Role Play and Rhyme Way to Learning
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced humankind to re-examine every aspect of their lives. People have been pushed out of their comfort zones and ironically into the confines of their homes. Students and teachers are in the process of redefining classroom pedagogy as they adapt themselves to remote learning.
For Gaurav Saxena, a special educator with Kothari International School in Noida, the lockdown times are challenging as he has to train both his students and parents to use online learning tools. “The children I work with have limitations with social communication, and theatre is a good tool for them to be provided with social communication,” informs Gaurav Saxena. He also makes sure that the plays that they produce in their school gives the opportunity to the special needs children to participate in them along with the children who are not special needs children. Inclusion is the key to help children with special needs realise their truest potential. When children with special needs mingle with children who are what we call normal, they get the chance to also feel normal. When children with special needs are put in a separate school they miss the opportunities to learn or improve because they only see children with more needs around them.
There is a positive effect of theatre among children with special needs. “Non-verbal children have exquisite imitating skills, their ability to learn by just watching is very good. We see that these children come to us, and through theatre we slowly build their confidence, they learn to overcome their needs,” marvels the happy special educator. He remembers an incident where a special needs boy who could only communicate through verbal cues, was trained for his first play. The boy was given the part of a silent protagonist; a royal guard. The role was portrayed well, and he got trained for his next play called Muralidhar ki Murali. The boy opened the play along with a classmate, who explained his verbal cues to the audience and got good appreciation.
Through theatre, children get to stimulate their senses. They learn voice modulation and using their bodies to enact and express, which is quite healing. “It is for similar services that children have to visit therapists to help them manage their disabilities. There are many therapies like light therapy, sound therapy, speech therapy which help children cope with their conditions. Through theatre, children get similar therapeutic treatment, but indirectly,” points out Gaurav who believes he is a special educator by profession and an artist at heart. He is a part of the theatre scene in New Delhi and is also dabbling with poetry. His recent poem presented by one of his students in a video was put across social media platforms and garnered much attention.
During this lockdown, the special needs children are being taken care of thoroughly. A 7-member team of special educators, make sure they are available to provide assistance to parents. “We maintain a 1:15 student teacher ratio. Each team member has been specified which child to take charge of. The teachers have prepared a new timetable for the children, which is different from their usual timetable,” Gaurav said.
The online classes for their normal academic classes get over at 1.00 PM and after a break of two hours, the special educators take online sessions which are non- academic. “These sessions are based on various activities like playing games, watching a video or creating something,” he explains. In such unusual times, it becomes difficult for a child to understand what is happening, the uncertainty can overwhelm them to a large extent.
“In such a scenario, our role is crucial. Children trust people they are familiar and comfortable with. They will look towards us for guidance. So, the instructions we give them, becomes their commandment and they follow them without any hesitation,” Gaurav added.
A lot of hard work went into counselling the children with special needs to help them realise that this is an atypical phase of time for everyone. Visual charts prepared by the special educators were shared with the parents, to make it easier for them to manage this lockdown. The charts provide concrete schedules for the parents to follow and also give ideas for the menu which parents could follow throughout a week. “If we equip the parents well enough to deal with the lockdown, it wouldn’t be a huge problem for them,” iterates Gaurav.