Yamo! Yamo! – Students enjoying Fana Soro’s drumming workshop

Kaleidoscope in the Schools

The Inspiration

The germination of KITS evolved out of a compelling conversation that sprang up in arts circles in the US over 20 years ago. Studies at that time suggested that children under the age of 10 who saw a performing arts performance, be it music, theatre or dance, were more tolerant of their peers. This resulted in a flurry of funding in the US for youth access to the arts in the 1980’s – much of which now is virtually gone – and a curiosity by artists and arts organizations to understand the roots of this tolerant outcome. Anecdotal evidence points to the fact that a collective live performance allows children to talk about what they experienced together with others around them, regardless of their ethnic background, economic status, age, social status or other factors that may normally limit conversation with peers.

Since that time, there have been many studies that look at the impact of the arts on children. In 2019, Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research found that arts in education and access to the arts positively impacts literacy and creative writing, conceptual analysis, and behavioral issues with disconnected children. Based on multiple projects in major cities in the US including Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and others, they also found that there is a growing importance of partnerships between schools and professional cultural institutions in delivering arts activities. However these partnerships did not last as arts organizations were more focused on transactional field trips rather than over-arching curriculum goals, teacher professional development needs, and sustaining ongoing relationships. (Bowen and Kisida, 2019, p.7).

In 2016, The Arts Council (Ireland) launched a study “Growing up in Ireland” which, while not primarily focused on the arts, ended up with a number of recommendations around enhancing one’s childhood through arts participation and experiences. It found that access to the arts was influenced by a number of factors, including economics and parental interest. However, as report author Dr. Emer Smyth notes, decisions made in publicly-funded institutions such as education are key to democratizing access to the arts, and have a direct impact on the creativity of children growing up (p.35).

In 2011, Dr. Rena Upitis, Professor of Arts Education at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario prepared a report for the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario which examined educational policy, teacher education, historic practice in arts education, and the degree to which arts in education impacts a child’s scholastic development. Professor Upitis commented on the intersecting factors that affect arts delivery: teachers as generalists, the need for skilled support for teachers to deliver on arts learning, curriculum requirements, and integrating creative practice into the classroom in other subjects. When commenting on a successful model, Upitis noted:
“…it is a blend of true partnerships between generalist teachers, specialist teachers, arts subjects, and art-makers of all kinds that is most likely to yield the richest arts education for the developing child.” (p. ii)

The Idea

Inspired by academic studies, and with 20 years’ experience working as a senior arts administrator, Executive Director Suzanne Haines has always looked to build partnerships with families and educators to bring the arts to children, inspiring their development as creative humans. Through her work in other communities, Suzanne has partnered with schools and school boards to deliver arts curriculum through specially-built programming. The Aurora Cultural Centre has all the necessary ingredients to move forward: established relationships with the school boards, a roster of school-aged programming, and an established audience base with the Kaleidoscope Family Series built through a decade of programming by Communications & Events Manager, Jane Taylor.

The Aurora Cultural Centre feels a strong responsibility to ensure that arts experiences are available to all children regardless of their background. Scholarly data and widely held anecdotal evidence confirms that these experiences can shape a child’s values, open them up to new ideas and cultures, and create more compassionate responses as they grow to be the next generation of leaders. Elementary schools and teachers are constantly seeking out innovative and exciting methods of meeting curriculum goals, even while facing funding cuts to arts programs. This is a void that can be filled by external organizations who specialize in programming excellence in this area.

To create a delivery model for KITS, the team identified and addressed several barriers in delivering the program during the preliminary research phase. We worked with board partners from across York Region who have schools in Aurora: York Region District School Board, York Catholic District School Board, and Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir (French Catholic School Board). The population of students in JK to Grade 4 in each school precluded using the Centre’s 150-seat performance hall. Schools also reported logistical and financial difficulties in taking students offsite to access the performing arts. This confirmed that we would present KITS in each of the 16 schools across our community. The next step was reducing any barriers to access for students with exceptionalities and behavioural challenges. With our decade of experience delivering arts programming and summer camps to children, we were aware of the particular impacts faced by these children when adjusting to new surroundings. Our discussions with the boards confirmed that for these students, schools were already a welcoming and known environment. When addressing the costs associated with the program, we recognized a cognitive dissonance between the perception of Aurora as an affluent community, and the economic reality that is more stratified and diverse. Research presented by our board partners confirmed this fact. To ensure democratized access to this program across the entire community regardless of socio-economic status, the Centre committed to fully supporting the program to remove financial barriers for parents.

Finally, the Centre recognized that teachers in the elementary stream are often generalists with little arts curriculum training. To address this barrier faced by the teaching community, the program needed to include a fully-supported professional development component that addressed both incorporating the arts into the wider curriculum in order to engage students through these methods, and to support students seeing and engaging with performing arts presentations. Working in partnership with Young People’s Theatre in Toronto, we received valuable start-up information, access to their professional arts facilitators to deliver our teacher professional development, and encouragement to work together as KITS develops. Through careful consideration during this pilot phase, we acknowledged and addressed these barriers to the best of our abilities in order to ensure universal access to our programs.

One goal of the Aurora Cultural Centre’s Inspire, Engage & Transform 2018-2021 strategic plan is to deliver professional performing and visual arts programming while supporting community engagement, education, and community arts practice. The KITS initiative allows us to develop a stronger partnership with local elementary schools, and to engage with students in a new way. Arts programs in schools help teach children to express themselves, to take risks, and to learn about other cultural traditions. Kaleidoscope in the Schools programming fosters a connection to arts that is needed within our local schools.

Together, compelling scholarly studies, productive conversations with our local boards and the children’s performing arts community, and experiences of management at the Aurora Cultural Centre informed the ultimate program design.

Students enjoying Fana Soro’s drumming workshop

Kaleidoscope in the Schools (KITS) is a unique school-based program created by the Aurora Cultural Centre. The program elements include fully subsidized in-school performances and workshops by professional performing artists, as well as professional development resources to enable pre- and post-show activities.

The KITS program offers a curated season of four live performing arts productions throughout the year for schools to choose from that are uniquely tied to the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Elementary Curriculum. The Aurora Cultural Centre’s long-term goal is to afford every child in Aurora from JK to grade 4 the opportunity to participate in a live performing arts production. We believe the KITS program opens doors to creativity and tolerance and creates lasting positive memories through a shared experience of the arts.

The Aurora Cultural Centre feels a strong responsibility that arts experiences should be available to all children regardless of their background, as these experiences have the ability to shape a child’s values, open them up to new ideas and cultures, and make them more compassionate as they grow to be the next generation of leaders. The artistic work we bring into the schools mirrors our community’s diversity so students see themselves on stage or learn about new cultures and traditions. We believe the arts have the power to engage, inspire, and transform each and every individual. The arts spark creative  thought, transform perception, and provide a catalyst for conversation. It engages the mind and body, awakens the senses, and calms the spirit.

The KITS program is designed to follow a carefully-crafted trajectory to maximize the child’s engagement with the arts activity. The intended outcomes of the KITS program are depicted in the Journey of the Child.

Journey of the Child

Bringing these productions into the schools serves a number of outcomes:

  1. By removing the cost to the parent/guardian, the program allows children of all economic backgrounds to have equitable access to the arts regardless of their home environment/situation
  2. Children with exceptionalities including accessibility needs, behavior challenges, and learning disabilities can attend the performances from the comfort of their school environment;
  3. We mitigate the challenges of offsite activities for many schools where bus costs and logistics become major barriers by bringing the production into the school;
  4. We will reach a larger audience of children than can currently fit in our performance space; and
  5. The KITS program allows the Aurora Cultural Centre to break out of our four walls and have a deeper impact in the community.

In our inaugural 2019/20 year we focused on delivering the KITS program to all publicly funded elementary schools in Aurora free of charge. This includes schools in York Catholic District School Board, York Region District School Board, and Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir, funded generously through the Town of Aurora, the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Seed Grant, and individual donors including a major gift from Aurora residents Isobel Ralston & Jan Oudenes.

KITS Performances

In 2019/2020 we featured incredible music, dance and puppetry performances. To learn more about the performances offered in our inaugural year please read below.

Plastique (en français)
Plastic (in English)

Puzzle Théâtre
Puppet & Object Theatre Performance
Available in English or French
Touring Dates: October 22 – 25, 2019

In 2019/20 year this performance and workshop was offered at Northern Lights PS, Lester B. Pearson PS, ÉÉC Saint-Jean, and Wellington PS reaching 762 students and 37 teachers plus another 92 students in workshops presented.

What is more surprising than a plastic bag world where funny and colorful creatures are born and transform themselves as much as they like!
They fill themselves, they empty themselves again, they fly, they eat each other, they are bored…they exist. Step by step, as their personalities emerge, they reveal their nature. They are primitive, naive and fun – and perhaps they resemble us just a little bit.  Remaining faithful to its artistic approach, Puzzle Théâtre offers a multicoloured performance with unusual puppets, humor and unexpected situations.
A timely and topical discussion that is particularly embraced by youth, Plastic/Plastique allows for a dialogue on conservation and the environment through a creative, arts-based lens.

Puzzle Théâtre was founded in Bulgaria in 1996, then moved across the Atlantic to its new home base in Montreal in 2004. The two-person artistic team of Pavla Mano and Csaba Raduly bring a unique theatrical approach to object and puppetry theatre, exploring the relationship between the actor and the puppet, and encouraging the audience to engage in a rich and imaginative process that invites questions, curiosity and wonder. Puzzle Théâtre has toured extensively across Canada and around the world, including the Chicago International Puppet Festival, Shanghai Int’l Children’s Art Theatre, Int’l Puppet Festival in Czech Republic, and the Festival of Silliness in Yellowknife.

Curriculum Connections

  • Environment, ecology
  • Drama/movement
  • Civic engagement

Student Workshop

Making Puppets: Pavla & Csaba lead a group in the creation of puppets using plastic bags and other scraps to decorate the puppet and make it come to life. Then students learn to create a story with their puppet by giving it a personality and voice and having it interact with their classmates’ puppets!

Yamo! Yamo! Greetings from West Africa! /
Yamo! Yamo! Une aventure culturelle en Côte d’Ivoire

Fana Soro
Music & Dance Performance
Available in English or French, or as a bilingual performance
Touring Dates: November 19 – 22, 2019

In 2019/20 year this performance and workshop was offered at St. Joseph CES, Aurora Grove PS, Our Lady of Grace CES, and Devins Drive PS reaching 943 students and 51 teachers, plus another 231 students in workshops presented.

“Yamo! Yamo!” (“Hello! How are you doing!” in Baoulé) from the charismatic ambassador of West African culture! In this dynamic and interactive performance, Fana Soro, a hereditary master musician of the Senoufo people, shares the musical traditions of his home country to showcase the soaring melodies, driving rhythms and spirited dances of ancient West African performing arts. A fun and interactive performance, Yamo! Yamo! involves call-and-response and audience participation.

Fana Soro is a musician, dancer and educator from the Ivory Coast, where he was a member of the prestigious Ballet National de Côte d’Ivoire. He is the creative director of the performance group Masabo in Vancouver. Since 1997, Fana has been a cultural ambassador for West Africa, bringing his vast experience of engaging students to over a hundred Canadian schools every year. Fana Soro lives with his family in Ottawa.

Curriculum Connections

  •  Music, dance and percussion instruments of West Africa
  • French cultures around the world

Student Workshop

Fana Soro’s workshop in West African Music & Dance offers a flexible structure which is tailored to the school’s needs (all dance, all music, or a combination of the two to give the students a taste of everything.) As a master percussionist, Fana introduces traditional playing techniques of the djembé, West Africa’s most popular drum, as well as other hand-held percussion instruments. Fana shares call and response in various languages native to northern Ivory Coast.

From Handel to Hip Hop

Beatboxing String Trio
Touring Dates: February 4 – 7, 2020

In 2019/20 year this performance and workshop was offered at Highview PS, Light of Christ CES, Holy Spirit CES, and St. Jerome CES reaching 825 students and 37 teachers, plus another 124 students in workshops presented.

Vancouver-based beat-boxing string trio Infinitus’s production of “From Handel to Hip Hop” features a repertoire ranging from classical standards to original jazz/hip-hop arrangements. An original performance that focuses on the differences between listening and hearing skills to illustrate various elements of classical music, this dynamic trio engages every audience member with music ranging from familiar classics to rock, and from TV theme songs to hip-hop beatboxing. Drawing on their vast repertoire, the group tailors each performance to the age range of their audience while engaging students with their easygoing and interactive stage presence.
Infinitus was formed in 2008 by violist Anthony Cheung, cellist Alex Cheung, and violinist John “Adidam” Littlejohn. Collectively, the members hold degrees from the University of Michigan and the Peabody Conservatory and have won awards at the local, national, and international level. They have performed extensively throughout North America presenting community performances, soloing with orchestras, and conducting masterclasses, workshops, and seminars. The trio has captivated over 900 schools throughout Canada and the United States with their polished, upbeat introduction to instrumental music.

Curriculum Connections

  • Music, Music Appreciation, Feelings

Student Workshop

Infinitus leads the class in the creation of their own song, complete with thoughtful lyrics and a dynamic beat. Students collaborate on putting together a poem that has a theme, rhyming words, and an overall message. Then students stand in a circle and perform their completed piece, a truly group experience.

The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito

Carousel Players
Theatre Performance

Due to the pandemic, this performance was not delivered in 2020. We hope to bring this program back in the 2022 season.

Evaluation of the Program

As part of our commitment to our donors and granting organizations, as well as for overall organizational learning, the Aurora Cultural Centre contracted Hill Strategies, a widely respected organization across Canada and internationally as a leading authority on arts and culture research to conduct a feedback survey on our behalf for our inaugural 2019/20 year. The survey’s goal was to gain an understanding of the KITS program’s impacts on students, the usefulness of the study guide and professional development workshops, the strengths and challenges of the delivery model, and any unforeseen barriers to student participation.

KITS Final Report

Hill Strategies findings for the 2019/2020 season were compiled into a Kaleidoscope in the Schools Final Report. The PDF report can be read in full below.


KITS Performances

In 2021/2022 we featured incredible music, dance and puppetry performances. To learn more about the performances offered in 2021/2022 please read below.


The Carnival of Animals (in English)
Le Carnaval des Animaux (en français)

Touring Dates: Scheduled for May 4 & 5


Mime Performance

Available in English or French

The Carnival of Animals is a classical music composition by Camille Saint-Saëns, often used to introduce children to the world of classical Western music with movements devoted to elephants, chickens, and turtles. This production features Trevor Copp’s interpretation of these animals – watch him use the art of mime become a clucking, growling, and flapping parade of animals who bridge this wonderful music to the hearts of children and adults alike.

Each animal will also be introduced by poems considering the ecological role these animals play in this world we share, poems that were longlisted for the Canadian Society for Children’s Literature awards.

Trevor founded Tottering Biped Theatre (TBT) in 2009, a professional company that emphasizes highly physical and social-issue-oriented work. He completed Theatre Studies at Waterloo, an MA at Guelph, and Mime at the Marcel Marceau School in Paris.

As a devised theatre co-creator, Trevor performed/directed in TBT’s First Dance, The Second Life, Searching for Marceau, and MT Space’s The Last 15 Seconds, Body 13, and Amal. These 6 shows performed multiple times at the Theatre Passe Muraille, Grand Theatre, Firehall Theatre, and as part of Theatre Aquarius seasons, the IMPACT 09/11/13/15, Magnetic North, Prismatic, Undercurrents, In the Soil, and Canoe festivals. They were also taken on national tours and a tour of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Albania. As an actor, he also performed in TBT’s Thom Pain, Home Free, and The Ends of the Earth; Oakville Festival of the Classics’ Pericles; Theatre & Company’s Beauty and the Beast, Metamorphosis, Ten Times Two, and Barefoot in the Park; and Motus O Dance Theatre’s The Shunning.

Curriculum Connections

Language arts, storytelling, animals and habitats, care for the environment, dance, drama, choreography and movement, music

Student Workshop:

The workshop would focus on creative play and mime. How do we communicate without words? How does music ‘make us’ move in certain ways? We will find ways to release creativity through movement and gesture.


Kattam and his Tam Tams (in English)
Kattam et ses Tam-Tams (en français)

Touring Dates: Scheduled for May 10 – 13


Music & Dance Performance
Available in English or French

To the sound of the n’goni, balafon, djembe, naffar, derbouka and dhol, percussionist Kattam invites students to discover Africa, the Middle East and India through rhythm, song and dance! From African rap and desert dance to trance Sufi rhythm and Bollywood dance. Accompanied by his monkey, Takoum, Kattam engages his audience through participation, rhythm and captivating storytelling. His high-energy shows invite the audience to watch, listen and, above all, participate!

Kattam’s aim is to foster a taste for music, discovery and self-expression amongst children, to partake in celebrations specific to different cultures, and to make both popular and spiritual music accessible—ultimately in order to teach children that beyond cultural differences lies a shared humanity. An incredible multicultural and global adventure awaits!

Kattam – who is part Québécois and part Moroccan – describes music as his passport to discover different cultures. Guided by his passion for percussion as well as for dance and theatre, the Montreal-based musician is constantly setting a course for new horizons that bring out the depth of the human experience. He has studied with international percussion masters around the world, including the djembe and doum in Guinea, the derbouka in Morocco, and the dhol and tabla in India. He’s even perfected his pop percussion skills with Céline Dion’s percussionist Paul Picard. Nominated for a Juno and Canadian Folk Music Award, he has performed with the Cirque du Soleil and at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. A frequent contributor to Quebec variety and awards shows, he is part of several musical ensembles, and has recorded soundtracks for Montreal-based filmmaker Phillipe Falardeau. Performing close to 200 youth and family audiences per year with his solo show Kattam and His Tam-Tams, his original pieces place children front and centre.

Curriculum Connections

Music, dance and percussion instruments of Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia

Student Workshop

Kattam offers an initiation to African, Arabic, Indian and pop rhythms through the djembe. A total of 30 djembe drums are provided to the students.


Touring Dates: Scheduled for May 24-27


Music & Dance Performance

Available in English

Meet The Fitzgeralds – a family group consisting of fiddling and step dancing sensations Tom, Kerry, and Julie Fitzgerald. Featuring 3-time Canadian Grandmaster Fiddle Champions and Ontario Open Step Dance Champions, this unique act features high-energy fiddling and mind-blowing step dancing. With roots in Canada’s renowned Ottawa Valley, The Fitzgeralds have evolved to include a wide variety of material in their performances, including Celtic fiddle pieces and a strong focus on original compositions and arrangements. Their extensive tour history includes performances with notable artists; Natalie MacMaster, Ireland’s Nathan Carter, Leahy, Tony McManus, Cherish the Ladies, The StepCrew, and Lunasa. It is the rare combination of exceptional musicianship, incomparable step dancing, audience interaction, evident love of performing, and genuine sibling connection that resonates with audiences of all ages and sets this group apart.

The Fitzgerald siblings were raised in a musical household and toured internationally with their family band “Everything Fitz”. They were immersed in the rich tradition of Canadian Old Time fiddling and step dancing that evolved with the arrival of Irish, Scottish and French immigrants. Over time, they have developed their art form to include various styles of fiddle music including Celtic, jazz, bluegrass, French-Canadian, and pop. They have also explored other dance forms including tap and Irish. The siblings continue to push boundaries by fusing traditional and modern styles of fiddle and dance to create original tunes and arrangements, some of which were released on their latest album.

Curriculum Connections

Dance, drama, choreography and movement, music

Student Workshop:

This workshop is still being developed and will be updated accordingly. It will introduce students to the fun and magic of step dancing and Celtic music.

The Aurora Cultural Centre will be launching it’s KITS4KIDS campaign in September!

Between September 9 and October 7, the Aurora Cultural Centre will be putting out a call to all York Region residents to donate to the KITS4KIDS campaign.  The intent of this donation drive is to grow our already successful program to 51 schools throughout Aurora as well as York Region elementary schools north of Aurora identified by school boards to have socio-economic barriers to arts participation.

Check out our wonderful line-up of performers and how each relates to the curriculum on our Kaleidoscope in the Schools page