Learning skills through theatre

CLIMB Theatre brings “Faraway Woods” to Orono Discovery Center

CLIMB Actor/Educators Kaitlyn Martin and Eli Purdom direct a session of the ‘Faraway Woods’ program with kids at Orono Discovery Center, focused on teaching social skills and theatrical concepts such as voice and movement. (Submitted photos)


By Sean Miner
The Pioneer

Learning in a classroom can take many forms. Adapting lessons of any stripe to different activities is a fantastic way to energize the material, keep students engaged and accommodate different learning styles.

That’s why Inver Groves Heights-based CLIMB Theatre created the “Faraway Woods” program. Funded through an Arts Learning grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the program aims to help young children develop pro-social and art skills.

Orono Discovery Center is one of many schools taking part in the program, and hosted CLIMB staff on Jan. 20 and Feb. 3. These live activity sessions build upon podcasts the kids listen to before the CLIMB actors arrive; the program is composed of six podcast-session pairings.

“This is unlike any project we’ve done before,” said CLIMB Theatre Executive and Artistic Director Peg Wetli. “Podcasting is a new technology that lets us deliver an old medium—audio drama. Kids will get the chance to use their imagination as they listen and to the world of Faraway Woods, meet delightful characters, and learn important social-emotional skills.”

Having just completed the second podcast and session, the students involved learned about the theatrical concept of movement. The kids involved are having a blast and learning a lot, said CLIMB staff.

“They’re having a really great time pretending to be the characters and moving around,” said CLIMB Actor/Educator Eli Purdom. “When we ask them about the story and what they remember, they retain a lot of it.”

Purdom, along with his partner, Kaitlyn Martin, are returning for each session at Orono Discovery Center. Each week, they visit a number of different schools, making the rounds with each new episode to all 50 to 60 schools involved.

“Every site we visit, it’s just the two of us — we’re the ones that see those kids,” said Purdom. “They’re really engaged, and they seem really excited to see us.”

The movement lesson taught on Jan. 20 and Feb. 30 built upon a podcast describing several characters in the “Faraway Woods” podcast. According to Purdom, details in each character’s description were intentionally left out, so the students fill in the blanks themselves.

“They’re these original characters that the kids just kind of imagine,” said Purdom. “We listen to the description of the characters, how they talk and move, and we figure out what the characters are.”

Those blanks are filled in with students’ imaginations, or inspirations from other stories they’ve heard.

“Because they’re only listening to how they move, a lot of them infer that they’re a spider or a bird,” said Purdom. “It gives them a lot more freedom to create the story in their own way.”

Moreover, CLIMB is making all six episodes of “Faraway Woods” available free of charge starting Feb. 16. Accompanying the podcasts will be self-guided activities for parents or teachers to complete with their children.

The podcast episodes are typically between 10 and 20 minutes long, and Purdom said that the classroom sessions run a full half-hour. The emphasis on social skills is drawn from research that indicates how important they can be for a child’s development.

“Research has shown that when kids develop pro-social skills in early childhood, it’s a better predictor for success than almost anything else, including academics,” said Wetli. “We’re very passionate about this project and think it will be a wonderful experience for Minnesota preschoolers.”

For more information about the “Faraway Woods” program, visit www.farawaywoods.org.

Contact Sean Miner at [email protected]