April 26, 2021, by School of Medicine

The Dragon In My Skin: book, animation, and resource pack for schools to raise awareness about life with eczema and encourage self-care

Stephanie Lax from the Centre of Evidence Based Dermatology has been proud to work with Professor Fiona Cowdell and colleagues from the School of Education at Birmingham City University (BCU) and local professional orchestra Sinfonia Viva on an artistic outreach project resulting in a children’s book, film, and resource pack for Key Stage 1 teachers.

The Dragon In My Skin was funded through Fiona Cowdell’s NIHR Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship and is part of a wider project to share evidence-based key messages about eczema consistently to people with eczema, healthcare professionals involved in eczema care (see for further information). The specific aim was to communicate the messages which were developed from co-creation workshops with people living with eczema and health professionals and more generally to raise awareness about the condition to the wider community.

The key messages are as follows:

  1. Eczema is more than just dry skin
  2. Eczema does not just go away
  3. Moisturisers are for every day
  4. Steroid creams are okay when you need them
  5. You know your child’s eczema best

Four children and their dragonsHazel Gould, commissioned to write a children’s story incorporating these messages, came up with the idea of a dragon; a fascinating, endearing and fierce image that is really appropriate for something that flares! Beautiful illustrations by Jay Nolan-Latchford depict four children, and their matching dragons, through the ups and downs of life with eczema. It’s a long-term condition that is characterised by itch but made worse by scratching. It needs daily application of creams to relieve but can’t be cured. The story acknowledges and validates the fears and frustrations that children with eczema can find difficult to deal with.

A series of songwriting workshops, virtual by necessity because of the pandemic, was then run by Marianne Barraclough at Sinfonia Viva with children and families living with eczema. Hazel Gould and Abimaro Gunnell, the music leader, worked with the families to develop lyrics, melodies, and underscoring to produce the soundtrack, orchestrated by Raph Clarkson. Musicians from Sinfonia Viva then recorded the songs in a live session, and the children and families recorded the narrative and vocals in their homes on whatever devices were available. Abbie Canning and Darius Powell brought it all together with their animations using Jay Nolan-Latchford’s images to produce the film which premiered via Zoom on 27th March 2021, you can watch the video now on YouTube.

It has been powerful to hear how families have benefitted from being part of The Dragon In My Skin so far. To quote one parent who was involved in the songwriting workshops: “Especially as I don’t suffer from eczema myself, this really helped me see what [my child] is feeling.”

A child and their dragon talking about taking care of itThe next phase has been to work with Alison Pemberton and her colleagues in the School of Education at BCU, to develop a cross-curricular resource pack for use by Key Stage 1 teachers, which is now being piloted by 300 student teachers from BCU. When the project was discussed with CEBD’s Patient Panel, parents of children with eczema were keen to ‘educate the educators’ about the impact of eczema on school life, from bullying and stigma, through lack of sleep and concentration due to itching, to struggling to complete writing work with sore, cracked hands. They were also keen to avoid the need to single out individuals and “do an assembly”, and so it has been a priority to make this as broadly applicable and accessible to all as possible.

It is a fully flexible resource, with each activity designed to work on its own, or it can be used over a longer period according to requirement, with something for everyone to get stuck into. The backing tracks and lyrics are also included to enable children to learn and perform the songs. The hashtag #DragonInMySkin has been created so that schools can share their work on Twitter, and it will be really exciting to see what classes do with the material.

By Stephanie Lax, Fiona Cowdell, Marianne Barraclough

Images are copyright © 2021 Fiona Cowdell

NIHR Disclaimer: Fiona Cowdell is funded by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship. This publication presents independent research funded by the NIHR. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Sinfonia Viva is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

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