The Body Alphabet- A Creative Workshop for Children
In 2019 I developed an alphabet through simple body shapes. I used this to construct words and sentences and made a film of this for my Masters Degree Show in 2019.
The film and the body alphabet elicited a strong reaction from children, who enjoyed trying out the letter poses and making their own messages using the alphabet. I realised the alphabet had great potential to be developed as a tool to work with children. With this in mind I have used the body alphabet as a basis for a workshop for primary school children.
How is a workshop like this relevant?
By teaching children this body alphabet to communicate you are hitting a number of key factors that are relevant for kids today, especially in a school environment. These factors being movement, exercise and the mind/body connection. There are links to the Schools PE curriculum. This workshop would also help kids develop their cognitive/creative side as well as causing them to do this through movement. I have found that both girls and boys have reacted well to the alphabet, as it's not gender biased as such. I have also found that kids with cognitive or physical disabilities can use it. Just as a child learns to read, and starts with phonics and sounds, the alphabet can be accessed initially on a direct level by posing in a particular letter shape for example, and can progress to a more comprehensive level to spell out messages.
In terms of school curriculum the workshop has relevance to the PE curriculum, specifically the dance and gymnastics strand.
Also I researched the Schools Well Being Policy Statement and Framework for Practice and the workshop definitely complements this.
I also looked at Move well Move often plan which is designed by the Professional Development Service for Teachers which looks at physical literacy and fundamental movement skills. Balancing is one of the stability skills and is definitely evident in the Body Alphabet so there is a clear link to be made there.
I believe there is also a potential for the Body Alphabet to be used for children with special educational needs. This could potentially offer them an alternative method of communication, or at the least the freedom to express themselves verbally through an alternative medium.
How the workshop might be interpreted
Being in motion causes you to think and process thoughts differently than when you are still. Having to move to communicate changes the way you think about talking.
As people learn the alphabet of body shapes I have found that each persons way of making the shapes will differ to the next, which is the beauty of it, as no two people will look the same while using it. So in a group setting it should not become a competitive exercise, but more an opportunity to express oneself as an individual.
The alphabet works on different levels- as a code that can be interpreted. Or it can be used as a way to express yourself in secret. Not decoding the movements allows you to say things that others cannot understand. Kids might respond to the idea of using the alphabet in one of these ways for example.
How the workshop would work
The workshop was designed to last an hour or so, however this was planned around an in house workshop. Now, anticipating an environment where hte content needs to be deliverable by distance learning, I have moved the visual cues and workshop contents online.
I would encourage teachers to start by talking to the children about alternative ways to communicate, like sign language, or morse code, and in this case an alphabet made of body shapes. Then I would simply take the group through the alphabet shapes. ( I would issue postcards, see top of page, as a manual reference for the children to also refer to. Assuming the adequate space is there, we would then start with the children spelling out their names. Once they have had a go at spelling out their names and trying out some of the various letter poses I would then get them into smaller groups, in this case their pods, if the school is practising this, and we would try spelling out words by each child posing as a letter of the word. This usually takes up to the hour and the kids would take away their postcard with them to continue spelling out words themselves.
Suitability and equipment
The workshop is suitable for all levels of ability and fitness. The kids would benefit from being of a reading age, hence why I think that 2nd class up would best benefit from the workshop. I would anticipate it being great fun for them and an opportunity to meld these different disciplines- physical activity, creative thinking and reading and comprehension into one workshop. Ideally the workshop would be run in an open space like a hall. If there were some mats, like yoga mats for example, these would be useful but not essential.
Creative Ireland Programme and Clare County Council for funding towards the development of this project