Interview - Dr Jenny Hallam, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Derby

Dr Jenny Hallam Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Derby
Monday, October 28, 2019

A project with local theatre companies highlights the impact of performance on young children’s development and well-being

Dr Jenny Hallam
Dr Jenny Hallam

WHAT WAS THE THINKING BEHIND THE RESEARCH?

Participating in arts-based activities provides children with a much-needed opportunity for self-expression and a place where they are able to develop creativity and imagination.

It has also been reported that these activities are an important site for personal development as they give children the space to gain confidence and feelings of self-worth. However, in recent years primary school teachers have reported that pressure to focus on English and maths means that they are unable to provide a consistent and meaningful arts education.

At a time when screen time and mental health issues in children are on the rise, external agencies play a vital role in supporting children’s involvement with the arts and promoting well-being.

WHAT DID THE PROJECT INVOLVE?

We explored the ways in which young children responded to a live theatre performance by WinterWalker, with funding from the National Lottery and the Arts Council, at Derby Theatre.

The research centred on the experiences of children between three and six years who attended a performance of ‘Five’, which combines stay-and-play activities and live theatre, using music and dance to explore the senses. Children from a nursery in a socially deprived area of Derby attended for free.

WHAT WAS THE IMMEDIATE IMPACT OF THE PERFORMANCE?

Before and after the performance, children and carers had access to a play area which had a number of zones based on the different senses that the children could explore. These included a sandpit, colouring station, chalk board, dressing-up area, a board with percussion instruments and a sensory garden. Before the performance, most of the children played in the sandpit.

There was little interaction between the children and a lack of exploration of the space and the different areas, and the play seemed subdued.

During the performance the children sat for the full 45 minutes and were clearly engaged. After the performance the children returned to the play area. There was much more exploration, and activity moved to the percussion area as children enthusiastically made rhythmical sounds together.

There was also much more social interaction as carers became more involved in the play and children who did not know each other began to talk and play together. Elements of the performance were also incorporated into activities as two sisters used the dress-up box. There was also evidence of re-enactment as a boy used props to recreate what he had observed, and a girl mirrored the ‘smell’ aspect of the performance by taking the time to smell the flowers in the sensory garden. Many of the children reported that they enjoyed the performance and their first visit to the theatre had been positive.

WHAT ABOUT THE LONGER-TERM IMPACT?

Carers who had attended the performance with their children reported that the performance had made a lasting impact. Children used household items to recreate elements of the performance, and spontaneous dance and storytelling were woven into the play that was observed at home. This is something that will be explored further with the nursery staff in a future research project.

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