According to the National Institute of Health, nearly one in three of all adolescents ages thirteen to eighteen will experience an anxiety disorder.[i] Young people are currently navigating unprecedented and extraordinary challenges that no generation in history has ever had to face. It has never been more important for children to cultivate the core skills they need to ground them on their journey through adolescence.
But how can we equip children with these skills and more importantly, what are they? With a background in theatre, we have always been passionate about the ability of creative play to inspire, motivate and nurture confidence in people.
As actors, we love to get lost in stories. But seemingly, this gets harder as we get older and as we transition from childhood into adult life, we forget how to play. We become stuck in our heads and forget how to connect with our bodies.
Inhibitions take over and as we juggle the myriad responsibilities that come with modern life, our thoughts become crowded and we lose touch with our creative instincts. As children develop, it is vital that they are given the fuel that they need to keep the fire of their imagination burning. We care deeply about igniting curiosity in children and unlocking their creative potential.
Our ACTivate mission is to equip young people with the core skills they need to pursue their goals, take risks and express themselves with confidence, credibility and conviction. Nurturing imagination and harnessing lifelong skills of leadership, team-building and resilience is at the heart of what we do.
Every child deserves to experience the joy of imaginative play as they grow and mental health expert, Dr H Barry asserts that this is essential in cultivating emotional resilience in young people.[ii] He breaks down emotional resilience into three broad skillsets, defining it ‘successfully developed personal, social and life skills.’
The personal skills that Dr Barry alludes to include self-awareness, anxiety management, flexible thinking and problem-solving; all skills that are harnessed through drama, movement and collaboration. Flexible thinking, in particular, is deeply embedded in some of our favourite games and exercises. Make it better, Make it worse requires children to think on their feet, inviting them to experiment with bending the arc of a story in different directions. Spontaneous Story-time is a brilliant exercise for encouraging group collaboration and quick thinking. Each child must relinquish control, work as part of a team and embrace the uncertainty of the story’s trajectory.
Open-mindedness is everything. Lateral thinking is essential. It is a total delight to watch it unfold and we are always inspired by the narrative twists and turns that are volunteered in the process!
Taking risks is one of the key tenets of a rehearsal room and any good director or facilitator will create an environment where this is embraced. Its rewards are hard to quantify but Dr Barry praises the benefit of practised risk-taking in the development of key life skills, encouraging curiosity, bravery and trust in one’s instincts. This really is a skill that can be honed and one of our favourite ACTivate mantras encourages students to ‘put your head in the lion’s mouth!’ Nothing beats the satisfaction that comes with breaking out of the proverbial ‘comfort zone’ and this sense of accomplishment is life-blood for young people as they grow.
Perhaps most importantly, the work we do nurtures the vital social skills that young people need to make their own way in the world. Dr Barry defines these as ‘the successful interaction with the self and environment’ and they include understanding social cues embedded in verbal and non-verbal communication, managing social or performance anxiety and unlocking the power of self-expression.
But arguably one of the most valuable skills that is nurtured through creative play is empathy. The act of physically stepping into the shoes of other characters and exploring their experiences is perhaps one of the most effective ways to cultivate empathy.[iii] Studies suggest that children develop empathy from as early as two years old but expert Dr David Walsh maintains that ‘its development requires experience and practice.’[iv] In a polarised world where difference threatens to divide us, empathy is a skill that we need to teach our children more urgently than ever. We can’t afford not to. It is the passport that grants us access to another point of view and we need it to cultivate a truly open mind.
‘Theatre is like a gym for empathy. It’s where we go to build up the muscles of compassion, to practice listening, understanding and engaging with people that are not just like ourselves. We practice sitting down, paying attention and learning from other people’s actions. We practise caring.’
Bill English, San Francisco Playhouse
ACTivate offer workshops in Literacy, Character Education and Mental Health to primary and secondary schools across the UK. We are a small team, passionate about equipping students with the core skills they need to pursue their goals, take risks and express themselves with credibility, confidence and conviction.
Founders Alex and Phoebe are professional actors with over ten years of experience, working with renowned organisations such as the RSC, BBC, National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe. With a background in Education, Alex and Phoebe established ACTivate Workshops to use the skills they have honed as actors to enrich learning, harness imagination and unlock creative potential.
We also work with leading CBT Therapists and Senior Psychologists to jointly deliver evidence based and interactive Mental Health workshops, to help students better understand and manage feelings of anxiety.
What We Care About
- Young people feeling ownership over their work and excitement about learning
- Nurturing confidence and self-esteem
- Encouraging independent thought and emotional resilience
- Practising risk-taking, learning to accept failure and embracing it as an opportunity to learn
- Offering a space for young people to develop their imagination and explore their identity
- Practising the habit of self-reflection, improving self-awareness and building social confidence
- Cultivating the art of collaboration, communication and problem solving
- Encouraging young people to consider their impact on others and the world around them
- FINDING YOUR VOICE: PUBLIC SPEAKING & PRESENTATION
- INTERVIEW SKILLS
- BUILDING RESILIENCE
- CREATIVE LEADERSHIP
- ANXIETY: OVERCOMING YOUR MIND BULLY
- UNLOCKING SHAKESPEARE & POETRY
Ultimately, we believe in finding the balance between dynamic, energetic, pure fun whilst allowing space for self-reflection. The ability to tune into feelings and understand how they contribute to actions gives young people the skillset to look inwards and the courage to trust their instincts. We invite children to explore their identity, to be bold and consider the defining questions at the heart of growing up. Who am I? Who do I want to become? What do I want to bring to the world?
References [i] Based on diagnostic interview data from National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) which identifies lifetime prevalence of any anxiety disorder among adolescents aged 13-18 in the US. [ii] Dr H Barry outlines his theory in Emotional Resilience: How to Safeguard Your Mental Health published in 2018 [iii] The link between empathy and theatre practices is well researched. Theatre Education for an Empathetic Society Dr Joelle Arden is one of many bodies of research that explores this. [iv] How Children Develop Empathy, Dr David Walsh M.A & Dr David Walsh Ph.D.