In the week of his birthday, Purple Patch visited three groups of children in two special schools in West Yorkshire to introduce them to the joys of Shakespeare, including learning some key facts about him.
This was the first in a series of visits as part of Purple Patch’s Creative Curriculum project. The six sessions will focus on the curriculum areas of English, Maths and Science. This week’s focus was, of course, English.
As soon as the team from Purple Patch, Fran and Vicky, came into the room, the young people knew that something was up! As Vicky and Fran struggled in, carrying two bags of bricks (plastic but very realistic!) and a bag full of mystery, the children were intrigued.
As tables were pushed aside an unusual quiet fell in the class – anticipation was building.
Vicky asked the group: “Have you heard of William Shakespeare?” Chloe* thought he might have “worked in a goldmine”
Using a short piece from Shakespeare’s A Midsommer Night’s Dream, Vicky and Fran took the children on a sensory journey, as Elizabethan music played (the One Direction of their day). Vicky passed round a picture of the great man himself while Fran encouraged the children to try on a ruff, just like the one that Shakespeare was wearing in the picture. Jon felt ‘important’, Sumaira didn’t want to put the ruff on but was happy to stroke it gently.
The children were encouraged to play with Shakespearean language – shouts of “all hail”, were accompanied by a cupping of the ear. James suggested an elaborate bow to accompany the greeting “How now, Sir?”
Leaves were passed round and then thrown in the air to represent ‘the bush’ in the extract from the play, ‘a flood’ was recreated in a bowl of water passed round carefully among the children who gently splashed themselves and Vicky and Fran.
Karen had her arms folded tight at the start of the session, refusing to touch the ruff or the leaves that Fran gently placed on her lap. But when no one was looking she quickly picked up the leaves and just as quickly set them down again. Karen refused to touch the floodwater, until the bowl was passed away from her and she immediately called for it to come back and splashed her hands in the warm water.
Eyes closed and suddenly there was a fire! Not a real fire but crinkling sheet of foil – as the children’s confidence grew so did the noise of the fire as they shook the foil with vigour.
Fran and Vicky told us they’d been up early that morning collecting the dew, which they gently sprayed on the children’s hands and above their heads. And they’d picked and dried cowslips so the children could smell them and then taste cowslip tea, dropped from a pipette onto the backs of their hands.
Using call and response, the children learned the names of some Shakespeare’s well-known plays.
At the end of the session, their teacher asked the class: “Is it better when you get all that or when there are just words?” and the children replied “all that!”
As Purple Patch packed up, the teacher said: “did you see, Jon? Jon is never like that! He was listening and he took part, that never happens”
So Happy Birthday Shakespeare! I’m sure you’d be delighted to know that 400 years since you were born, young people in West Yorkshire are still enjoying your work.
* all names of the children have been changed.