‘Magical’ arts class captivates children’s interest

Picture: Hamish Campbell
Picture: Hamish Campbell
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THE children sit cross-legged in a circle, wide-eyed and enthusiastic as a cow hand puppet talks about his life on the farm.

The next minute, the youngsters spring to their feet and launch into a dance routine, before bursting into a farm-themed song and dressing up in straw hats and dungarees while feeding imaginary chickens.

Throw in a few musical instruments, bubbles and an educational lesson and you have a typical Sparkle Arts class.

Except no class can be described as “typical”.

Designed for children aged one to five, the classes pride themselves on being different each week, with ever-changing themes so that youngsters will never experience the same session twice.

Themes including dinosaurs, Christmas, Africa and outer space inspire children and get their imaginations working overtime as they learn through the medium of music, dance, drama and storytelling. And now more children will get the chance to sign up as the classes are rolled out across Edinburgh and East Lothian.

Dayle Connell, who founded Sparkle Arts, along with her husband, Brian, says the secret of its success is its cross-genre approach and links to the pre-school curriculum.

Children sing to modern pop music, do role play exercises and take part in choreographed dance routines to songs based on that week’s theme.

“Sparkle Arts is very different to other classes for children of that age group as it is a mix of dance, drama and music, whereas a lot of other classes for children under five are either dance, drama or music,” she says.

“Coming from the world of musical theatre, I had to do dance, music and drama auditions and had to be good at all three. That’s what I have tried to bring to Sparkle Arts, bringing all those different genres together and trying to bring education to life through dancing, singing and drama.

“Every week we teach a different educational topic and we are educating children through the medium of performing arts.”

Dayle, 36, was working in musical theatre in London and teaching dance to kids when she came up with the idea of founding her own unique business back home in Edinburgh.

The business first started out by going into nurseries across Edinburgh to teach children, then Dayle and Brian launched their own parent and child class at Myreside.

“From my experiences in London, I created my own array of lesson plans and wanted to start a business in Edinburgh,” explains Dayle. “My husband comes from a marketing background and worked for Nike for 16 years. We both decided Sparkle Arts was the direction we wanted to go in, so with his marketing expertise mixed with my performing arts background, it made it a perfect combination.”

Over the past seven years, the couple have built up their business and now teach around 1500 children.

Next month they will be launching 40 themed classes in more than 30 venues throughout Edinburgh, East Lothian and Fife.

The eventual plan is to franchise Sparkle Arts across the UK.

Dayle and Brian are also planning to do more work with older children in primary schools, and were recently invited to take their class into Parsons Green Primary, where they helped bring Vikings and Ancient Egyptians alive for primary four and five pupils.

Alison Melton, 39, whose three-year-old daughter, Carys, has been attending Sparkle Arts since she was 18 months old, says: “The themes are fabulous and very informative – too informative at times as Carys wants to go to Africa now to see the lions and all the animals she learnt about at the Africa-themed Sparkle Arts class.

“Dayle and her teachers have a special quality that captures the interest of children and engages them throughout the class. The classes are magical and a sheer delight, and as a parent it is great that I can still join in the classes, as many pre-school classes are child-only from three years old.

“It’s also good that the classes have a drop-in approach. You can either sign up for a term or pay per class which is an added benefit.”

• For more information, visit www.sparklearts.co.uk