sang his song. Felt really uplifted by the session - but then that has been my consistent experience of Belmay.
Rm 2 this afternoon - and our first Forest Make and Do session. We weren't sure after Belmay (where we had to combine the make n do and music session) whether to also use the soundscape as an introduction to the Leaf make n do.....Just spoke with Sarah O'Neill (Rm 2 Teacher) following our session - she suggested that showing pictures and bringing in examples of real leaves could be a good way to start the session (next time)!!!!!!!!!Don't know why we hadn't thought of that - but hey - it's a two way learning process...What I did think worked really well was bringing naughty Donkey in to eat the leaves that the students had made. I guess this is an example of the embedding process growing spontaneously, and what I have realised is that it's good to keep extending this where possible. Looking forward to Forest Music sessions with Bec on Thursday.

What a wonderful day, back in school seeing and playing with the Carson St kids again and working with Francis!
We really had a lot of fun, students and teachers really engaged and laughed alot! Working in Alicia's Bluegum class first, it was rewardin g to see how the Donkey music, percussion instrument, and the puppet itself calmed Dawn and then she was completely happy playing with the fur fabrics and materials. Noah and Robbie really articulated about their choice of colours in fun fur and pipe cleaners to make donkey ears and tails.
In Room 2 with Sarah & Annas classes, Donkey repeated saying hello to each child and we used the special aided language display for Donkey which Anne had once again usefully prepared. This is a great addition and provideds so much more communication at their level, I also am feeling really more confident using the childrens books.especially for making choices about which colours, or talking about the animals. Harry wanted to get up and dance almost immediately, with the percussion sound and Samuel really liked wearing and making his ears. They all looked in the mirror to see the results.
With Deannes class in the afternoon, the group enjoyed wearing what theyd made, swinging their tails, wearing donkey ears and saying 'EE HAW!'
Had time with Francis to give some thought to production planning, as show time isnt faraway! After school picked up the new turf flooring and tent structure, which will make the Jub Jub Tree performan. be an even more immersive experience for the Jub Jub Tree.

A most fruitful and fulfilling day of being donkeys. Working with Bec and her fantastic live music (guitar & djembe drum) we had 3 different sessions across four classes - using the Donkey costumes we’d made with the kids yesterday - exploring some movement and drama based on the character of Donkey in the Jub Jub Tree show.  Some pre-planning discussion with teachers confirmed that, especially with the younger classes, crawling around on all fours was a movement exercise that would be achievable while also stretching their capabilities. Warming the kids up with singing Donkey’s song as Donkey puppet greeted each of them worked particularly well once we changed the usual lyrics of “Hee Haw, I haven’t met you before” for each child to re-establish earlier meetings with them – eg:“Hee Haw, I have met Katie before!!etc”. We then modelled yesterday’s lovely fluffy donkey ears and droopy donkey tails (eliciting a fresh bout of giggles from some) before inviting the kids to don the costumes they’d made. Then the kids were asked (physically modelling again) whether Donkey moves by standing up tall, slithering along the floor like a snake, or crawling along on all fours… It was great to see how enthusiastically so many of the kids crawled around the classroom, doin’ the donkey do (“Hee Haw, I crawl along the floor.” etc)  - not to mention how much they enjoyed seeing the artists, teachers and Ed assistants, crawling around with our own bums in the air! Reminding the kids about greedy Donkey stealing and eating the Jub Jub leaves in the story, (referring back to the 2d book where appropriate), we then used the drum “Donkey Creeping” rhythm refrain from the show, and practised creeping… Bec had the inspired idea of bringing along “Jub Jub  leaf” lollies today, so we placed them on a fake turf ‘platter’ at the base of each class’s Jub Jub pot plant  - much to the delight of many of the kids – and they got to creep up to the lolly leaf and have a good gobble and munch (“Hee Haw, I just want to eat some more!” etc). Today’s session was a good example of how effective sensory experiences allow multiple access points for engagement to suit different kids’ needs & interests – some kids loved dressing up, some loved moving, some were motivated by the taste reward of the lolly(!), and some really got into drumming along with Bec and/or enjoying the rhythmic vibrations up close.

In terms of planning and delivery… all in all, a “Goldilocks” day: not too much, not too little, JUST RIGHT!”

[ps - *note to self: When addressing a staff meeting directly after a workshop remember to detach your donkey tail (so as not to appear “silly”)! ]

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Thursday's drama session with Franki was full of wonderful surprises..... My first time at the school in a month, and was so pleased to see the children could remember me, and felt at ease in my presence.  Not only that, but they all showed clear signs of familiarity with with donkey, and his music, most showing delight at donkey's presence. We invited the students to role play being donkey through wearing their self made costume pieces and crawling on all fours....which for some not physically as able was a big deal....Particularily with the classes of Room 2 and Banksia.  What may seem an easy task needed quite a bit of preparation, with arm and leg braces and supports neeeding to be put on.... thankfully good communication with the teachers, Sarah and Anna,  prior to the session meant everyone was prepared at the moment the task was suggested, and a cacophony of velcro straps broke out as each EA attached the appropriate supports. The activity to crawl was considered a positive task reinforcing development of movement, motorskills, and left/right brain engagement.   We used leaf like jubes as an incentive for the students to creep like Donkey to eat a leaf from the Jub Jub tree. Some were tentative to taste the leaf, though a few students didn't need too much encouragement!  
The highlight for me was using the drum to engage the students towards the end of the session... In room 2 Harry's eyes lit up when he saw the drum, and was able to walk to me unassisted to play it.  We played the drum together and he displayed excelent listening and sence of rhythm.  His playing developed rapidly from one hand beating, to two hands simultaneously, to alternate left right beating.  Quite an evolution!!  Well done Harry!  And he looked extremely happy. I understand room 2 are now using the drum as an incentive for Harry to walk unaided.
I Deanne's and Alicia's class, all students had a play, each demonstrating excellent listening , and enthusiasm to play in time.  Feeling and expressing rhythm is something so instinctive, i love seeing how it engages students to be in the present moment, and gives them a sense of free expression and empowerment.  good on ya drum!

Illness and scheduling hiccups from the artist team meant that today I ended up running 3 consecutive workshops by myself (mixed ages from 4yr olds through to 11 yr olds) – which would ordinarily be fine, but today re-enforced for me that for future reference we’re probably best off not flying solo when doing this kind of work. That is, even with dedicated and committed school staff on hand, the need to be responsive to each individual child’s mode of communication and not rush things means having another artist to bounce off and keep an organic “flow” happening when leading group activities like craft and drama-based experiences is pretty important.

This realization is firming up my resolve when responding to queries as to whether we need as many artists in the team or indeed for the actual sensory theatre performance (currently 4 of us). Because of costs, mainstream theatre for young people understandably tries to work with casts of 3 maximum and certainly, I’ve lead most of my mainstream school workshops in the past as the sole visiting artist – but the fact is, if we want these PMLD kids to be active participants in the learning/creative experience rather than merely passive recipients then it’s always going to be more effective with at least 2 artist facilitators in addition to the usual teachers & education assistants…

That said – some great moments today – the littlies in Banskia were super switched on this morning and veeerrry happy with their rooster-making. The older Bellmay kids are so conversant with the story now that they were worried that Goat & Donkey (who weren’t present for their Rooster making and puppet animating session) might be lonely back home in their forest!! Finished off the day with some lower-key floor-based time with Room 2 who enjoyed animating their rooster puppets for a re-visit of the 2D book of the story – pecking away at their class’s real Jub Jub potted plant (which continues to grow!).  Tomorrow? Well, another day, another Donkey…

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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...
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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