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So Said The Mute

Updated: Apr 2

Notes from a Drama Practitioner

I have been a drama practitioner, working in schools, nurseries, libraries and youth theatres for over 25 years.

Not a week goes by without me coming home, and spouting forth a tale of wonder, intrigue or hilarity, from the primary school hall.

I have long known that drama is a very powerful thing. I have eventually decided that I need to share some of these anecdotes, to embolden others to teach through drama, to compare notes and to ask why a child may react to their experience in such ways. ('About time!' calls my long suffering husband!)

In each weekly blog, I will share an observation from one of my lessons. Every child and school will remain anonymous. In my work as Education Associate and Mud Pie Arts freelance drama practitioner, I work with a primary class for an hour, a morning or a whole day. Most of the time, I do not know the class, and they do not know me. I have learnt to read the room very quickly , to try to understand behaviour and adapt the session to their needs.

Many drama teachers report exceptional reactions by a selective mute child to an imaginary situation. Here is one of my experiences:

I was asked to deliver a session on friendship to a EYFS class (4-5 year olds), as they started school in September 2021. They were beginning school as we emerged from the pandemic. This cohort had been denied the usual socialising opportunities, until this time.

Mud Pie Arts devised a story of The Unhappy Princess who had never played with other children. The village children were scared of her pet dragon and kept away. Now 5 years old, the Princess wants a birthday party. The servants of the palace are very busy. The lonely Princess is nervous and she seeks the servants' advice on how to make friends with a stranger. When the big day arrives, the village children are also nervous and quite excited to step into the palace for the first time. Each child has made a present for The Unhappy Princess.

I went in and out of role as the Princess, and the class played the servants, then the local children. The atmosphere was highly charged, as each child, one by one, presented the Princess with their special gift.

'I have made you a wooden train,' piped up a shy child.

The villagers went on to dance, play and befriend the Princess, with great kindness.

Only after the lesson, did the teacher tell me that the train child was a selective mute. It was the first time they had spoken in school.

The role-play had somehow given this child the reason to speak. Did they speak as themselves or as a different character? I don't know. Later over a cuppa, the teacher and I excitedly pondered whether Story may be the key to helping this silent child find their voice.

Have you ever had a similar experience? I'd love to hear it!

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