In the post-pandemic context, I have been looking for effective mediums to engage children in a way that their interest in learning gradually returns. Play and theatre-based activities have always been my go-to mode of expression to engage with children in an easy and fun-filled manner in a classroom.
Physical movement and facial expressions have helped me break the language barrier since I am a south Indian working in a region where Bundelkhandi is the first language of the children.
In the initial days of my classroom practice, I always ensured that I took the class through different sets of warm-ups and various in-between activities so that the children stayed engaged and the energy of the class remains high.
Other than the known aspects of how these mediums subtly lead to working on the values of confidence, teamwork, hard work, unity, adjustment, etc., learning to participate well, both on their own and through group activities in the classroom, helps a child have a pleasant social experience and build healthier interpersonal relationships with their peers.
Acquiring these social skills leads to the social and cognitive development of the child. Through these, children learn more about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses and, as Margaret Mead said, they help the child ‘to construct a sense of self’.
Reflecting on my school experience of engaging with these two mediums on a daily basis with a lot of variety to prevent it from being monotonous, I observed that the children liked to stand in a big circle, do free movements, speak, sing or recite with actions — everything they are usually asked to not do in a classroom! In the initial stages, I transacted the lesson and did almost all activities sitting in a circle.
I started my school engagement by first doing this introduction activity — we stood in a circle and took turns introducing ourselves with an action. The children were initially shy, even after seeing me and their class teacher introduce ourselves with actions.
So, I motivated and urged the children to try doing the actions and helped those who were shy to come up with an action with which they could introduce themselves. To keep everyone engaged, I asked the others to pose this question in unison: ‘What is your name?’ Each child had to, with action and voice modulation, reply to this with ‘My name is…’.
But the fun did not end here. The children were asked to repeat the action of each child who introduced herself/himself. This was also to help them remember names. So, when one child imitated flying like a fairy and said, ‘My name is Soumya’, all the children imitated her flying action and repeated, ‘My name is Soumya’.
In a fun way, I stopped them and asked, ‘Is your name Soumya?’ The children giggled, and I asked, ‘What should you say?’ pointing to Soumya. The correct answer came, ‘Her name is Soumya!’.
The activity went on with the children learning each other’s names and also attempting to involve those who do not usually talk much in class. Even the class teacher was glad to see that the children who did not participate much in the class reacted and engaged through these activities.
I strongly believe that such activities are an expression of our inherent yearnings and while engaging in certain games/activities there is a sense of joy and satisfaction that children feel.
Creating a safe space
One day, I spent the first few hours of school talking with the teachers and the headmistress and was late for class. So, we immediately set out to work. A child caught me off guard when he asked, ‘Won’t we do anything today?’ He was hinting at the activities. Several other children added, ‘Let’s do something, Let’s do (they made the body movements referring to the warm-up)’.
I was immediately encouraged because certain practices, once well-started need the enthusiasm of the participants to keep them going, and the children who were hesitant to talk and engage with me and did not listen to anyone but their class teacher were now talking to me without hesitation, shyness, or fear. It made me realise how doing such activities that involve breaking the traditional notion of the silent classroom, put the children at ease.
I have observed that when children feel safe in a space and feel that it belongs to them, it paves the way for their interest in the schooling process as a whole, such as regular attendance at first, and gradual improvement in their participation in the teaching-learning process and so on.
In another instance, a child called Aman came up to me while the other children were enthusiastically standing in a circle, ready to recite a poem. He did not seem to be feeling well and he asked if he could sit down. I told him to sit and listen to the poem.
This incident too demonstrates that a safe space in which a child could come and talk to me was established. That the child could acknowledge his feelings was very special, because it, in turn, was a reminder to me of how living in this fast-paced world, we too do not acknowledge our own needs. Here was a child who expressed his need and did not just sit silently without participating. This was a personal moment of reflection and learning for me.
Learning maths through role-play
I make my session plan to ensure that there are multiple activities around a given concept so that I get to engage with the children in a way that their energies and their attention spans are channelised in the best possible way.
While reading and reciting a poem on Chooha (mouse), we did a role-play on cats and mice. I had first asked the children to be the cat and mice but since they did not have an idea as to what I was expecting them to do, I became the cat and asked the children to run around as mice.
In this game, the cat (me) had to catch the mice (the children) and whoever the cat touched, was ‘out’. Those who were ‘out’ had to lie down still. I asked some of the more energetic children to not run but crawl. Next, a child took my place as the cat. Soon, there were ten ‘out’ and three ‘not out’ mice and one cat left in the game. I made the three ‘not out’ children lie down and pretend to be asleep, while those who were ‘out’ counted the total number of mice.
The children of class I were initially counting nine mice, by one-to-one correspondence, and were forgetting to count themselves. There were two children from class II in that group, and they were able to count nine correctly and along with that, count themselves in too, because they were ‘out’ too. Seven children got the cardinality rule right and I hope that after this, the other children will also be able to grasp the cardinality principle easily.
As I engage with these mediums regularly, I realise that these give the children space to learn new things at their own pace. It creates an atmosphere that is most suitable to enhance experimental and experiential learning which leads to the all-around growth and development of the children.
*Names have been changed to protect children’s identities.
About the Author
Mathumitha R is an Associate at Azim Premji Foundation, Sagar, Madhya Pradesh. She has completed her MA in Education from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. She enjoys working with children in school, reading, writing, drama and theatre.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org