Welcoming environments. Energized students. Passionate instructors. When we arrive at any one of Arts Umbrella’s free, donor-funded or community partner programs, we’re immediately greeted by these three things.  In this series, we’ll take you into the classroom, to discover the magic that happens in the Arts Umbrella community, beyond our core facilities.

Head Start Creative Drama at Strathcona Community Centre Preschool

What’s a quick way to get a giggle from a kid? Acting silly is a good place to start. For a rainy morning at Strathcona Community Centre Preschool, Arts Umbrella instructor Renee Iaci was quick to put smiles on the kids’ faces. On that particular morning, Renee has alphabet cereal for breakfast and was struggling to remember everyone’s names—including her own. “Rhubarb? Raspberry? Ratatouille?” she asked the kids, greeted by laughter. “Oh, I remember,” she finally said. “I’m Renee.”

Keeping the engagement high, Renee then went around the circle to make equally silly versions of all the kids’ names. For our youngest artists at Arts Umbrella, it’s a simple method to encourage participation and generate excitement.

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By the time Renee introduced the activity for Creative Drama that day—a story followed by the opportunity to dress up and act it out—her audience was all ears. It may have helped that fellow instructor Daryl Fretz had handed out imaginary ears for the kids to put on: including race car ears, choo-choo train ears, and hummingbird ears.

Ears on and ready to listen, Renee prepared to tell the kids “strawberry.” “Oh, that doesn’t sound quite right,” she says. “Streudel? St-st-stick in the mud? No, that’s not right, a stormy?” One of the kids finally realizes what Renee is trying to say and pipes in with, “story.”

Storytelling is one of those art forms that transcends social and economic boundaries; anyone from anywhere can tell or listen to a story. It just takes a little time and imagination. During our visit, Renee told a story about a marsh hawk and a village of chipmunks. Bringing drama to the group of three-year-olds, she boomed in Marsh Hawk’s deep voice, and squeaked and chirped for the chipmunks.

For an interactive activity, the kids then acted out the story, wearing capes and shawls of all shades to represent their favourite birds or colours. Renee and Daryl both encouraged the kids to play whatever role they wished, and the second telling of the story was all about the children’s’ creative expression and imagination. During one scene in the story, the children sat huddled as chipmunks in their hole, plucking feathers from the marsh hawk’s behind.

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Veronica White, a Child Care Coordinator with the Strathcona Community Centre Association, spoke to us about the daycare and students. At Strathcona, each class is one age, rather than a range. This, according to Veronica, is because so much development happens during a child’s preschool ages. A young three-year-old and an old four-year-old can be at vastly different points in their emotional and physical development. By organizing classes into single years, the instructors are better able to assess and work with the children. For kids among their peers, Arts Umbrella classes, like Creative Drama, encourage children to engage with one another and shape their individuality, in an intimidation- and judgment-free zone.

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Arts Umbrella Instructors Rene Iaci (left) and Daryl Fretz (right)

At Arts Umbrella, we strive to provide access to high-quality art classes and supplies to every child, regardless of economic or social barriers. The freedom for a child to express their creativity during their early developmental years is of utmost importance. In Creative Drama, we see our kids laughing along to a story, sharing their favourite birds with the class, and dancing with a friend during free movement time at the end of class. In short, we see the limitless potential that comes from wearing a cape.


Head Start at Strathcona Community Centre Preschool is generously supported by the West Coast Reduction/Diamond Foundation, Dana and John Montalbano, John Cassils and Nina Bains Cassils, and MFS Investment Management