Fantastic for Families Awards 2022 Case Study

Scarabeus Theatre:
Giving families a space to learn, bond and spend quality time together through aerial skills

Shortlisted for the Best Family Arts Activity Award in the 2022 Fantastic for Families Awards, the Flying Families programme from Scarabeus Theatre is an innovative way in which families can come together to learn, bond and spend quality time together through aerial skills. Daniela Essart, Artistic Director of Scarabeus Theatre, tells us about the programme and its impact.

Engaging families living in difficult circumstances and establishing trust 

Flying Families is an exciting free programme of aerial skills and creative movement workshops for grown-ups and their children. It’s a great opportunity for parents and children to spend quality time together, building confidence while learning and sharing new skills with other local families, in a safe, supportive and non-judgemental environment.  

Our participation work is aimed at supporting families that benefit most from our aerial programmes, families that face challenging circumstances and often struggle to engage in more traditional school or extracurricular activities.  

Engaging and retaining these families can be a real challenge. Over the years we have learnt that by establishing strong relationships with three key areas gives us the best start when working with new families, these include: local family support services, community groups and hubs, schools and children’s centres. 

We work in close collaboration with schools and their pastoral care team to better understand their families, and tailor the programme to accommodate their needs. Having support on hand from staff that families are already familiar with, helps to engender trust from the start. Meeting other families helps to break down barriers, making new friends and acquire a sense of belonging.  

Using aerial skills and movement to grow confidence and help children take the lead 

Happy, relaxed, joyful, inspired, a bit confused, cool, excited, great, jubilant, peaceful, calm, grateful… these are the feedback words from our participants, when we ask how they feel in trying aerial skills. We work step by step, to gain the trust of the children and particularly of the adults. 

One of the biggest challenges we face when working with new families is a hesitation from adults when trying something new, a sense of trepidation that is often missing in their young counterparts. The children are eager to get into the aerial cocoons and are often fast learners, seeing the nervousness of their parents and carers helps them take the lead.  

Working across an 8-week programme we start by showing the participants basic aerial poses, and with a bit of encouragement, children grow in confidence and are keen to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Soon we see roles reverse as a child guides their parent through a routine, communicating and encouraging, as their parent learns to let go. It’s a joy to see families committing to learning new physical skills and have fun overcoming challenges together. 

“For a few hours I forgot all my worries, I felt light and playful…” – Parent 

The value of even small moments of quality time together, focused on one experience, can often be lost to the day to day demands on our time. Giving families a space to learn and have fun together can not only help strengthen familial bonds, but reduce stress, anxiety and support overall health.

“It was phenomenal… my 7 year old taught me the upside down frog – something I will cherish forever!” – Parent

“It was phenomenal… my 7 year old taught me the upside down frog – something I will cherish forever!”

Going Forward

Feedback from our families has been invaluable, by asking both the adults and children to self-assess how they think they’ve grown, their level of enjoyment and what they’ve learnt, we’ve been able to see what parts of the programme have been of most benefit. One of our biggest questions is ‘What’s next?’, where can they now go for new experiences or to continue to spend time together.  

We try to leave the families taking part in the sessions with the tools they need to continue to grow: a better understanding of how they learn and communicate as individuals, how they can work together, and other ways they can enjoy spending time together.  

Throughout the programme we introduce them to new spaces, encouraging a playful relationship with local organisations and green spaces in their community. By participating in enjoyable and exhilarating play within these settings, families feel welcomed and confident to be themselves within spaces that might otherwise seem like faceless institutions or places for ‘other’ families.  

Some of our biggest highlights are bumping into past participants in the woods we first took them to, or hearing from a family that they’ve started a weekly ritual of learning something new together. There are a lot of highs and lows working in this sector, but the opportunity to see a family grow closer never fails to inspire.   

Being shortlisted for this award is a great recognition for our organisation. For over 20 years we have dedicated thoughts, time, commitment and resources to bring families together, and share with them the joys of looking at life whilst being suspended upside down!   

21 July 2023



Daniela Essart, Artistic Director  

Since co-founding the company in 1988, Scarabeus has produced spectacular performances aimed at awakening empathy and ethical consciousness. Alongside have created participation projects, partnering with local organisations and schools, to offer inspiring experiences for children, young people and families and underrepresented members of the community to explore and grow, and ultimately, transform lives through the power of art and performance. 

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21 July 2023