Development through Drama
01st July 2013
by Jo Caruana, Sunday, October 3, 2010 by
Parents are considering the arts as an important extra-curricular activity to assist in their child’s development. JO CARUANA attended a lesson at the Helen O’Grady Academy.
A group of 20 young children sit excitedly in a circle, listening attentively as the next activity is explained to them. Sitting cross-legged among the children is actor Alan Montanaro, principal of the Malta branch of the Helen O’Grady Academy, giving a lesson.
In the middle of the circle is the ‘magic cloak’ (actually a swatch of unhemmed sequinned cloth). The children, including their teacher, take turns to give the cloak a new identity, and then act it out – while the rest of the class guess what the new identity is.
Matthew turns it into a football; Emma turns it into Harry Potter’s disappearing cloak; Sarah becomes a fairy when she drapes it around herself.
They’re using their imagination. They’re also learning how to listen and observe attentively. They’re learning how to frame questions properly. And, although they think it’s just a game, their teacher is carefully extending their vocabulary.
A lesson learned through fun is never forgotten, and this certainly seems to be the aim as the children are taken through myriad games and exercises that are great fun for the children. And an observing mind will instantly recognise that a lot of thought goes into the various activities.
“The Helen O’Grady Academy’s dynamic development programme has been built over the years by teachers, psychologists and parents to ensure the lessons are structured to bring out the best in any child,” explains Montanaro, as he rushes off to organise the next part of the lesson: improvisation.
The giggling children rush to the middle of the room as the class, in their mind, is instantly transformed into a pond and the children jump over imaginary stepping stones for some frog-spotting until, at the sound of the tambourine, they all slip into the water and are encouraged to react vocally as they help each other out of the murky pool.
“Group activities are extremely useful for easing the more reticent or shy children out of their shells, because there is no unwanted attention on any individual child. Everyone takes part,” explains Montanaro before rushing off to the next segment of the lesson: speech.
The children walk around and freeze to the sound of the tambourine.
This is their ‘speech position’. After some fun vocal exercises which had some of the children (and me) in stitches, the children are asked to recite simple, yet carefully thought-out, lines and poems which stress certain consonants or vowels. These are then put into use during the main part of the lesson: the play.
“A different play is put up each and every week. This ensures every child gets their chance to shine and it eliminates the pressure of studying lines and the tedium of waiting around until required when rehearsing for one show.”
This week, the play takes place in Shakespearean times, and the children call Montanaro back into their midst to block ‘The Prince and the Wedding Ring Thief’.
The Helen O’Grady Academy is not a talent school and is not in the business of turning children into performers. It is a very unique development programme designed to improve children’s English- language skills, help them gain confidence in a fun-filled environment, while tapping into the inherent imagination of children which is, unfortunately, being consumed by technology.
Studies carried out by Matt Buchanan of Harvard University show that drama reinforces the rest of the school curriculum. Since communication and empathy are central to drama, a student will be better able to understand and discuss problems.
The link between dramatic arts and subjects such as English, history, social studies, and related areas is obvious. The study of literature would be impossible without drama.
One marked area of improvement noted by parents of children attending the academy was in written and spoken English. And because drama is so practical, one can adopt Aristotle’s saying: “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.”
Classes cover speech, movement, creative drama, language development and studio productions, but above all, lessons are fun, and children look forward to them. For the convenience of parents, classes are held in different locations around Malta.
There are no end-of-term examinations because children are under enough academic pressure as it is. There are no large-scale productions at the end of the year because the jam-packed curriculum does not allow for long hours of rehearsals for one show.
Parents are, however, invited to attend a specially designed lesson towards the end of the year to monitor and witness the development of their children.
For more information and enrolment into the Helen O’Grady Academy, go to www.helenogradymalta.com or call 7964 7239.