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From Alice Higginson-Clarke

Why is drama important to the history curriculum?

29 Nov 2023

For my last school history lesson, I was probably 13 or 14 years old, and I chose to drop it. Something wasn’t quite sticking for me. All those dates and battles and… Harolds – I just couldn’t get my head around it. I struggled to understand want it meant to me: a teenage girl in the 2000s. I couldn’t find a way to relate my present day to the lives of those centuries ago, and it seemed that wasn’t GCSE history’s priority either. Instead, I found solace in meanders, sedimentary rocks, and population growth (aka GSCE Geography!)

Little did I know, that in 10 years’ time I’d be swotting up on Samuel Pepys of 1666, the Crimean War of 1853 and the Anderson Shelters of 1939. Thanks to Freshwater, I can now rattle off a load of dates and battles and historical events like there’s no tomorrow! What brings it all to life in my mind & for the children and teachers that take part in a Freshwater History workshop, is imagination.

It’s stepping into the shoes of the people that lived in those times – imagining the smells, sounds, sights and sensations of a 17th century bakery, a Victorian hospital, or a 1950s seaside resort. With imagination, a primary school hall can transform into almost anywhere. And we, as theatrical time-travellers, can be transported, becoming anything or anyone. We can transform our bodies into the higgledy-piggledy houses of Pudding Lane. We can create the sounds of the storm that rocked the ship carrying Florence Nightingale and her nurses to the Crimea. We can even become participants in the ‘Glamourous Granny’ competitions of 1970s Butlins! It moves the learning away from the desk and into our voices, our bodies, even our facial expressions.

Through drama, you can observe the children living each moment as they act it out, building empathy and understanding for people of the past, investing in their stories, and experiencing the ‘facts’ for themselves.

At the end of the hour, after the adventuring and imagining is done, there’s always that moment where the ‘magic spell’ of a history workshop starts to wear off… Where the children start to question, ‘Are you the real Florence Nightingale? I thought you were dead?!’… And it’s in that moment that I’m always so grateful for the transformative power of theatre. And especially grateful for the teachers that continue to value drama workshops and show their support for arts in education.

About the author: Alice Higginson-Clarke

Alice has been a Freshwater Facilitator since 2016 delivering History and Dance workshops for thousands of children in London and the South East. After nearly eight years, Alice has just been assigned her first ever Geography workshop for Freshwater!!