It’s a Monday morning at West Road Primary School in Moorends, Doncaster, and you could hear a pin drop in Year 1’s classroom. They aren’t preparing for a test or in quiet reading time, they are taking part in Creative Classrooms. Emma and Verity, the expert drama practitioners in the room, are leading a nuanced and thoughtful conversation about our emotions. Students are offering their own understandings of feelings and providing suggestions for how people can process their emotions. Year 1 have been exploring one story, Storm Whale by Benji Davies, for six weeks. The children have been directing the storyline and controlling how the characters communicate with and support each other.

“He needs to tell his dad how he feels,” says Kelsey, and Emma nods emphatically, “How does he feel?” Everyone in the class is listening to Kelsey, quietly paying attention as he says, “He feels like he’s not as important as dad’s job and dad doesn’t really care about him.” Other children nod and add other suggestions, and these are played out with acting and storytelling in their classroom.

For the last three years, darts has delivered Creative Classrooms in five schools, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, with students from Year 1 to Year 6 to build their emotional literacy, vocabulary, and communication skills slowly and surely through storytelling. Exploring one story for six weeks allows a class to immerse themselves in a new world where they can make mistakes, explore characters’ differing emotions, and imagine alternative endings.

In 2019, teachers in Doncaster primary schools shared that their students were struggling to communicate effectively, build confidence in the classroom, and listen and retain information – all key skills necessary for effective learning. This feedback was reiterated consistently following the pandemic, and is supported by significant evidence of a national crisis in children’s mental health (ADCS Report on Children’s Mental Health, Nov 2022, CYP Mental Health by Health and Social Care Committee, Dec 2021.)

Students have told us that in Creative Classrooms, “We try really hard and show all our feelings,” and that “The best thing about it is I get to show what I’m good at.” Our drama practitioners have seen students who have recently arrived in the country come out of their shell in these sessions, they’ve seen the class clown explain what anger feels like and quieter children take control and shout when they become the monsters in Where The Wild Things Are. The practitioners make space for this happen by encouraging students to be playful and to have a go while building a routine that the children can rely on. Every week, they become story explorers, donning their imaginary costumes, and checking in about how they are feeling. All feelings are welcome and validated by the Creative Classrooms practitioners, while making sure students are safe throughout.

Teachers take part in sessions too; 100% of participating teachers have seen improved confidence and engagement in their students both during Creative Classrooms and in lessons, while 96% agree that their students are better able to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively. Year 4 teacher Janet said, “I couldn’t find a single fault with the project. Students are more confident across year groups, and teachers are using the skills they’ve learnt in their own lessons.”

Creative Classrooms is rooted in darts’ 30 years of experience working with children and in the importance of play for child development. We’ve been informed by the knowledge and expertise of the teachers, senior leaders, and teaching assistants across Doncaster. Teachers can choose one of these areas to focus on for their half term:

  • Self: Understanding myself and my feelings
  • Relationships and Empathy: Understanding other people and making friends
  • Curiosity: Trying new things through exploring and taking risks
  • Feeling Calm: Finding ways into feeling calm, creating boundaries
  • Choose What You Do: Agency, having power and ownership

We extend this learning by providing in-school CPD for teaching staff to encourage them to pick and choose the techniques which might benefit their lessons. Helen, KS1 lead at one of these schools, has told us “Creative Classrooms is the best CPD you could ask for. The children are collaborative, cooperative, accepting of each other and creative. This isn’t always the case in our classrooms, and it was an absolute joy to see.”

“The children are collaborative, cooperative, accepting of each other and creative. This isn’t always the case in our classrooms, and it was an absolute joy to see.”

We design this work in partnership with schools, having collaborated with 15 schools locally and recently confirmed funding to continue this work with 9 primary schools as part of the Rose Learning Trust. We are working closely with additional schools to secure funds to continue this work across the borough. The teachers, senior leaders and teaching assistants we work with know that this work is a chance for children to learn life skills – skills which help their ability to learn, to communicate and understand themselves.

Creative Classrooms in your school To explore how Creative Classrooms could support your school, please contact Sarah (Director: Arts and Education) via: or on 01302 493844

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