The Lightyear Foundation, a charity committed to helping disabled children to participate in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) activities, teamed up with inclusive dance charity Flamingo Chicks to deliver a three-year programme of active learning classes.
Many disabled children are excluded from STEM lessons, as there is a common misconception that they will not benefit from them or that such classes are not suitable.
Research also shows that a quarter of disabled children feel lonely, have less confidence than their non-disabled peers, and feel cut off from social groups. On top of this, many disabled children are physically inactive.
But Lightyear Foundation and Flamingo Chicks were sure that STEM topics could be used to teach life skills, build confidence, inspire curiosity and bring fun to disabled children – if the lessons were designed creatively.
The Space Ballet programme explored a new STEM topic each term. These included Alien Worlds (astronomy and physics), Carnival of the Animals (zoology), Coppelia (inventing), Recovery and Resilience (biology), Human Body (biology and familiarising disabled children with medical environments), Cinderella Potions (chemistry), Alice in Wonderland (maths), Firebird (nature), Ocean, Sports Science and the Little People, Big Dreams book series (STEM role models).
The sessions used sensory props and each theme was given its own identity by the use of visual aids such as jellyfish umbrellas, space landscape backdrops, multi-sensory light displays and sequinned carpets.
Over three years, the charities designed and delivered 170 regular classes, 473 workshops and 13 virtual classes that attracted 275,000 views. It had aimed to reach 4,680 children but greatly exceeded this target by reaching 18,122 children.
The end-of-project evaluation showed that 79% of children said their physical ability had improved (60% by “a lot”), 83% of children said their confidence and resilience had improved, and 73% of students said they had enjoyment and interest in STEM.
Charity Awards chair of judges Su Sayer said the project had “lovely results”.
“They found that activity increased in the children that took part – they lost weight, were much fitter, and it was much more inclusive because disabled and non-disabled children could work together. The children really had fun learning when they didn’t even realise they were learning.”
CC Reg no. 1150231