Young Children Creating Plays for a Study of Drama

I often wondered why children had special classes in art, music, and physical education – but never drama. Drama is valued as much in our society as the others. So, the best way to understand drama for young children is create and perform their own plays. So, every spring my combined first and second grade visited behind the scenes of a professional theatre and then returned to the classroom to simulate all that we saw. Our first job was to become playwrights. The plays were not meant to be polished performances – only allowing the best opportunities to learn and fully understand all aspects of drama.

Below the age of about eight or nine years old, children are too young to try out for parts. If so, each one is convinced that she will get the desired part, and if that doesn’t happen there is much puzzlement besides disappointment. Young egocentric children just cannot understand beyond their own viewpoint. Which in this case is, “I want that part so why isn’t it mine???” Then there is an aura around the one that got the part. When older, children need to accept that they can’t win everything desired, but then, although disappointed, at least they understand it – understand other viewpoints. But for young children it is not possible to accept something that is beyond their comprehension.

Therefore, each child decided upon a character s/he would like to be. This guaranteed that every child felt like a star. They were portraying exactly the character they wished to be and had to describe whether it was good or evil, what age s/he was to be, and any other characteristics desired.

The class was divided into three groups, each afternoon meeting with me for a week for about a half-an-hour. We would brainstorm and listen to many suggestions about the plot and how to include each character. Making up details was quite easy but getting a complicated enough plot required more effort, and often some help to create a theme. Sometimes the plot would develop easily, and other times I would go home after school completely baffled. Then the next day, back with the group, I would offer my suggestions and some from my husband. Often they would reject them! But perhaps it gave them an idea of the complexity needed because they would finally decide upon a good plot. As they participated in dictating, I read what had been accomplished the day before. I also showed them my notes, indicating the drafts needed before the final play was typed. And as we progressed, my suggestions for the theme were offered, some to be rejected and one to be accepted. So becoming playwrights involved mostly the children’s ideas but also mine; however, they had ownership of their story so the only suggestions of mine that were included were those that they approved of. Making up the three plays would take three weeks.

Following each week, I would take the story home and over the weekend rewrite it in a play form. The first time I did this with a class, as soon as the plays were passed out, some children began to count how many times they had speaking parts. So from then on, as I wrote the plays, I kept a tally so every child would have the same number of speaking parts, usually five. We always had a narrator who explained about the passage of time and any information that might have been an overload for the characters. Narrators had more to say than the actors and actresses, but it was accepted because instead of memorizing, they read their parts. The narrator was chosen from volunteers who wished to be one. The ones who didn’t get chosen still had the opportunity to choose a preferred character.

After the plays were written, reproduced, and sent home, children had a week to memorize their lines at home while we made scenery and costumes in school. Then one week for rehearsals and finally, the production. Our study of Drama took three weeks.

Read more about programs, including the whole drama program, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved