In my recent podcast, recorded at the Ledbury Poetry Salon, I talked about how the poems in my two books (Buzzing! and Flying High!) can help children develop empathy by enabling them to see the world through other creatures’ eyes.
Last Saturday I had the privilege of seeing that put into action in an extraordinary way by the members of York Theatre Royal’s Project B Youth Theatre group, led by Catherine Heinemeyer. Under Catherine’s tutelage, the 5- to 8-year-old children in Project B didn’t just see the world through other creatures’ eyes, they experienced the world as other creatures. They became those other creatures.
And in exploring others’ emotions and behaviours, they were, of course, being able to explore their own too.
Let me explain.
Catherine decided to devote this term to birds, specifically through a selection of the poems in my new book Flying High! Discover the poetry in British birds. I was sent a stonking invitation (taller than I am!) created by the members of Project B, to come to their end-of-term sharing, where they were going to perform for their parents. And where I joined in too.
In their sharing, the children acted out the contrasting behaviours of Starlings – now scrapping with each other, now swirling round elegantly all together as a mass murmuration – to my Starling poem called ‘Startling’.
They divided into (posh) Great-crested Grebes and (common-as-muck) ducks and performed my ‘Different Strokes’ poem.
As I performed my poem about a Blackbird building a nest, they built their own nest together:
And then, as we all joined in with my poem about a Blue tit leaving its nest, they experimented with leaving their safe, cosy nest (or not!):
In my podcast, I also talk about the importance of rhythmic rhyming poetry for developing children’s language and broadening their vocabulary. You can hear this in action in this clip of the Project B children reciting, along with me, my courting pigeon poem:
(The footsteps you can hear in the background are them pattering around as pigeons, trying to attract a mate.)
I was entranced by the use Catherine and Project B made of the material in my book, and hope others will use it in similar ways too. It’s always a complete joy to me when children read out my poems. But watching them performing the poems and exploring the different behaviours and emotions in them like this was remarkable. And very moving.
Catherine described my taking part in the session as ‘a real 360 degree experience’ for the children. It was for me too!