For ten years we wrote and toured plays for 3-7 year olds. The plays engaged directly with the children in our audiences and they would come back show after show. They told us how they were ‘playing’ our shows themselves - the lines in the playground were the Bridge of the One Hair from Molly Whuppie; the sofa at home was their very own Green Whale; they were eating Magic Spaghetti for tea with salad (and loving it); in Hare & Tortoise, children often leapt spontaneously onto the stage to tell the characters what was what!
So we wondered… Could we create a show that our audiences could actually take part in?
This show is LicketyLeap
The early responses we got to LicketyLeap from children were startling. They were completely in their element but more than this, they responded to the experience with a degree of enthusiasm, co-operation and imagination that surprised the most experienced nursery teachers. Even the shyest, most inhibited, vulnerable or restless children showed a level of absorption and active engagement that had rarely before (in some cases never) been witnessed in the nursery.
Together with Glasgow Life and East Lothian’s Brunton Theatre, Licketyspit commissioned a study, Leaping into Ourselves: A study into the layers of engagement made by early years children through Licketyspit's immersive theatre project, LicketyLeap led by applied theatre academic/artist, Stephanie Knight (published Glasgow Life, April 2011). This enabled Licketyspit to make a case for funding the project with respect to the profound impact it appeared to be having in relation to child development. We applied to Inspiring Scotland’s Early Years Early Action Fund, working on behalf of Scottish Government and became the first theatre arts project in Scotland to receive early intervention funding (to support children’s development through theatre).
LicketyLeap – Drama-led Early Intervention
LicketyLeap is based around two half-day sessions led by two specialist actor pedagogues for groups of ten, 3-5 years olds and two nursery staff. Key to this programme is meaningful engagement with parents/carers and wider children’s services and the dissemination of practical resources for long-term impact.
Session I, The Performance: The first session is a 90-minute piece of immersive or ‘participative’ theatre, where children are invited to literally ‘leap’ into the story of ‘Margaret & Margaret!’ They journey through the bog, over the sea, into the cave and up the mountain with Bold Margaret and Worried Margaret to find their Heart’s Desire. This is a group experience, which is played in and around an enormous cloth. This is a tried and tested, rich and symbolic group experience with a carefully planned, secure structure in which children participate and contribute to enrich and develop the story using any of the dimensions and multiple intelligences they choose, individually and collectively. The whole session is filmed. The film remains a resource at the nursery following its use in the second session.
Session II, The Follow Up: One to four weeks later, the actor pedagogues return to the nursery for a Follow Up session. This session involves drama games, ‘conversation’ sharing the language for LicketyLeap and a child-led re-enactment of the story using a blanket. This session encourages the children to reflect, discuss and re-create the story, enabling them to take more complete ownership of their adventure with ‘Margaret and Margaret’, scaffolding the experience into their play at nursery and at home.
“Let’s do it again!... We’ll do the same as we did to get up the mountain, through the bog, Oogly Boogly Lady and Fishy Lady – Come on! Let’s do it all over again! (3-year old)
Parents/carers join the second half of Follow Up session to learn about the project, see some live performance by the children, and see excerpts of their child’s film. Children’s participation celebrated. Actor pedagogues and nursery staff member present/discuss implications of LicketyLeap as a family resource and its relevance and value in relation to their child’s (brain) development and wellbeing.
Parents/carers frequently see their children in a new and more positive light. They see adults modeling child-centred play and are encouraged to play with their children in an imaginative world where the child is the expert. This can fortify their attachment, confidence, self-esteem and capacity to flourish. Crucially, the project strengthens peer relationships between children, families and teachers and enriches a sense of community.
“Oh, I’ve been Margaret all week! She says ‘You be Margaret and I’ll be Margaret and we’ll be the two Margarets’. I dinnae mind. I like being Margaret! I’ve been in the bog, under the sea and up the mountain!”(Father, 2013)
Currently, 1539 parents/carers have attended a session in nurseries (75% of children represented). Parents/carers sign up to Licketyspit Children and Family Network. To date, 1063 families subsequently joined the Licketyspit Children and Families Network for continuing dialogue, engagement and access to free family-centred resources, activities and information.
“What I am stunned about is that all the children have representation. You know, we put on all sorts of things for parents to come to and they don’t all come. And here you are… This is fabulous!”(Head Teacher, 2012)
All participating nursery staff receive drama Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and detailed preparation for the programme including, for some, LicketyLeap performance participation. The actor-pedagogues are specifically trained to support and enable vulnerable children and work closely with staff in anticipating the best approach to achieving this.
Following the programme, Licketyspit return to the nursery for a ‘nursery tea’ debrief session with staff. These sessions offer an opportunity for staff to reflect on the experience, discuss the impact of the project, feedback any further observations or comments and share ideas and practice.
A high level of skill and experience and a deep understanding and belief in every child’s ability and desire to play underpins Licketyspit’s drama-led approach. The nature of engagement between actor-pedagogue and child is key and demonstrates to staff and parents a transferable model of adult led child-centred engagement that is equal, nurturing and enabling for children. Licketyspit has succeeded in developing a radical approach that strikes the perfect balance between liberating a child’s active and imaginative participation whilst actively prompting and guiding it, to enable every participating child to shine. This significant and frequently transformative experience, is shared with children’s key adults (i.e. parents/carers teachers, early years professionals) and can demonstrably release and inspire children to express thoughts, ideas and feelings whilst playing together imaginatively at nursery and at home. The positive impact on the way children are seen, see each other and see themselves can affect lasting cultural change in children’s lives.
LicketyLeap Statistics (2012 – 2014)
LicketyLeap was delivered to 31 nurseries in multiply deprived areas of North/South Edinburgh, East Lothian, North/South Glasgow and Fife
1720 children have participated in the LicketyLeap programme
235 nursery staff have participated in the programme. Participating nursery staff also receive drama Continuing Professional Development (CPD) including, for some, LicketyLeap performance
1539 parents/carers have attended a LicketyLeap follow-up session in nurseries (75% of children represented)
1063 parent/carers have joined the Licketyspit Children and Families Network
435 evaluations returned
Impact of LicketyLeap
LicketyLeap is a profound experience that empowers many children to discover and share hidden aspects of themselves. It fosters imaginative play among children, among children and their significant adults and appears to deliver lasting cultural change.
LicketyLeap has been shown to have a positive impact on participating children across a range of outcomes relating to health, wellbeing and development. The project was evaluated extensively in consultation with Inspiring Scotland and Partners in Evaluation Scotland. External evaluations completed by teachers over a 4-6 week period, indicated 54-68% of children demonstrated improved confidence, social skills, problem solving ability, emotional literacy and resilience following LicketyLeap. Many nurseries reported a fundamental change in nursery culture, which became more inclusive and emotionally literate as children continued their LicketyLeap play.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we have children in our nursery whose lives were changed by doing LicketyLeap.”(Teacher, 2012)
“K. has flourished, her confidence is growing… She is normally very shy but developed in confidence as the sessions progressed and took part fully. Mum was thrilled with how much she spoke about LicketyLeap, she normally doesn’t talk about her day.” (Nursery Nurse)
“After the sessions he mixed more with other children… He has continued to role play Margaret and Margaret initiating play with other children. He has also spoken quite a lot about the experience. This child is on the Autistic Spectrum.” (Child Development Officer)
“This process seemed to promote better thinking and problem solving skills in J.” (Teacher)
“E. can usually find situations difficult emotionally and will cry / refuse to co-operate with others. E. was much more resilient than usual – she didn’t give up or cry. This was a very positive experience for E. She responded in an emotionally resilient way and seemed to empathise with and go on Worried Margaret’s journey with her. The experience was fantastic in terms of supporting emotional resilience.” (Teacher)
The impact of this work was documented in the independent study, 'Leaping into Ourselves: A study into the layers of engagement made by early years children through Licketyspit's immersive theatre project, LicketyLeap' (April 2011) by leading academic Stephanie Knight, commissioned and published by Glasgow Life and East Lothian Council. More recently, the project has been documented in Licketyspit's own published report 'The Adventures of LicketyLeap: Transforming lives - the possibilities of theatre' (May 2013).
The company has produced two International Symposiums and has increasingly been asked to present at major health, early years, arts and third sector events in Scotland and abroad. LicketyLeap is currently part of four EU studies into innovative early years practice addressing inequalities.
“We know of no other company working in this way using actors.” (Beth Ferholt, Play Scholar & Assistant Professor, School of Education, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, 2013)
“I believe that imaginative play through participative drama is crucial for child development but nursery schools have often struggled to find ways of building it into the curriculum. Licketyspit have found the answer and every nursery school they have been to will vouch I am sure for the success and significance of their achievement. Their drama of the two Margarets is quite simply the most important piece of instrumental art there has been for a very long time and every nursery school in Scotland could benefit from taking part in it.” (Malcolm Chisholm, MSP 2013)
To see a PechaKucha presentation about LicketyLeap made by Licketyspit's Artistic Director/Chief Executive, Virginia Radcliffe at the ArtWorks Scotland Conference, Dundee (November 2013) please click here