How did the authors of The Whole Shabang! Vol.1 living in the UK meet Lorna at Special Needs Book Review? Twitter brought us together. Then I had the pleasure of reviewing Kim Reuter and Russ Elias’s resource book of multi-sensory activities with a 17-track music CD. You can read the review here. I was so pleased when Kim agreed to participate in our Author Interview Series because like I said in my review, “It really IS a small world! It’s not so much the size but how similar we all are with the same challenges, hopes, and attempts at finding enrichment activities and solutions for our children with and without additional needs.”
Lorna: Welcome to Canada and to our Author Interview Series! From your web site I leaned, “Kim Reuter and Russ Elias – theatre practitioners with over twenty years’ experience of taking accessible arts projects to special education settings.” Would you elaborate?
Kim Reuter >> Russ and I met whilst working for a community theatre company. Russ came from a background of playing in bands and writing music – I was an ex primary school teacher who fancied trying her hand at acting! As part of the community theatre’s programme we found ourselves devising and performing shows in special schools – something we both took to immediately and wanted to do more of. And so Shabang was born and we’ve been working in this field ever since. Over the years we specialised in creating theatre residencies – where we would stay in a school for three consecutive days, remaining in character and creating a theatrical adventure which the whole school would take part in. We toured throughout England, Wales and Ireland for many years before we founded our own building base The Watershed, where we now carry out the majority of our work
Lorna: I understand you are a qualified teacher. Have you taught in schools? What made you decide to change careers or use your knowledge of teaching in a different way?
Kim Reuter >> Yes – I trained to be a mainstream primary school teacher –I loved working with the children but was never organised enough with my timetables or paper work! My class ended up doing loads of art and drama and no maths! My experience with taking theatre productions into special schools however inspired me to go back to teaching for a while, but this time in special education settings. I loved working in this world, but my paper work didn’t get any better! Forming Shabang served all my gods – working with children and young people with additional learning needs, performing, creating scenarios and adventures (and very little paperwork!)
Lorna: Your resource manual says on the cover, “A Treasure Chest brimming over with original songs and resources to educate and inspire children, with or without additional needs, their teachers and their families.” Tell us how your multi-sensory activities are designed for children with special needs?
Kim Reuter >> When Shabang sits down to create a new piece of work, we always remind ourselves of the wide variety of needs within our audience. We try to make work which is multi layered so that there is something in it for everybody, including those with sensory issues, language delay and autism. Music and song is a common link throughout all our work. We use rhythms and beats to underpin theatrical action, represent character and mood and to serve as a familiar hook for children to identify with. We never devise shows which have a theatrical “fourth wall’ _ the audience is always part of the action, participating at whatever level is appropriate to their needs. For example – the audience will have opportunities to feel or even smell the props. A scene by the seashore may involve a huge tactile wave of fabric billowing over the heads of the participants. Our shows are more shared experiences than theatrical productions.
Lorna: Each activity has suggestions under a heading called, “Multi-sensory Approach”. The ideas, games, activities, and crafts all have a sensory component to enhance any curriculum for children with sensory processing issues. Give us some examples of multi-sensory activities that will help children with sensory problems?
Kim Reuter >> We have learnt over the years that children with sensory issues – will enjoy music and song to a greater degree if the songs are turned into a 3D experience. This helps to bring across the meaning of the song – for example we have a song called “Whoosh went the Wind” – all about what happens to your hat when you go out on a windy day – the lyrics say the winds blows your hat away –the music “whooshes” in anticipation and the kinesthetic activity to accompany the song involves the participants taking it in turns to wear a hat ( with a small hook on the top) being fanned by a huge wicker fan and then a the teacher with the aid of a long pole hooks the hat off and simulates it being blown about by the wind before it “lands” on the next child’s head. Thus the song has something appropriate in it for everybody and teaches turn taking, anticipation, participation, and concentration all at the same time!
Lorna: I must admit I did not know what it meant when I read, “Makaton Friendly Resource”. Is it like our Sign Language? Would you please explain?
Makaton is a sign language which has been designed especially for learners with additional needs. In the context of our songs it helps to relay meaning.
Lorna: We cannot write about your book without congratulating your illustrator, Kath Stewart! My three granddaughters enjoyed listening to the CD with me while I followed in the resource book. When I turned to a new page they crowded in to admire each beautifully illustrated page by Kath Stewart. How has the book, “The Whole Shabang!” been received? What comments from your target audience have made the huge undertaking of getting this project to print all worthwhile? Will there be Vol.2 anytime soon?
Kim Reuter >> Once teachers and families see and use the book they are thrilled by it. The illustrations are popular with the children and easy to copy for staff. Many schools now have a “Shabang Box” with props to facilitate running their weekly (or sometimes daily) Shabang session. This is exactly what we are aiming for – a song book which enables staff to bring songs to life. We heard recently that in a school production, one class dressed as garden gnomes and sang and signed the gnome song – a great idea which has come from them not us!
Over the years we have created many shows – all of which are rich with songs – so the songs and the ideas for Volume 2 are all ready to go – it’s just a matter of raising the funds to pay for the design and printing. We have a notion to also make a Shabang DVD – so watch this space! We would like to thank you for your interest in our book and when Volume 2 is complete – you’ll definitely be the first to have a copy !!!
Lorna: I was pleased to receive this Tweet from you, “Original songs, signed in Makaton by Shabang’s Little Tiddlers.>>Yes Please!. m4v: http://youtu.be/cTiaqeBsxr0 and Hello Song.m4v: http://youtu.be/-livbAZ7SeQ via @youtube . The music is wonderful and the young children singing and moving to the music brought tears to my eyes! Another excellent feature of the manual is the last section with the sheet music for each song written and arranged by Russ Elias. Thank you so much, Kim, for the opportunity to review your excellent resource book and 17-track music CD. We are pleased you agreed to this interview.
Watch clips of Shabang! signing songs from the Cd here: