Teaching Diversity to Kids

Lynn Schreiber
Children need to enjoy, play and learn with other children from different backgrounds, cultures and abilities. To understand and embrace other cultures, backgrounds, genders, religions and abilities is key to their happiness. But how do we communicate diversity to children? Cathy Shiel is an actor and drama teacher and came up with a plan.

Friends Forsquever?

Living in a culturally diverse city, like so many cities in the UK, I know how important it is to value difference.

I first moved to Manchester as and a romantic, inquisitive 19 year old to going to University to study drama and fell in love with the City. I criticized my childhood roots and felt somewhat cheated or sheltered from other ways of life and customs. Growing up in a small village soon became the most boring thing that could ever (still in the teenage drama phase here) have happened to me in my whole life.

I met new friends, experienced new cultures, did things I’ll never do again, and I am glad I gave it a go and broadened my horizons. I still live in Manchester, and though I remain in touch with my primary school friends, who I once brandished so uncultured,  I continue to enjoy the diversity of the city. Everyone is different and it’s brilliant.

Being an actor and early years teacher,  I want to teach children how to create positive change, how to be sensitive to others and to be proud of who they are all at the same time!

I could be the most tolerant role model in the world (I’m not but I’m trying), and, despite the best efforts of teachers and parents alike, children are still influenced by their environment, plus the pressures of stereotypes or biases they see in the media, in society and from their peers. Unfortunately prejudices and discriminations still occur in the world today.

I had the idea to create a quality piece of children’s theatre, that values differences, and challenges prejudices from an early age. I thought this was impossible; doubt crept in. Children won’t understand diversity and prejudice and discrimination from a simple play. I had this idea floating around in my head for two years.

Then I received a wonderful Christmas present; a hand-made squirrel puppet! As soon as I put him on my hand, a silly accent came out of my mouth, and I knew this was the character to explore these ideas. A character called Cyril emerged,  a cheeky, candid squirrel. I started to research grey squirrels and their background, and soon a story emerged.

Cyril the squirrel is a story of a squirrel in turmoil. Rejected and teased by some of the animal folk of woody woodland. The colour of his fur and his eating habits mean he is soon evicted from his tree by a sneaky weasel. Fortunately Rosie Red has a good idea – ting – Cyril should stand up for his squirrel rights, but can squirrels even stand up?

The research and development process is a little over half way through, and there have been some hilarious and genuinely moving moments explored already. A group of talented folk have squirreled away for hours to make this piece the best it can be.

Sq team SharingProfessional actors, set designer, director, writer, script readers, musician, filmmaker and illustrator have all jumped on board. The show journeys through puppetry, storytelling, theatre and clown.  We are very excited to showcase excerpts of the script so far in Manchester this week.

An exciting, silly and heartwarming, piece of children’s theatre about diversity, friendship and magic Cyril the Squirrel will tour the UK 2016.

Find out more about Cyril the Squirrel here, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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