Magic Door Education: Bringing Imagination to the Classroom

Sep 23, 2020

Magic Door Education specialise in the delivery of interesting, fun, and engaging educational workshops which aim to inspire a more experiential way of learning through role-play.

We were recently lucky enough to sit down with experienced Primary School teacher and Director of Magic Door Education, Emma Taylor, whose expertise in both mainstream and special needs education has proved to be an invaluable asset to her success.

Read the full transcript of the Q&A below, where Mrs. Taylor offers us a fantastic insight into her company, her body of work, and her plans for the future!

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How important do you feel the element of role-play and play-acting are in your workshops?

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” This theory underpins the core values of our workshops: that children learn best when they are involved. One of the ways which we achieve this is through role-play which forms a key role in both of our workshops, ‘Feeding the Nation’ and ‘Tales and Treasures’

Where children are actively involved in their learning rather than passive participants, they are not only more enthused learners, but are also more likely to remember what they’ve learnt which contributes towards their skills progression. Role-play provides an additional experience from which they can develop their perspective about life in the past and is a valuable method for children to organise and communicate their learning.

Through role-play, the children are able to assume the role of a figure from the past. By living these actions, children are able to develop their knowledge and understanding of what life may have been like. For example, our WW2 workshop, Feeding the Nation, enables children to use a replica milking stand to pass a dairy proficiency test similarly to members of the Women’s Land Army during their training. Experiencing the feel of sitting on the stool, along with the effort of producing the “milk” into the bucket (or water in the workshops), the children begin to develop some perspective of what it was like to milk one cow, and therefore, what it might have been like to be solely responsible for milking 50 cows each day!

 

Workshops seem to become increasingly infrequent as children get older and progress through the curriculum. Do you believe the education system should be more open to this method of learning in higher age groups? What are your thoughts?

Through teaching in different settings and with a range of age groups, we’ve found that the common denominator of successful learning is engagement. If children are not engaged, they will not learn as effectively. Children need to feel that their learning is real, significant and has a purpose. Broadening the range of experiences that learners of all ages have access to, not only extends their perception of a particular area of learning, but enables them to employ and develop their skills and understanding in a different context.

The structure of a workshop has many benefits for learners of all ages and abilities: they are often highly practical and interactive, which, for the majority of learners, is both appealing and exciting. When workshops are underpinned by a strong educational basis, they become a fantastic means of learning and engagement for children of all ages and abilities.

There are also many benefits for the schools! A workshop can fulfil part of your pupil offer which has been outlined in your implementation statement. In terms of history, workshops offer enrichment and capital culture. For example, we bring a plethora of resources to enhance the learning of a topic which schools are often unable to provide to the same extent. Our workshops have real educational value because they have been planned with the National Curriculum objectives in mind, and are delivered by a teacher. Additionally, an outreach workshop takes place in the familiarity of your school setting which means that you are accessing a full day of learning, without the time or cost of travelling off-site. All of the risk assessments are completed by the workshop provider which saves teachers from additional paperwork.

Overall, we believe an outreach workshop can hold many benefits for both the learner and the educational setting at all stages of the learning journey.

 

Tell us about your current workshops and the subjects they cover?

We currently have two outreach workshops, ‘Feeding the Nation’ and Tales and Treasures’.

‘Feeding the Nation’ is a full day living history workshop aimed at primary schools which delves into the daily roles of the Women’s Land Army and everyday life on the Home Front during the Second World War.

Using our enormous world floor map (a teacher’s firm favourite!) we contextualise the events leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War and how the Battle of Supplies began. We explore how identities needed to change to ensure the steady supply of food during the Second World War and encourage children to think about what the terms “battle” and “army” mean in this context.

From the Women’s Land Army recruitment process and basic training, children will develop their understanding of life on the Home Front through role-play, artefact-handling, music, and a range of historical sources. 

We include first-hand accounts to enable the children to compare the recruitment propaganda with the reality of life in the WLA. From harvesting to milking, pest control to rationing, we cover the daily roles of the WLA and life at the time through a multi-sensory and immersive experience, bringing wartime rural Britain into your school.

‘Tales and Treasures’ is a full day living history workshop aimed at primary schools which delves into Anglo-Saxon crafts, music and storytelling. From the messages in their metalwork to their carefully woven tales, our workshop enables children to explore the skilled craftsmanship of the Anglo-Saxons and the important role it played in their culture.

During the day, children will develop their historical enquiry skills through archaeological investigation and artefact-handling. We encourage children to understand the importance of archaeology in learning about the past and the other clues that the Anglo-Saxons have left behind. 

They will have the opportunity to explore how Anglo-Saxons used story-telling through a Beowulf drama session. We play with toys and games, decipher riddles, explore Anglo-Saxon foods and write runic messages. 

As a response to Covid-19, both of these workshops are now also available as 1 hour interactive online workshops which take place with a historical character from the period. During the hour, children use historical enquiry skills to enjoy role-play, solve problems, engage in story-telling, view mystery objects, and ask questions.

 

There seems to be a focus on making your workshops engaging and enjoyable, how important do you feel it is for children to have fun in the process of learning?

Why shouldn’t learning be fun?! We know that if we’re bored, then we’re much less likely to learn, and the same applies to children. Our workshops create a memorable experience that the children can use to enhance the teaching of a history topic at school. Children are also more likely to remember their learning if they’re engaged.

The practical activities give them a real basis on which to develop their history enquiry and interpretation skills. For example, in our WW2 workshop, we have replica chocolate bars for children to handle so that they can compare the size, weight and appearance of pre-war bars with ration-sized bars which, by looking at images or objects alone, children would not be able to do.

Our workshops place an emphasis on children being able to handle and use items that they may not usually have the opportunity to hold, including a wide range of genuine and replica artefacts. The novelty of being able to handle such items certainly creates the wow factor but also plays a key role in enabling children to develop their enquiry skills through the use of a wide range of sources. We encourage children to think about the value of these items in contributing to our understanding of this period of time and as a collection, how they build a picture of life at the time. 

Mystery items always fascinate children, like the blackout filter for a car headlight or the butter churn in our WW2 workshop. Children love the opportunity to handle and use items because they spark their imaginations! During our Anglo-Saxon workshop, they can wear a replica Sutton Hoo or Staffordshire Hoard helmet and begin to understand how cold and heavy these were; they can scribe onto a wax tablet or feel the weight of a wooden well bucket. 

For safety (genuine respirators contain asbestos), we have a replica civilian gas mask in our WW2 workshop which children love to try on, often with exclamations about the strong smell of rubber and how quickly the viewing panel steams up. These multi-sensory experiences not only allow children the opportunity to live excerpts of history, but also contribute enormously to their overall knowledge of a particular period in time.

As a classroom teacher, I was keen to include as many physical resources as possible to bring a topic to life for children, but we understand the struggle that schools have in terms of the cost and/or storage in being able to own these items. Many loans services have now also closed, which makes booking an outreach workshop a great alternative to bring a wide range of objects into schools to support learning.

 

Possessing experience as a SENDCO, you’ve noted the importance of adapting your workshops to meet the needs of children with varying capabilities, what measures do you put in place to achieve this?

Through my experience of being a classroom teacher in special schools as well as being a SENDCO in mainstream, I know that all children learn differently. We’re always keen to work with schools to tailor workshops for children who have particular learning needs to ensure that the workshops are an inclusive experience.

When we designed our workshops, we aimed for them to be as inclusive as possible without additional measures to accommodate most learners. For example, there is little emphasis on reading and none on producing writing. Texts are supported by being read out or through voice recordings and where we use written text for table signs or information, this is dark navy in a large, clear font on cream paper. This approach reduces the glare of black text on white paper and both supports any learners who may have dyslexic tendencies or those with learning disabilities. Without placing emphasis on literacy skills, we are able to remove that as a potential barrier for learning.

The days are structured around a variety of activities from whole-cohort presentations, class learning, group work and partner-work. The activities are carousel-based so that children learn in short bursts. Any teaching from the front is kept to a minimum because children begin to lose concentration after about 20 minutes of listening. This supports a broad spectrum of learners by allowing them to keep focused and to be actively-involved in the day. All of the activities are inclusive to pupils with reduced mobility; our milking stand can accommodate pupils in wheelchairs and our archaeological dig trays can be accessed from tables.

Where there are more specific needs, we can also work with schools to put in additional measures. For example, where the day may become overstimulating, we can consider the volume of the film clips we use, whether the sensory input such as the smells or textures from the artefacts could be overwhelming. We can reduce the number of objects that we bring with us or to alter session lengths.

Being an outreach workshop means that we are working in an environment that is familiar to the pupils, which can also help children who have additional needs and supports teachers to control the physical setting of the workshop.

 

What other subjects would you like to teach through workshops in the future?

We initially chose to explore the role of the Women’s Land Army for our first workshop because we believe it’s important for children to learn about different roles in society. When learning about WW2, the role of women is often overlooked, yet there were so many millions of women who held a key role in the war effort and this societal change caused shifts in identities and how groups interacted with each other.

We decided to focus our Anglo-Saxon workshop on their arts and culture to challenge the misconception of this period being, “The Dark Ages,” by exploring the intricacy of their craftsmanship and how recent hoards like the Staffordshire Hoard, give us evidence about the past. We also learn about the legacy of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary in modern English.

We would like future workshops to continue to explore individuals or groups from an alternative perspective to help to build a rounded picture of a civilisation or group. A period of history that I’ve personally always found fascinating is The Tudor dynasty, which can be taught through the Post-1066 study, so there may be a future workshop with a Tudor focus.

We’d also love to explore some significant individual workshops to support the Key Stage 1 curriculum objectives like Mary Anning, who was an amazing contributor to the world of palaeontology or Edith Cavell, whose nursing played a key role in WW1. Speaking as a female teacher, representing the stories of women and telling “her-story” through history is something I feel strongly about and something which I take great pleasure in doing. 

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By adopting a creative, enthusiastic and innovative approach, Magic Door Education have been able to establish themselves as a breath of fresh air to the education system; reaffirming a longstanding, shared belief, that learning should be both engaging and fun for children of all academic abilities. We at hi-impact are all very excited to see how their workshops continue to progress!